What an incredible place! That island halfway in between the US and Germany was a perfect stop and more than worth to explore. Only about 340 000 people live on the island – that means that only about 3 people on average live on one square kilometer. That remote place is an amazing conglomerate of fire, ice, water and air. All elements in one place! Where else could this be found? A long time it has just been an insider’s tip among outdoor enthusiasts and hikers, nowadays you can almost call it the place-to-be for hipsters and it is a popular travel destination for many people from all over the world. How come? And what is Iceland all about?
No doubt, to describe the nature that Iceland is boasting, I’d soon run out of words. It is stunning, and beautiful, and rough, and wild, and great, and awesome, and unique, … Within a country that is as small as the state of New York (or half the size of the UK or a third of the size of Germany) you’ll find a surprising variety of different landscapes that range from black lava sand beaches to massive glaciers and colorful mountains in the highlands of central Iceland. The only thing you hardly find there are trees. They were cut down when norseman startet to settle on that rough rock in the Atlantic and needed wood to build houses. Now the wind sweeps over the country without any obstacles and hits one or the other rental car door without warning.
But still, why Iceland? It is that spot in the middle of the Northern Atlantic where summers are cool and rainy and winters are dark and long. Also, it is one of the most expensive destinations within Europe to travel to. Most of the goods need to be imported and the isolated location of the island takes quite an effort to transport things. But it is a truly fascinating place. The country is the result of a very active geological structure: Iceland is part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, that marks the boundary between the Eurasian and the North American Plates. Rifting and accretion through volcanism created that second biggest island nation in Europe. Being in Iceland feels weird from time to time as you’re reminded every day that this stretch of land you put your feet on is pretty young and the soil is considerably thin. Geysirs, steam rising up from the ground, clouds of sulphur in the air, an app even shows the many little earthquakes during a day and in the mountain huts along the major hiking trails are posters with evacuation plans for the event of an eruption of one of the big volcanoes. On the other hand the country is pretty good in using their natural resources from water to geothermal energy to produce electricity and warm their houses. This is a unique way to create sustainability.
The biggest reminder of the activity of the region was sent out in 2011 when the almost unpronounceable volcano Eyafjallajöküll erupted. This volcano didn’t only interrupt global air travel and put a huge part of Iceland under ashes, but also made people interested in the island and therefore put Iceland literally on the world map. As well movies and successful tv shows such as „Game of Thrones“, that were filmed in Iceland, made the world put an eye on that country. Also, the financial crisis in 2007 made it cheap to travel to Iceland and low cost-airlines shuttled more and more tourists to the country. Especially in Europe Iceland eventually got popular and well known in 2016 when the Icelandic soccer team unexpectedly reached the quarter finals of the European Championships. But not just their athletic success, also their very unique supporters helped to make Iceland even more prominent – probably all of soccer-interested Europe was aware of those special chants and grunts that surged up whenever the team hit the soccer fields.
Also, people travel more and more and I guess after many people having travelled Norway, Sweden and Scotland the logical consequence is to extend your radius and travel further. Last but not least Iceland has a pretty high Instagrammability. More and more stunning pictures taken in Iceland pop up in social media and that apparantly drags people to places. Iceland just looks amazingly good on Instagram without putting too much effort in it and that makes a lost of especially young people wanting to travel to the land of fire, ice, water and air.
Apart from recent trends in tourism, Iceland also makes it easy to get around – it is an island with basically one road circling the country and brings you to all the major viewpoints, waterfalls and attractions. People are friendly, many of the Icelanders speak English and the mystic landscape creates all kinds of art – from legends of elves and trolls to renowned musicians to art galleries. Creativity is a big part of life in Iceland.
But all that bring some downsides as well: As everywhere where tourism is booming, there are people that don’t care about their surroundings and leave garbage and – unfortunately – also their „human waste“ while camping. Not just that but many people leave the trails and stomp on sensitive grounds. Keep in mind that in an environment like on Iceland the nature takes much more time to regenerate than in other countries of let’s say, central Europe. As a result Icelanders started to close down hiking trails, put up signs that remind people not to shit on that e.g. meadow, put up signs that forbid to use drones for aerial pictures. On a very popular beach you can also find warning signs to take selfies too close to the shore as people got hit by waves, where dragged into the strong current and eventually died.
Anyway, I only saw a tiny bit of the country, having left a lot more to explore and a lot more to hike. Iceland IS a fascinating place, offers stunning hiking areas, let get you close to the elements and powers that shape our planet. The challenge is to preserve that sensitive and beautiful stretch of earth.