As I sit in this cosy Icelandic cafe, armed with a hot chocolate, my laptop and a pen and paper, I glance out at the glorious day beyond the window pane. Beautiful blue skies, the warmth of the Winter sun high in the sky, and the motion of people on the block paved street.
My attention is drawn to a small group of tourists, excitedly scurrying around, waving their arms and continuously tapping other members of their group to determinedly point out scenes of interest that simply cannot not be missed. As always, a camera-wielding participant is not far behind, pointing and snapping away at anything and everything, ensuring that no photo opportunity goes amiss. A few members of the party gather around a street sign, whilst the nominated photographer aims and shoots. The excitement of the moment renders the photographer senseless, and, standing in the middle of an open road, completely unaware of the grumbling 4×4 waiting patiently behind them. As the cars begin to queue up in anticipation of continuing with their day, the party hurry off, leaving no evidence at the scene of forgotten sense.
It appears, having spoken to many of my local friends and colleagues, and having witnessed the events myself, on several occasions, might I add, irresponsible tourism is becoming a real issue here in Iceland. Tourism needs to be responsible, regardless of the location, and we need to make sure when we travel that we are respectful of local cultures, abiding of rules and regulations, supportive of the local economy and conservative of the landscape and wildlife.
In Iceland, these are all things we ask of you when you visit. After all, when you visit this wonderful country, you are a guest in the local people’s home, so please behave as such.
In recognition of this, I have created ‘An Expat’s Top Tip’s for Top Notch Tourism: Iceland Edition!’
- Get that perfect holiday snap without causing chaos.
Stopping to take photos whilst on holiday is completely expected, and we really do love seeing all of the amazing photos taken by visitors each year, however, think carefully about where you stop to get your snaps. Stopping in the middle of roads, be it on foot or stopping your car is really not advised. Whether the road is in the middle of the exposed Icelandic wilderness, or a small side-street in the centre of town, stopping unexpectedly can cause danger to yourself and others. With plenty of hidden dips and peaks along the roads, as well as poor weather conditions at times, and taking into consideration the size of some of the epic 4×4’s that travel around, please be conscious of using designated lay-by’s and pull-in areas. We have plenty of safe places to stop and an abundance of exceptional views, so please do take care. Not only could you be causing a hazard by stopping irresponsibly, but you’ll also be irritating the locals with your behaviour, and we don’t want that!
- Remember why you came here in the first place.
I’m more than certain that one of the main reasons you’ve chosen Iceland as your holiday destination is the prodigious landscapes, scenes and geothermal activity on offer here. Ranging from mountains to waterfalls, volcanoes to glaciers and everything in between, the rawness and rusticity of Iceland’s land really is a drawing factor for tourists, and as a result, we would really like to keep it that way. Raw and rustic. Unspoiled by the human hand, and preserved for generations to come. As a result, we ask you please to be a ‘top notch’ tourist and stick to the beaten track. Regardless of your activity, we ask you please to be respectful of the land on which you are walking. Remember that as magnificent as the landscapes are here, the ecosystems are very fragile, and can become vulnerable if treated without respect. Walking on paths and existing tracks will help to preserve the nature around us and the homes of the native wildlife. Using guides such as for glacier walks and expeditions will ensure you only explore areas that are safe and do not pose a danger to yourself, others or the landscapes and wildlife, and will also mean you get a far more detailed tour of the country you’ve come here to see. We also ask that you keep your rubbish with you until you find a suitable bin, and recycle as much as possible. Dropping rubbish has obvious detrimental effects, but even dropping organic waste can have hidden and adverse impacts on the ecosystem. We have a very healthy relationship with recycling here, so please do your best to abide by this. With over 1.7million tourists visiting in 2016, and figures rising year on year, you can understand the amount of waste produced, and thus, the importance of helping us to be environmentally friendly.
- Support the local economy.
Iceland, as an emerging country, still has very strong relationships with traditions and folklores from old times past, and these cultures are one of the amazing things you’ll get a taste of when you visit this magical land, so be sure to support the locals and keep these traditions alive. When it comes to food, we have an abundance of local foods to try, be it meats, fish, fruits and vegetables, dairy products or desserts, we’ve got something for everyone, so try to use local vendors and get a real authentic culinary experience. Thankfully, we have a lot of really good restaurants here in Iceland still using age-old recipes and cooking methods, and we have less of a market for big chain fast-food restaurants (how refreshing!), so finding somewhere wonderful to eat shouldn’t be a problem. As well as a more authentic experience for you, you will be contributing to the local economy and the local people who run these restaurants, meaning the traditions will be kept alive for future generations to enjoy, and for future Icelandic generations to be taught and master. Brilliant! And it’s not just food, either. We produce art, photographs, crafts of numerous kinds as well as exquisite clothing from a range of natural materials, including the famous Icelandic woollen jumpers. Try to find a hand-made vendor for real authenticity. Lastly, you can support the local services on offer too, simply by using Icelandic tour companies, guesthouses, bars and transport services. We love to meet all of our visitors and are always happy to help in any way we can, making your experience here truly unforgettable. You’ll find by using all of the above mentioned, you’re more likely to get to know the locals, and hear stories and advice that money simply cannot buy.
- Stay safe.
Here in Iceland, we have an incredible team of people who all have one thing in common; being a part of the ICE-SAR family. ICE-SAR stands for the ‘Icelandic Association For Search And Rescue’, and similarly to other mountain and sea rescue groups, all of the members of this family are volunteers. Often working full-time jobs as well as being involved in external hobbies, organisations and looking after their families, these people can be called out at any moment to assist in rescues of any kind. Although this amazing group of people are on hand to help, we want to be as safe as possible for the duration of our stay, and hope not to meet this group of people (at least not in their ICE-SAR uniforms, anyway!). Therefore, we ask you to use guides where appropriate during your trip, and adhere to all rules and regulations, as well as any advice you may be given. Icelanders really are hardy folk, so when they give warnings of danger or poor weather conditions, they mean it, and the advice and knowledge of the locals is not something to be taken lightly. Another way you can look to be as safe as possible is to prepare well, bringing with you appropriate clothing and footwear for your desired activities and the time of year. Remember that the weather here can shift dramatically, and you really can have all four seasons in one day, so pack wisely, and use hire companies if you need.
- Enjoy yourself.
Of course, you have to remember to enjoy yourself! It’s fair to say that in Iceland, if you follow these ‘Top Notch Tourist Tips’, you’ll struggle not to have a truly memorable trip here. Remember that everything you marvel at should be there for generations to come, so be happy, and be responsible.