Iceland: One of 2020's top travel destinations
Updated: Jan 2
With the opening of the Arctic Coast Way in 2019, Iceland has certainly thrown down the gauntlet as far as its tourism offering is concerned. This is the opportunity many have waited for to explore this island's seldom visited Arctic region. A new segment, the Diamond Circle Route will be opening in spring of 2020.
In 2011, I was on a visit to the Faroe Islands when disaster struck. There was a cloud bank sitting on the runway of the airport and we had to be diverted to Eastern Iceland for 24 hours.
Landing on the single runway at Egilsstaðir, I was transfixed by this part of Iceland. Even though this was the largest city on this coast, I had never heard of it and knew nothing about it. Struck by its remoteness, it had a magical feel. Flying over the vast white ice fields of Vatnajökull, the glacier seemed to go on forever. Nearby, were the Vök geo-thermal baths on Lake Urriðavatn. I discovered that there had previously been many fishing villages along this coastline but most of the inhabitants moved to Reykjavik during the depression of the 1930s.
I was also one of the first visitors to Iceland back in 2014 when the decision was taken to open Reykjavik and the western tourist attractions during the winter. It was a bit of a gamble for obvious reasons (weather being the most obvious) but this decision paid off.
I recall lounging in the thermal pools at Fontana with nary another user in sight. At this point in time, the Blue Lagoon was already such a famous feature that it was overflowing with users. The scenery was spectacular on this particular day, the weather mild and clear. We visited the rest of the Golden Circle, the Þingvellir National Park, the Guilfoss Waterfall and the geysers Geysir and Stokkur and felt transported to another world.
But the opening of the Arctic Coast Way means accessing new and equally fascinating natural wonders. And it is all doable by vehicle.
The Arctic Coast Way traverses Iceland's lesser known Northern reaches and is the first official tourist route now operational. At 900km long, travellers can stop in 21 before now unvisited fishing towns and villages including the island of Grimsey, which has the Arctic Circle crossing it, as well as Hvammstangi and Bakkafjörður. The new road navigates out into six peninsulas where lighthouses sit atop rugged cliffs, often with black sand beaches below. The rugged terrain of the North offers spectacular hiking and includes deep valleys, waterfalls (Dettifoss Waterfall, the most water of any in Europe, has 500 cubic ft. per minute going over the edge) and incredible fjords. This north is also famous for its indigenous horses.
It is important to remember that mountain roads can be quite narrow and many bridges are single-lane, so caution is important. It is important not to drive off road as many geothermal areas are quite vulnerable plus, it could leave a mark on nature for centuries. Keep to paths and never walk or jump on moss as it takes decades to grown back. What is also important is using official campsites.
Opening to the public in April 2020, the new Diamond Circle route will start in the city which is the capital of the North, Akureryi. This route then moves in a circular formation taking in Goðafoss waterfall, Mývatn lake (which has more bird species than any other part of Iceland plus geo-thermal properties) Dettifoss waterfall, Ásbyrgi canyon and the town of Húsavík - famous for whale watching. At 360km round trip in total, it is likely too much for a day trip but the amount of natural landmarks to be seen are amazing. There are rather more pedestrian Bjorbodin Beer Spa and restaurant located on the Eyjafjordður Fjord on the north coast.
The other remarkable thing about Iceland is its commitment to sustainability. There are also many recommendations for staying safe when travelling in remote areas. Visit this website for more information.
An Icelandic Pledge
I pledge to be a responsible Tourist
When I explore new places, I will leave then as I found them
I will take photos to die for without dying for them
I will follow the road in the the unknown but never venture off the road
And I will park where I am supposed to
When I sleep out under the stars, I will stay within the campsite
And when nature calls I won't answer the call on nature
I will be prepared for all weathers, all possibilities and all adventures