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Questions & Answers about Iceland – part 1

When I started this blog it was for two main reasons – to share my photos and stories and to provide useful information as well as tips and tricks for people who planning or dreaming of visiting Iceland.
While I think that I’ve already inspired some and shared some information, I think that there is so much more. I wanted to know what you guys are wondering and what you would like to know more about.

So, a few days ago I took to my social media channels and asked you guys to ask questions which resulted in plenty of good questions, a few of which I will answer here below, as well as subjects that I can dig deeper into later.

HERE WE GO!

Q:

Which is the best month to view both the northern lights and whales?

A:

Short answer: I recommend late September-October or March-early April.
Long answer: You can generally see northern lights from September until April, when the skies are dark enough at night. My favorite time to take photos of northern lights is once the snow has arrived and helps img_8765-redigerabrighten up the surroundings which makes things more visible.
Whale watching is available all year around but I would say best during the warmer time of the year (June-August). Going out with a boat is of course quite weather dependent and therefore more reliable and enjoyable when warmer. If you go whale watching during the winter I recommend choosing one of the companies with larger boats (operating in Reykjavík is Elding and Special Tours) that also has an indoor area where they a lot of the time offer hot beverages when it’s time to defrost.
If you don’t mind the cold weather during your whale watching trip, go during mid winter when the northern lights are better. Otherwise I recommend late September-October or March-early April to catch the best of both worlds without freezing to bits.

Q:

On my last visit I saw so many people ignoring signs not to cross barriers, signs put there to protect flora and fauna, just so they could get ‘the’ photo, presumably for social media. It made me so sad, what do you think can be done to prevent this? I see so many photos on social media of people in these areas, clearly ignoring these signs and and feel these photos encourage people to want to get that photo and copy them to get the photo. How can awareness be raised?

A:

First off, thank you for this good and important question. Today this subject is highly relevant with the amount of tourists and travelers increasing radically each year. For what it’s worth I would like to point out that I very much agree with this and think responsibly when I’m traveling in Iceland and it’s sensitive nature. I encourage you all to think twice before stepping outside of marked boundaries.

It’s important to remember that Iceland’s fame as a travel destination is mainly built on it’s incredible and peculiar nature, should this be destroyed, tourism will quickly die out, you will no longer see a reason to travel here, and we’re left with spoiled nature that will take decades, if not longer to recover. This is actually a real struggle and a hot subject for debates in Iceland today. Iceland’s popularity has increased so fast in recent years, some would say too fast, that the country struggles to keep up on many fronts, the subject of nature being a vulnerable point.

So who is responsible for raising awareness and preventing this from happening?
I would say that first and foremost the responsibility lies with the Icelandic government and it’s people. Let’s face it, travelers needs to be informed, before their travel, during the travel and on-site. With an educated crowd this will in my opinion be easier to control.

Signage by Gullfoss

Example of signage by Gullfoss (not nature related, but security, equally important)

However, we will always have a few rotten eggs ignoring the rules no matter how well informed he or she is. What I think Iceland needs today is to quickly build up the infrastructure around the most popular attractions as well as the smaller ones. Proper walking paths, toilets, better signage and more information. I think Gullfoss is a good example of how this can be done, but it has to be done in more places and better maintained.

In the end there is a difficult question that I my self can’t answer today. What do we rather have, a feeling of being in the wild in the untouched Icelandic nature, as it’s famous for, or controlling the crowds with signs, fences and guards making sure that everyone follows the rules but with the genuine Icelandic wilderness feeling gone? The later being the option we’re heading for today with the number of travelers rapidly increasing.

Q:

Is it very difficult to travel through the country by car on winter? Because of the snow most of all.

A:

Generally I would say that through the country by car in the winter isn’t very difficult. If you’re a fairly experienced driver who feel comfortable with driving in snow or slippery conditions you’ll be alright. However, no matter how experienced you are, always keep an eye on weather news and road conditions, it can change quickly over night. I recommend visiting the Icelandic Met Office (vedur.is) website and the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration (road.is) at least daily through out your travel.

iceland-icy-roadThrough out Iceland there are large, blue digital signs on the side of the road before you drive in to an area that is often hit by strong winds or a lot of snow such as roads leading over mountains or over plains. Read these signs well and take them seriously. When numbers are red you should be extra cautious and consider not going through. When a road is closed it will be blocked and marked with a sign, don’t ever ever ignore this and keep on driving, doing so you might risk the life of yourself and others.

I have three recommendations that will matter a lot. Choose your car rental company wisely. A good company will provide you with a reliable car fitted with proper tires. If you’re driving outside of Reykjavík, always choose a car with nailed tires. The last thing you want to do is to take the cheapest car possible that will later break down and get you stranded for hours in the middle of nowhere in a freezing cold Iceland. It’s worth considering upgrading to a 4×4 car.

Always keep warm clothes accessible in the car, make sure you always have enough to drink and don’t be afraid to have an extra snack or a piece of food with you. Should you get stuck somewhere on the way or on a mountain, you’re going to be very thankful for warm clothes and some food. This is a rule I always follow my self during the winter.

Stop and ask locals for advice. No one knows the area you’re in better than locals! They can definitely tell you if it’s safe to keep on driving or not. There isn’t anything they haven’t experienced.

Q:

Blue lagoon Iceland

The steaming popular Blue Lagoon

What hot springs are there other than the Blue Lagoon?

A:

There are MANY hot springs in Iceland. Too many for me to list them all. Instead I’ll write 4 recommendations below. However, I would never skip a visit to the Blue Lagoon, even though crowded and some say expensive, it’s a nice experience.

  • Mývatn Nature Baths – It’s called Blue Lagoon #2. It’s the closest thing to being a similar experience, slightly less commercial and less crowded. It’s located in the north in Mývatn.
  • Seljavallalaug – This pool was built in 1923 and is today one of Iceland’s oldest remaining pools. Located on Iceland’s south coast, it’s not far from the main road but requires a small walk to get to it. Totally worth it. Check out this blog post I wrote a while back on how to get there.
  • Reykjadalur hot river – Located a short drive from Reykjavík, approximately 45 minutes, it’s a true experience. Doesn’t it sound too good to be true when I say “a river with running hot geothermal water”? Be sure to stop here when you’re driving Icelands south coast. It’s located just outside of the town Hveragerði.
  • The Secret Lagoon – Maybe not so secret anymore, but still awesome. Iceland’s oldest pool built in 1891 it’s located close to the town of Flúðir on the south coast.

Q:

I will be in Iceland for 5 days this winter, what should I do?

A:

Crystal beach Iceland

The black sand beach by Jökulsárlón with washed up glacial ice. (aka. crystal beach)

This kind of depends on if it’s your first visit or if you’ve been in Iceland before. I’m guessing that this is your first visit.

Even tough 5 days gives you plenty of time to experience Iceland, it isn’t enough to see all, so you will have to narrow it down to a certain area. Since it’s your first time in Iceland, I would without doubt recommend renting a car for 3-4 days and drive Iceland’s south coast. There are plenty of spectacular stops close to the ring road. I recommend not going further than Jökulsárlón (Glacier Lagoon), beyond that the interesting stop gets further apart and not worth it since we’re on a tight schedule. Once you have seen Jökulsárlón you turn back and you still don’t have more than a 4-5 hour drive back to Reykjavík. This also gives you a chance to catch things on the way back that you might have missed the first time. Among things that you shouldn’t miss I recommend Gullfoss, Geysir, Þingvellir (aka. Golden circle), Skógarfoss, Seljavallalaug, Skaftafell, Jökulsárlón, Dyrhólaey and the black sand beach in the town of Vík.

 

This is all for the Q&A for this time. Don’t ever hesitate to ask questions, I’m happy to answer them. If they require a long answer, don’t be offended if I don’t answer them on social media but include them in a Q&A post like this one. I hope some of these answers has been interesting and will be helpful.

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