Tourism to Iceland is booming. This island nation of 330,000 residents is experiencing a tourism boom with visitors expected to reach 1.5 million in 2016. This sudden popularity means that the best hotels, restaurants and activities are experiencing unprecedented demand so unless you plan properly, your trip may be a real disappointment. Here are seven more crucial things to know when considering a trip to Iceland.
1. Guides Are Key
Would you want to land on Mars and not have someone who knows where they are going take you around? Iceland is a wilderness area like none you have ever explored before with hidden ice caves, waterfalls and hot springs that only the locals know. It is also attracting record numbers of tourists who all flock to the same most popular sights but even in the height of the high season, a knowledgeable guide can take you to places that are remote, spectacular and unvisited. There is also a safety factor as going off-the-beaten-path can come with risks (lava fields and crevasses), so the safest way to see the best of the country is with someone who knows their way around.
2. Expect and Pack for Weather Swings
The country is informal so there is never a need to dress up; however, weather changes quickly so you should be prepared for almost anything. Sunglasses are always essential (more hours of sun per year than Miami); an umbrella doesn’t work because rain usually comes with wind. Comfortable, waterproof hiking boots are essential for crossing lava fields. You can rent boots in Reykjavik. (Request our packing list from our Bookings Team).3. Luxury is Simplicity Here
This is not New Zealand or South Africa where super luxury lodges have been built in the wilderness. Even the top hotels that are booked up to a year in advance are quite simple, so the super spoiled should not expect over-the-top interiors. The wow factor will come in the wilderness activities.
The more extreme activities are located in the interior of the country, which is only accessible by four-wheel drive (or Super Jeep) or by helicopter, so many days involve many hours of driving unless you decide to hire a helicopter. Picnics and hikes and waterfall or hot spring visits will break up your day but it is best to be prepared for eight hour excursions from your hotel or you will miss the country’s highlights.
Not only do the hotels and restaurants book up early—even in February, which is low season, hotel occupancy was 80% this year—but so do the best activities like the Blue Lagoon, Into the Volcano and Into the Glacier. Last-minute planners could come all the way here and not be able to get a spot for the best activities.
It would be great if going between September and early April guaranteed your seeing the amazing Aurora; however, whether you will see the lights depends on the weather and astral activity. Their likelihood is predicted as the weather is and many hotels have a wake-up service that you can sign up for so that if they appear, they will call your room. If you are staying in Reykjavik, you will want to drive out to the national park to see them away from light pollution, but it is always best to build at least a five-day window for your trip if you really want to see them.
Some people assume that because there was a financial crisis in Iceland the destination will be a bargain. That is a misconception. Everything from cars to fruit has to be flown or shipped here so costs of living are high and meals, activities and everything else are expensive.
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