A tiny country hovering close to the Arctic Circle has captured the international travel spotlight: Iceland. And for good reason. Have you seen how many times Iceland is listed as one of the most mesmerizing places on the planet? Iceland boasts unspoiled nature, promises adventure, and proclaims majesty. It’s a place that not many visit, but when people do, they’re enraptured.
When is the best time to visit Iceland? As Iceland begins to grow in popularity (because it’s inevitable), the best time to visit is now. And the reasons why you need to visit Iceland now go beyond the flowery adjectives that describe the country’s beauty…
Cheap(ish) airfare is at your fingertips.
The first challenge of getting to Iceland is just that – getting there. Lucky for you, there’s no better time to travel to Iceland than NOW. Budget airline WOW Air introduced flights to the US in March 2015 and made headlines with unbelievable prices starting at $99. Like any budget airline, it’s a no frills flight. Do not expect complimentary peanuts, beverages, or special treatment. The flight is only 5 hours from Boston… do you really need all the extras? (answer: probably, so pack your own stuff). Of course, these budget airlines tack on additional fees in the form of luggage and picking your seat, so do the math before committing 100%. Your best bet is purchasing your ticket during the WOW sales and being flexible with your departure dates.
Having experience flying WOW, I was impressed that it was a budget airline (kick’s Spirit’s rudder) with the comfortable and punctual flight.
Another inexpensive way to visit Iceland is through Icelandair’s free stopover that can be tacked on to your European adventure.
There’s a new tourism policy.
On October 6, a new tourism policy was introduced (Road Sign for the Travel Industry), which calls for cooperation between various sectors of Iceland’s tourism industry to increase tourism, protect nature, and boost profit. A Tourist Control Center will also be established in the future. There currently isn’t much information about the policy. This could mean improved tourism infrastructure, but it also means that Iceland will change. This policy also insinuates that “fees may be collected from tourists at destinations where considered appropriate” (source). The Road Sign will be an operations guide for the next 5 years, so the Iceland of 2020 will look different for future travelers. Only time will tell. Officials are assessing Iceland’s risk to tourists, and it definitely falls in the category of adventurous and risky travel.
Tourism tax could get steeper.
Taxes in Iceland (VAT = Value Added Tax) have fluctuated over the years as the economy has changed. In 2013, the VAT was raised from 7% to 25.5%, a rate that many tourist operators opposed. In January 2015, the VAT rate was cut to 24% — currently the lowest rate in years.
Reykjavik recently announced that they want to create a tourist tax to get a cut of tourism revenues. It’s possible that visitors could experience an additional expense in the future.
Not only do price increases hurt the wallets for foreigners, it hurts Icelanders who want to explore their own country too. Iceland is already a devastatingly expensive country for many people to visit and will only become less affordable as the economy improves, Icelandic krona strengthens, and taxes increase. Go now, while its “cheap.”
More tourists are visiting.
Iceland is experiencing a tourism boost. In 2014, Iceland teetered close to a million visitors. For the first time, it is expected that over 1 million people will travel to Iceland this year. Tourism is one of the largest industries in Iceland, so more visitors is great for the economy. However as more tourists arrive, a chain reaction starts that could be negative for future visitors (and locals alike).
More tourists = more crowded sights, more footprints that erode the earth, and more selfie sticks in your beautiful photos.
More tourists = more rescues and increased safety measures which translates to more restrictions and steeper fines.
More tourists = less accommodation & tour availability, entrance fees, increased demand, and prices that reflect that demand.
The landscape is changing.
The Iceland today will not be the same Iceland in 10 years. Straddling two tectonic plates will do that to you.
There’s a grotto, Grjotagja, in Myvatn that was a popular swimming cave until a series of eruptions caused the temperature to rise making it too harmful to swim. Did you know that Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon — Iceland’s most famous and deepest lake — didn’t even exist until 1934-1935? Who knows how much longer this natural wonder will be in existence? In fact, the melting ice is causing Iceland to rise about 1.6 inches per year. This results in increased volcanic activity and we all learned in Geography 101 that volcanos are landscape changers. As the North American and European plates continue to pull Iceland apart and earthquakes rumble and volcanos erupt and glaciers melt, the scenery will change.
Iceland is wild & free… for now.
The lawsuit-happy American will visit Iceland with wide eyes and gasps of “oh my” at the lack of guardrails and safety precautions. That’s part of the attraction of Iceland — it feels like the last, isolated frontier with no national park ranger barking at you to get off the grass. You can dangle your feet off the cliff’s edge or jump into the waterfall if your heart so desired (I don’t recommend it). You can hike where there is no path at your own risk. At the more popular sights, there’s a meager attempt to contain tourists with ropes and signs. They’re nicely integrated into the scene, not obnoxious like most barricades I’ve encountered in the US, but unlike the US they appear as a kind suggestion than a glaring stop sign.
Iceland is wild and free — I hope it stays that way. But with the increase of tourists and the stupidity that sometimes follows, I wonder how long Iceland can cling to this type of tourism until someone gets seriously hurt or killed — and somebody fights about it. In the time that we visited, I saw reports of one hiker’s body discovered, 4 tourists swept away by waves, a bus stuck in a river, and a child gone missing at a volcano. Rescue efforts are expensive and risky for all parties involved. Tourist fatalities increased in 2015; let’s hope that number doesn’t continue to rise.
Here’s my plea: If you plan to explore Iceland, do not ruin it for the future travelers and adventurers.
Iceland is enchanting.
Do you need an explanation? Iceland is magical. I hope it remains that way for generations to come. When you visit, bring your curious heart and adventurous spirit, but remember to be responsible and courteous guests. And go now… there’s no time like the now time. It’s the best time to visit Iceland.
Check out my other Iceland posts!
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