Practical stuff

The weather conditions

Iceland is situated just below the arctic circle around Latitude North 66 degrees.  Weather conditions can be very changing also during summer time. In average temperatures during daytime are around 12 -14 degrees C but they can be over 20 degrees also. On the other side it can get very wet, very windy and cold too and also snow and frost is possible in the higher situated parts on occasion. Dress accordingly !

Weather changes often rapidly, especially at higher situated places and close to the sea !! Hard wind is not unnormal also during sunny days ! Cold fog rolling in from the coast into the valleys is not unusual especially if there is northern wind which brings cold air. It comes quickly and makes the surroundings invisible down to some meters in distance only. Take care !!

 

Plan your walk well

A serious warning around being prepared for the worst when leaving for a longer walk even if weather forecast is good. You may very quickly find yourself helpless otherwise. I have faced snow storm up the mountains mid July. Bring a normal compass to assist your GPS if it breaks down or runs flat. Remember that magnetic declination is 11-16 degrees depending on where you are, prepare the proper handling before you leave for your trip. Of course you carry an adequate paper map or did you save on the cost ?

 

Plan your food supplies

If out for several of the announced events you will soon face that shops are rare, if any. Always refuel before you leave for cross country driving. Especially if you plan to join the 4x4 events. Akureyri has by all means the biggest and cheapest shops around. Shops like Netto can provide you with all you need. There is also a pharmacy and a petrol station in the same area. For special needs like gear or dry froozen food there is an outdoor shop on the main road too. Water is drinkable in all highland creeks. Do not drink glacier river water though.

 

What to wear

For the outdoor visitor this means that clothes for a wide temperature range must be brought. A light wind and rain stopper jacket is good to have in your rucksack in case weather changes to rain, mist and hard wind even if you start in bright sunshine. A warm sweater or several thinner ones is also a must. Personally I like the traditional icelandic handwoven wool sweaters since they are both warm, can stand some moisture without getting wet and look nice.

It is as important to keep your feet dry and warm as the rest of the body. Good watertight shoes or even better higher boots are highly recommended when hiking. There is a lot of wetland everywhere and after a rainy period it gets very wet to cross. High wet grass will soon reveal the real quality of your footwear. Go for goretex or similar "breathing" material if you are out on longer hikes.

If walking on snow fields a pair of light weight gaiters will prevent snow and ice to enter your boots.

Gloves and head protection are mandatory while taking longer walks !

If there is sunny weather and no wind a mosquito net or hat will come in handy too. Black flies are very frequent in some areas and they can be pretty annoying since they bite and create small wounds. The bite itself may need treatment by products like xylocain so that you do not want to scratch yourself all the time. Especially where heather, low birches and crowberries grow the mosquitos will dwell. Areas like Myvatn are wellknown for these insects and if you are not prepared for them your day might get ruined.

 

GPS and related

A good map will enhance any GPS unit and luckily there are good maps available covering all Iceland. The budget solution is completely free and provided by some enthusiastic Germans. The map quality is very good and it will work with mapsource/basecamp together with many gps units. You find it here : http://www.ourfootprints.de/gps/mapsource-island_e.html

-- Garmin compatible Iceland map version 2017 --

There is also an official Garmin supported version, initially published by the icelandic land surveyor, available. The most recent version is from May 2017 and available for 12900 ISK (approx 1000 SEK or 100 Euro) here  http://nammi.is/entertainment/garmin-gps/garmin-gps-maps.html. Each license is for one unit only but it is the most complete also routable map you can obtain. It is sold as a download over the internet only so no CD. It is available both for PC and MAC. I purchased it and download worked fine as did installation on the PC.  For those who have seen the 2012 version this is more 3D looking with shaded areas. Many more highland tracks are on it too making it a must for those who want to explore the country beside the sign post marked trails. For those of you who want a routable map with height information this is definitely the best choice. I think that the cost is very reasonable too. The free map from Germany is on the other hand a good option if cost is an issue.

When you explore the nammi homepage you will see that they sell a variety of products and suddenly the name (nammi) makes sense. It means sweets or good to have stuff in icelandic.

 

Optional to bring

Walking sticks to improve your balance while carrying a heavy rucksack or stabilize yourself when walking on inclined ground like slant mountain sides or large snowfields. Choose a telescopic pair where you can set spring pressure and where you can change the bottom part from hard metal to snow blade.

You find a lot of practical information here both in swedish and english :  http://www.vandringsstavar.se

 

Seasickness

 If you go by the car ferry Norröna you will spend many hours out on the north atlantic sea. You may face wonderful sunny and calm weather but you may also face the opposite !! A minute can feel like hours if you get seasick. I found a very good help against seasickness. Actually it has been so good that I had no problems at all even during very stormy weather. You will have to consult your doctor to get a prescription for Scopoderm. Please note that there are medical conditions when the doctor will deny the description. Check here (swedish) http://www.fass.se/LIF/produktfakta/artikel_produkt.jsp?NplID=19830909000010&DocTypeID=7 or here (english) http://www.drugs.com/uk/scopoderm-tts-spc-5704.html . I faced some dizzyness a day after I had taken the plaster off making it hard to read books but this disappeared after a day. I guess this is individual but it is mentioned as a possible side effect. It is a plaster which you will tape behind your ear, so no pills !

 

Where to stay during a longer walk

When taking a longer walk requiring an overnight stay outdoors this is possible as long as you are not in a nature preservative or on private farmland. A good idea is to ask the locals and you will in most cases be granted permission for camping overnight. In the nature preservatives there are mandatory camping sites due to heavy wear of nature elsewise. This goes for popular areas like the myvatn area, Herdubreidarlindir, Kverkfjöll or Hljódaklettar.

In many areas there are no grass covered spots where you would normally raise a tent, instead you need to stick your tent to the ground on sand or gravel. Be prepared !

The most convenient way to stay, but also a much more expensive one, is to stay at a pension or in a boarding school which during summer is converted to a hotel. For budget travellers this is perhaps still not an option, instead a farmhouse stay is better if camping is not an option to you.

 

The loooong daylight days

Mid June until mid July the sun will never really set and you will face daylight all the time. This might change your sleeping habits since going to bed while there is full daylight is a bit unusual to most. If you want to keep your normal sleeping hours you might want to bring a mask to prevent daylight disturb your night sleep.

On the other hand it is terrific to enjoy the long days without an end too !! Watch the sun set for a couple of minutes at the horizon and see it rise immediately again !! This is a part of the stay no one should miss out. If you participate in the midnight power trail event you will be able to find this out yourself !

 

What you may not bring

Alcohol for heating purposes (in Sweden called T sprit) is not allowed to bring to Iceland in an aircraft due to high flammability. Even worse, it is not possible to buy it in Iceland either ! For your heating device you need to run gas (butane-propane) and use an appropriate gas burner for your stove. These gas containers are of course not possible to bring on an aircraft either due to being highly explosive !! The good news is that the type with threads and a valve at the top is possible to purchase at some petrol stations and in outdoor shops in Akureyri. The type where a needle punctuates the gas container is also available but more rare.

Talking about alcohol (and beer) there are restrictions on how much you may bring in to the country too without paying at the customs. If you get caught trying to smuggle you will not only be fined, someone else will/might ? drink your beverage later too.

All the "normal" other restrictions following the flight "safety standards" apply too.

 

What you might bring anyhow

The legally accepted quantity of alcohol (1 liter per adult) since this is a highly regarded gift to any Icelander - in case you need a favour ! In case you go to the Faroe islands with the car ferry alcohol restrictions are the same. It goes without saying that alcoholic beverages are very expensive in these countries. Alcohol is sold in monopoly shops found in the major villages in the regions only. Akureyri, Dalvík and Húsavík have such a liquor shop but Myvatn doesn´t. The same goes for beer which also is sold in the monopoly shops only.

 

Taxfree for tourists

The taxfree for tourist sign is seen in some shops and the tax deduction is available to all tourists living outside Iceland. Note the rather awkward handling that may be involved before you get your money back. First you will get a fraction since there is a handling fee deducted. Then you shall be happy to get it in your own currency (like swedish krona). Items bought must be wrapped and not used when presented to the custom station before leaving the country and you must present the special form of receipt issued by the shop.

Last time I used this service in Seydisfjördur they had no cash supply and I just got what they had in all kinds of currencies !! The alternative was a cheque where my swedish bank would deduct 150 SEK for cashing it in. So do not expect too much out of this opportunity even if I have heard people who have managed better at Keflavik airport. Going outside Iceland directly from Akureyri or Egilsstadir is not a good option if you hope for reasonable tax return. Collect all you receipts for goods you bought and have them stamped on the approriate form in the proper way anyhow, then hope for the best.

 

Internet and mobile phone access

You will find internet access points in many places in Akureyri and also in most of the accomodations but it often comes with a fee or you must be a guest. In the remote countryside you should not expect internet or mobile phone connectivity. The only secure mobile phone net is based on the very old NMT 450/900 standard. Most likely your cellular phone will not support this. There are some petrol stations who offer internet for free as well as some cafées do. You have to ask or check at the local tourist information.

To make sure your GPS is not running empty on geocaches download the .gpx files you need at home before leaving. This should on the other hand be simple in a country where there are less than than 1000 geocaches ;-)

I might not be able to upload .gpx files through cable to your devices so you should be acquainted with how to type in coordinates by hand in to your device. I will bring a computer but can not guarantee the transfer of gps data to your device ! It may work - or not work. I can only support Garmin GPS with a micro USB connection.

I will check the most recent status of mobile connectivity for the areas we will visit. In Bardardalur there is an GSM antenna station almost at the southern end of the valley so reception should be good. In Fjördur there is no reception due to no antennas since this is an abandoned area. In the central parts of the country there is no access either.

You can buy a prepaid card through a Siminn dealership and get internetaccess when you are within the range of a 3g mast. They are valid for 30 days and allow a datatransfer of 4 or 8 Gb. Cost is very reasonable too starting at 1990 ISK. http://www.siminn.is/english/internet/mobile-broadband/

 

 

What to do on your own on the way to Akureyri

The Sagas - an indispensible part of every Iceland visit

The sagas are an inseparable part of every icelander. It is still living history to know Gréttir saga, Njáls saga or reciting out of Völuspá. I can only strongly recommend to read the sagas since it will revive many places and fill them with history. Many  farms still carry the names mentioned in the sagas. Njáls saga is concentrated in an area called Fljótshlid on the way to Thórsmörk and the saga itself carries all the morals predominant in the 12th century. Like a modern novel they are filled with the results of honour, pride and revenge. With the entrance of Christianity in 999 this moral slowly vanishes.

Or follow the traces of the 18th century outlaw Fjalla-Eyvindur and his wife Halla all over Iceland by the many places where he had to hide not to be caught or killed, there you will find the so called Eyvindarkofis. If he got caught ? Yes, he was - after 20 years as a refugee but he was not killed.

 

Walks

The great nature experiences you have almost everywhere on Iceland makes it easy for tourists to find the golden moments of their own. Since there are only very few areas where trees grow higher you will have a great view on every higher peak you climb.

Walking is a great activity in coastal areas or exploring the waste lava fields in the central highlands.

A trip to Snaefellsnes and a walk up the top of the glacier delivers an overwhelming view in bright weather. It is a rather easy walk even if there is snow when you approach from the south east.

Avoid the tunnel under Hvalfjördur (toll road) at least in one direction and take a walk to the nice waterfall Glymur. There are even 4 caches on the route nowadays.

One very popular walk is also called "Nýa Laugarvegurinn" after the main shopping street in Reykjavik. It starts in Landmannalaugar and ends in Thórsmörk or the other way around depending on if you prefer to walk uphill or downhill mainly. It is a terrific preferably 4 day walk of around 60 km taking you to breathtaking places. Only problem is that it is overfilled with walkers - day and night. I did the walk back in the 1980s and we met 2 people during 4 days. Perhaps I only enjoy to be a bit more on my own ;-) If you don´t mind the crowds of people this is the walk you should do, it is amazing. Book all 4 huts before you start off, at Ferdafélag Islands, on the net or in their office !!

In Reykjavik a personal favourite for a stroll is the area called Heidmörk. Around 4 million trees have been planted in this area arund 10 km from Reykjavik. There is also an immense birdlife in the area in the surroundings of the small lake Ellidavatn. There are many tracks and pathes in the area so it is far from wild but a relaxing spot when you need a bit of time on your own.

In Reykjavik you should also take the nice stroll behind the presidential house Bessastaðir in Alftanes to the cache Gull. A great stroll with a nice different view on Reykjavik too. Beware of the birds which may want to start an argue with you !

I will not talk about the blue lagoon and other touristic places where you even have to pay fees even if you do not enter the facility. Instead I recommend the cache Gróttuviti at the western side of Reykjavik. Check out the small island too when tide is out and you can walk there !! Once there was a cache located on the island but it is gone now. This is a nice place.

There is out of historical reasons a place NE of Reykjavik which is touristic but a must to visit. I am thinking of Thingvellir with its rift. Here history once was written in 930 when Althingi, the Icelandic parliament, was founded and this is the first place in Europe where democratic elections were held, kind of cradle of Democracy. Of course not the kind of democracy we refer to today but here the law proclaimed was practised as justice and was administered yearly during the meeting attracting all the clans with their leaders. It is a place of great national interest to the Icelanders.

Whilst at Thingvellir most tourists go to Geysir and Gullfoss too. Geysir was killed for a long time ago with soap when making a movie but Strokkur still does the job and portions out cascades of hot water at a regular pace. The waterfall Gullfoss from the river Hvitá offers nice scenery but does not expose the same brutal force as the waterfall Dettifoss does up in the north.

 

 

Horse riding

Many tourists come for fishing or horse riding. Both activities are that popular that you need to book well in advance.

In Eyjafjördur close to Akureyri there is at least one bigger farm organising trips on horseback. http://www.polarhestar.is/en. Prices are 1200-2000 Euro for a full week.

In Skagafjördur west of Akureyri there are several farms offering horse riding too. This is the most popular area for riding. If it is the best I can not tell. Nature is great in so many places here. http://www.visitskagafjordur.is/en/things-to-do/horseback-riding

A very popular ride is over Kjölur between the two big glaciers Hofsjökull and Langjökull. I have often met bunches of riding peole there. This ride often takes its start in the Reykjavik area and is a roundtrip. It is also possible to rent a horse in Hveravellir for a daytrip or longer. The hot bath in nature in the middle of nowhere in Hveravellir is something you remember all your life. I have been there several times but only when going 4x4 - with some more horse power. Do not forget to take a walk into beautiful Thjófadalur if you pass by there ! There are huts where you can stay and also a small camping site. Trips to Hveravellir are on offer and also more regular mountain bus trips exist. You are half the way to Akureyri here. Kjölur is not accepted for driving from rental companies for normal 2x4 cars. I have been driving 2x4 there myself under good road conditions but I would not recommend it. Take a 4x4 and explore more of the inner part of the country instead.

 

Fishing

This is as expensive as it can get on Iceland if you are up for catching the big fish. In some rivers you may not even take your bigger catch home but have to throw it back into the water again - at outrageous prices. Well, I am no fisherman you see ;-)

Laxá á Ásum is one of the most expensive rivers where you also are guided (or surveyed) all day long. You can buy a package with ackomodation and full pension too. No prices are given, I think I know why. http://www.lax-a.net/salmon-fishing-in-iceland/

I would recommend fishermen to look for a bit more remote rivers and check with local tourist information to find more reasonable prices. But calculate with at least a couple of hundred Euros per day for the salmon rivers. In Barðardal I know that there are more reasonable prices for fishing in the river Svartá though I have no own experience of the catch. Fishermen return every year here and stay at Hotel Kiðagil. If you are interested it could be worth to check. http://skot19.wixsite.com/englishkidagil

 

Bird watching

I admit that this is a hobby I never really understood, nevertheless due to the lack of woods most birds are found on the ground or in the sea which makes them easier to see. Perhaps this is the reason for its popularity. There are many species here only found in arctic areas. You will on the other hand not find bird watching towers so frequently so you will have to find an elevated position on your own.

 

4x4 driving

I kept one of the best activities as the last one. I have done loads of driving from the end of the 1970s and up to some years ago. We always brought our own jeep (several Volvo L3314 Laplander) and later also with our Mercedes G. It will take you to places you only reach after days of walking. There are a couple of rules to follow. Do not leave the track since you will spoil nature for tenth of years due to ground erosion (and it is also illegal and you may get fined or even imprisoned !) and do not cross wild streaming rivers without fording them yourself first. If you can not make it you need a very high and heavy vehicle to make it - if possible at all. Many accidents happen due to very optimistic drivers overestimating themselves and their vehicles. If you are sound and do not take big risks you can explore fantastic places.

I have some personal favourites including Gaesavatn, Askja, Herðubreiðarlindir, Kverkfjöll, Lakagigar, Fjallabaksleið syðri, Flateyardalsheiði, Langanes just to mention a few. To go to Landmannalaugar or Þórsmörk you might aswell grab a 4x4 bus from Reykjavik if you are not up for the adventure of crossing the river Krossá with your own jeep. Many of the glacier rivers in the south are extremely difficult and dangerous to cross ! If you are in any doubt then do not cross !!  

Some of the mentioned northern situated places will be explored during the 4x4 events.

Of course also Sprengisand is really great if you never done it before !! Take care when fording Fjorðungskvisl at Jökuldalir (Nýadalir on the map) water level can rise quickly there making it impassable. Check with warden in the hut first if coming from south or wait for a vehicle to pass if coming from north ! If there are no vehicles passing and you are bound to cross then wade the river yourself first ! If you can cross a good 4x4 can too.

There are many huts for staying overnight in the mountains. They are often owned by some tourist association. Some are attended others are not. Some are owned by local jeep clubs. Check before you leave for them if booking is required or if they are open to tourists. Pay in the hut if it is unattended in accordance with the cabin rules !! Credit cards are anyhow not accepted there so bring cash. Typical cost is 6000-8000 ISK per night and person.

Bringing your own vehicle leaves you with Norröna car ferry or container shipping. Both are very expensive. Renting a 4x4 on Iceland is possibly even more expensive. You have to calculate what is best or most convenient to you.

 

A demanding run cross country

August 4 2013 the racing the planet took its start in Reykjavik. http://www.4deserts.com/beyond/iceland/

290 km in 6 stages. It did not come for free to participate though.