In recent years, rumors have begun to spread about the existence of a small Nordic island nation in the North Atlantic Ocean; an island defined by dramatic landscapes, with volcanoes, geysers, hot springs, lava fields, and elves. Yes, elves.
Though there is a delicate balance in maintaining the untouched and wild feeling of Iceland’s unique landscapes while making them accessible to tourists. Lava fields, volcanoes and thundering waterfalls might look super tough, but in fact they are very vulnerable.
Before tourists started arriving in mass, most Icelandic attractions had no need for infrastructure like car parks or ranger stations. So it’s extremely important that we are aware of our impact as travelers. As such, we have composed a letter to all those who are Iceland bound.
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Dear Travelers to Iceland: Please Don’t Visit Until You’ve Understood These 8 Things
Even When You Have a 4WD, You Should Always Stick to Marked Roads
Off-roading is illegal as it is severely damaging to the natural environment. Due to Iceland’s short summers, tire tracks can leave marks in the soil for decades.
We recommend Iceland campervan rental Cozy Campers for road tripping around Iceland. Road tripping is a fantastic way to see Iceland (and campers these days often come with WiFi hotspots, and fuel discount cards), but please stick to the main roads.
Making Cairns is NOT a Harmless Joke
Cairns are carefully arranged piles of stones, and you will see these all over the place in Iceland.
Though while ancient cairns are a natural part of the cultural landscape in many of Iceland’s National Parks, it has become an increasing problem that tourists are deciding to stack rocks to build their own.
These “tourist cairns” are popping up in the hundreds and thousands, and it is destroying the natural environment.
Many of the ancient cairns are Viking relics and historically significant, spread out across the landscape as a way of marking trails. The addition of fake cairns throughout the country may as such misdirect hikers.
Many Icelanders Still Believe in Elves
“If you want to lay a road, build a house, or construct a dam in Iceland, there’s one influential group you have to clear it with first – elves.”
Elves are no joke here, and when you’re in Iceland, you respect them, or else. Surveys suggest that more than half of Icelanders believe in, or at least entertain the possibility of the existence of, the Huldufolk – the hidden people. And this perceived existence sparks environmental protests to this day.
Plans to build a new road in Iceland were stopped recently when campaigners warned that it would disturb elves living in its path. Construction work had to be stopped while a solution was found.
Animals Throughout the Country are Often Wild
Wildlife access in Iceland is unparalleled, so be sure to treat animals with respect. This includes the horses who roam freely by the side of the road (also note that these are usually owned by someone regardless of roaming free), and exotic seabirds, like puffins.
Puffins arrive by the million for the breeding season between April and August, and nest on coastal cliffs all around the country in massive colonies. You can literally walk on top of these if you’re not careful.
A Lot of Work in Iceland Wouldn’t Get Done if it Wasn’t for Volunteers
Volunteers complete more than 400 weeks of work throughout Iceland every year, mainly in the area of conservation and heritage management projects.
Most volunteer projects are focused on the improvement and maintenance of hiking trails. If you’re visiting one of Iceland’s many beautiful national parks, chances are you will walk on trails built and maintained by volunteers.
Consider joining a volunteer project during your stay to pay it forward. The main companies that run projects for conservation volunteers are The Environment Agency of Iceland and SEEDS. Most volunteers stay in Iceland longer to travel and see the sights.
The Northern Lights are Never a Guarantee
One of the world’s most dazzling natural phenomenons, few travel experiences can top witnessing the Northern Lights. Also known as Aurora Borealis, this is mother nature’s most impressive light show.
When the Northern Lights hit Iceland (late September to early April) you can see them throughout most of the country. Though it’s important to note that there is no exact science to seeing the Northern Lights, and that there’s never any guarantee.
It’s best to make your way out of the city limits and into the countryside for the least amount of light pollution. Naturally, you’ll want to bring home stunning images, so those with a passion for photography should consider a Northern lights photography workshop in Iceland.
There’s a Hot Tub Protocol to be Followed
Iceland is a country famous for its hot tub culture, and swimming pools here are a serious business. You should be aware of swimming pool protocol before you strip off for a soak.
The main thing you need to know is that it’s mandatory to wash yourself thoroughly before you enter a hot spring or pool – and you have to use soap. There will be showers and locker rooms at every pool, and shower guards to make sure you have washed your bits.
And you do have to shower naked. This is no better way to offend and disgust the locals than to jump in dirty.
Supporting the Whale Watching Industry is the Most Effective Method of Protecting them from Being Hunted
With over 24 species of whale, there aren’t many places better to see whales than in Iceland. As the whale watching industry becomes more beneficial to Iceland’s economy than whaling does, it will be harder to justify future hunts.
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Image credits: Pinterest photos by Moyan Brenn.