Iceland Travel Guide Incoming!

  • UPDATE! This is now available to buy from the links below!

Hey guys,

Just a quick heads up to say that this useful guide is being released next week (9th July). It's a short read but contains plenty of useful information for anyone coming to Iceland or planning to come to Iceland. My extremely talented wife put it together and of course I'm biased in saying that I think it's great!

It's called "Essential Traveller Tips to Know BEFORE You Visit Iceland" and it's currently available for pre-order as an ebook from Amazon.

Amazon UK - https://goo.gl/shnFRq

Amazon US - https://goo.gl/xDRrD8

Don't Break the Rules!

There are many blog posts and videos about breaking the rules in photography. This post isn't actually about this. I personally believe that you should use or not use whatever rules you want to create images that you like.

No, this blog is about some of the rules and guidelines that we have in Iceland that are worth knowing about before you visit. I have picked a few common ones that I feel are the most important to be aware of. When people ignore these or break them they make national news here so they're not insignificant.

Don't Duck Ropes to Closed Off Areas...

...or ignore the signs restricting access to these areas. At many of the tourist locations you will come across areas that have been closed off. These can be marked by a simple sign or small rope barrier. Whilst they may seem easy to circumvent, and the area closed off may call out for you to hop over that rope, please don't! 

There are two main reasons these areas are closed off. 

For your own safety. The changing landscape here can mean that once safe footpaths may have eroded and may lead to a dangerous cliff, crevasse or other peril. In areas where there are geothermal hot springs for example, the ground can be extremely weak and the possibility of falling through into a vent is real. Honestly, even if you think the area looks safe, if it has been closed, please do not ignore the signs.

For the protection of the wildlife. We have a very delicate ecosystem here in Iceland. The extreme weather and wild swings between seasons means that there are only small windows for the wildlife to do what it needs to survive and flourish each year. As such, the authorities often mark areas off as being closed for the protection and regeneration of an area. Or they may close an area where there are nesting birds (usually July to September). Unfortunately, with the larger number of visitors to Iceland, areas are becoming damaged faster and for longer. Therefore more and more areas are being closed to allow them to regenerate.

Here is one example where Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon was closed to allow it to regenerate: 

Canyon Closed to Protect Vegetation Damage

One month later, note the updated story:

Visitors Causing Serious Damage to Canyon

Iceland_2015_fjadrargljufur_jamestomas.jpeg

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon in South Iceland

I appreciate that people visit Iceland on once-in-a-lifetime trips and therefore finding one of the most popular areas closed can be frustrating. Please note that if you decide to ignore those closures, your once-in-a-lifetime trip can have much longer term consequences for the vegetation and wildlife here. For example, the moss is extremely delicate, takes many years to grow and just the simple act of walking on it can be enough to damage it for decades! I always take care, even when walking in marked areas, to avoid standing on any of the vegetation here.

Don't Drive Where You Aren't Supposed to

This may seem like obvious advice but it still happens. This is also something that is split into two areas.

Firstly, don't ignore the signs if it says that the road ahead is closed or impassable. This happens most often during the winter when some of the smaller roads are not cleared and the authorities just close them. Some of these closures are only marked by a small bollard which is seemingly easy to get around. Please don't! Our fantastic rescue service has been far too busy in recent years as people have found themselves in difficulties. Even some of the major roads can quickly become dangerous in difficult weather conditions so try to imagine how bad a road can get for it to be closed off for 6 months.

I am currently still waiting for one road to reopen nearby here. You can see it marked on the image below. I know this road and it's bad even when it's open. Considering that it's now late May and still hasn't opened, it must be pretty awful. As desperate as I am to get to a location along here, I will wait until it goes green before even trying it!

Note the red road towards the bottom of the map which is still closed at the end of May

Note the red road towards the bottom of the map which is still closed at the end of May

For the best up to date information on road conditions in Iceland, please visit: www.road.is. I have also written a separate blog all about driving in Iceland here.

The second thing I'd like to mention about driving is to please stick only to marked roads and tracks. There have been quite a few controversies over the years here where people have taken their cars off roads and onto beaches or other areas to either get somewhere or just have fun driving about. As with ignoring closed areas, this can be dangerous for you and damaging to the environment.

I actually contacted one influential photography YouTuber, Peter McKinnon, about this after he posted up a video of them driving off road to the plane wreck on the south coast. He removed this footage from the video after I pointed out the potential damage he could have caused. It may have looked like great fun but he was bouncing and driving over areas where Arctic Terns are known to nest. 

Don't Chase Waves

This may go hand-in-hand with not ignoring signs but I think it's deserving of its own mention. There are two very popular locations (among many) where it's possible to visit black sand and pebble beaches. These are Reynisfjara in the south and Djúpalónssandur in the west. At both of these beaches there are big, clear signs warning of "sneaker waves". 

There is an article about this written here by Guide to Iceland detailing a fatality caused by these waves along with some other very useful information. There have been more accidents since then too. 

These places are incredibly popular now and on every visit I have seen people chasing the waves or getting too close. Please take the signs seriously and don't go near the sea, even if it looks calm.

Reynisfjara beach and the Sneaker Waves

Reynisfjara beach and the Sneaker Waves

Have Fun, Be Safe, Respect the Environment

I know I have written "don't do this or that" or lot in this post but I thought it was important to provide some useful information on why some of these rules, warnings or guidelines are out there. I have spoken to a few visitors who didn't even realise why crossing a rope was a bad thing and were pleased to have been made aware about the potential danger/damage it could cause.

My advice is to follow the rules. They are there for your safety and to ensure that others can enjoy the environment in the future. If you want to visit locations that are off the beaten track or that aren't marked, hire a specialist guide or take a tour that safely lets you explore these areas without damaging you or Iceland.

Icelandic Seascape Photography - Part 1

Iceland sits alone in the North Atlantic Ocean. It's a wild ocean up here providing photographers with opportunities to capture the raw power of the sea as it pounds against the island. You won't find crystal clear tropical waters here!

I have spent considerable time in various locations, and in somewhat extreme conditions at times, trying to capture some of that power in my images.

Bracing against the wind I try to capture the waves crashing against this sea stack 

Bracing against the wind I try to capture the waves crashing against this sea stack 

There are a few locations I would recommend visiting if you would like to try and photograph the sea here.

Brimketill

Located on the Reykjanes peninsula, Brimketill is a perfect location to capture waves crashing against cliffs, to see birds surfing the air currents above the water and generally feel the raw power of the sea. 

To reach Brimketill you first travel out to Grindavík along Route 43. Just before Grindavík you take a right turn onto Route 425 and follow the road for about 10 minutes until you see a small sign saying "Brimketill." Incidentally, on the way there are a few places you can stop to see the ocean also. There is a graveyard close to the sea where the waves can be impressive on a stormy day.

 

At Brimketill once you have parked and if the weather is windy you may see the waves crashing up and over the cliff tops above the pathway. In my experience, if this is the case, be a bit careful when you start going up the steps and onto the walkway as the waves can crash up and over here from the right hand side making for a quite scary experience. Generally speaking, this only happens if the wind is directly from the South or South West. It's an impressive but unnerving thing to see! I have been up here in extremely stormy conditions and I will admit that it is frightening!

The walkway extends out onto the clifftop. On a still day there are a couple of tide pools visible. Please don't do as some have and go for a dip! The currents and sea here are extremely unpredictable. On a windy or stormy day you can watch the waves come towards you and break up into huge plumes crashing over the cliffs around you. The noise and energy here is unbelievable!

Valahnúkamöl

About 5 minutes further along the road from Brimketill is another great location for sea photography, Valahnúkamöl. Accessed off Route 425 by following the signs for Reykjanesviti lighthouse, this a safe and fun place to capture a range of seascapes. 

 

Follow the road towards the light house (which is Iceland's oldest) going up and over the small hill. As you come down you will see the coast and car park area in front of you along with impressive sea stacks. Once parked you can spend time walking around the area here to photograph the large sea stack off the coast (see image of me at the start of the article) or further stacks just off to the left. In the distance is the island of Eldey where the last Great Auk was killed. There is a monument of one looking out to sea here which I always find quite poignant.

It is possible to sometimes walk up the cliffs to the left but the municipality will close these off if it is a) not safe or b) they're trying to allow the area to recover from damage. Therefore it is closed, please don't try and get up anyway, something I see all too often here. This is a great location to photograph sunrise, particularly in the winter when you don't have to get here so early!

Londrangur

Londrangur is located on the Snaefellsnes peninsular in the west of Iceland. Famous for its towering basalt cliffs, which are up to 75m high, there are some great opportunities to photograph dramatic images of the sea here. The cliffs are ancient volcanic plugs which have been eroded by the sea. Farmers do not use the area as the two cliffs are believed to be an Elf Church and an Elf Library. There is certainly something mysterious about the place.

 

You can reach Londrangur off Route 574 on the south coast of the peninsula. You cannot really miss them and there is a clearly marked car park on the left. The walkway here leads up onto the cliffs and a number of viewing points where you can photograph the coastline in both directions. The view, on a clear day, of Snæfellsjökull behind you is nothing short of spectacular also.

That's it for Part 1. In Part 2 I will cover another location in Snæfellsnes, Djúpalónssandur, as well as Reynisfjara beach in the south. I'll also mentioned a rarely visited coastline in the north of Iceland.

 

Advice when Driving in Iceland

One of the best ways to see all the amazing scenery we have to offer here in Iceland is to hire a vehicle and head out onto the Icelandic road network for an adventure. It is worth remembering that driving conditions in Iceland can be extremely challenging both in terms of the changeable weather and with regards to the roads themselves. This article is designed to provide you with information on how you can stay safe when driving in Iceland.

1. Check the weather before you set out each day and regularly during the day

The Icelandic Met Office website is the best source of information for the weather. You should bookmark this website on your phone, laptop and tablet and become used to checking it as part of your daily routine when in Iceland.

Website: Icelandic Met Office (English)

Weather warnings, particularly for high winds, rain and snow, are common during the autumn, winter and early spring. If there is a weather warning out for your area of travel on a particular day, please pay attention to the advice on the page. If travel is not advised, don't risk it! There have been incidents where the wind has been strong enough to shatter car windows. Also keep in mind that conditions in Iceland change quickly! Regularly checking out this site during the day will help you avoid any nasty surprises.

You can also use this site to check for the Aurora forecast as well as information on earthquakes currently happening around the country.

2. Check the road conditions before you set out each day and regularly during the day

Another website to have stored when you travel here is www.road.is. This is the most up-to-date source of information on driving conditions on all the roads in Iceland, including the highland and non-paved roads.

Website: The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration

The Iceland map on the homepage is split into the different regions. To check the conditions where you will be travelling on a particularly day just click that part of the map. You will then be taken to a detailed road map of that area which is colour coded - the codes are explained below the map. Definitely don't drive anywhere marked as red! Many of the roads also have webcams. You will see little boxes of information including temperature, wind speed and wind gust (with the little arrow next to it - red arrow is strong gusts). Clicking this box will take you to a page for that road itself. If it has webcams you can check these out to see what the roads look like. This has helped me on a number of occasions in the winter, after heavy snowfall, in being able to plan my journeys to avoid the roads that are in the worst condition.

3. Consider registering your travel plans with Safetravel.is

This is a website with lots of useful information on travelling safely around the country, not just on the roads. On the front page you can register your Travel Plan with the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue. This lets them know where you will be - you can even turn on Trip Monitoring with them for extra safety.

Website: Safetravel.is

They offer an app for iOS and Android which allows you to call the emergency services by pressing a big Red Button, direct from the app. You can also check in your location on the app with the services so that if anything happens they have more information to work with - the last 5 locations are stored and they are happy for you to use it! As they say on their site, you are not disturbing anyone!

There is a lot of other information on this site including useful driving tip videos and information on everything from camping to kayaking. I would highly recommend having a read through this website before you arrive in Iceland or before you set out on your big adventure. It's a great resource.

4. Please don't drive where you are not supposed to

This may sound like obvious advice but there are a lot of tempting side tracks leading off to mysterious looking places. These could be simple farm roads where the worst thing that could happen is the farmer wonders who is driving up to see him/her. Worst case you can end up on a poorly marked track that is not maintained or suitable for the vehicle you have. Even some of the main roads during difficult weather conditions can become extremely difficult to drive on so these smaller tracks and roads are just not worth risking unless you are with an experienced guide.

Similarly, please please PLEASE, don't drive off a road onto areas like beaches or fields, even if you see tracks of other vehicles leading that way. A lot of damage can be done to the wildlife that can take a lifetime to repair. Whilst it may be tempting to have some fun, or drive closer to get that all important photograph, please consider parking somewhere instead and taking a walk. Which leads to...

5. Please don't stop to take photographs on the roads

I know, it's tempting. You round a bend in the road and suddenly the scenery opens up into something spectacular and you just have to take a photograph. Whether you are on Route 1 or a smaller side road, please do not stop your car on the road, or even with part of the car on the road, to get out and take a photograph. I cannot stress how dangerous this is.

Whilst the roads here may seem quiet compared to other countries, there is now much more traffic than there used to be. Sure, as a kid in the 80's here we would be guaranteed not to see another car on Route 1 sometimes for up to an hour. I'll admit back then it was possible to stop and take photos and even have a picnic.

But times have changed! What may seem like a quiet road, with plenty of time to stop for a photo, may suddenly be filled with tour buses or cargo lorries, all of which will have to slow or even stop if you are blocking the roads even a bit. You may wonder what the big deal is with this but unfortunately people have been killed recently when stopping to just take a photo.

I highly recommend finding a safe stopping place, of which we have MANY, a bit further on and pulling off the roads entirely. I mean giving yourself lots of space! Then feel free to pop out and grab that shot. 

I would say that this perhaps is the piece of advice I hope you take the most seriously as it is becoming a problem.

Final Thoughts

I hope this post has been useful. Being prepared for travel on the roads in Iceland is essential and will ensure you have both a safe and enjoyable trip. What I recommend in this article takes all of 5 minutes here and there during the day and will minimise your chances of getting into difficulties.

If you do have problems, the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue are there to help. Please do keep in mind that they are a volunteer organisation and rely solely on donations. So when they are called out to rescue someone who hasn't checked the road conditions, and found themselves stuck in a snow drift, they are often coming to help voluntarily. They are often risking their own safety in these situations. Therefore please consider giving a small donation to the organisation as part of your trip to Iceland. I know they would be extremely grateful.

Website: Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue