Summer is in full swing here in Iceland which means the days are long, nature is in peak bloom, and the country is buzzing with action and lots of new faces. With it being high season for tourism we thought now was the perfect time to talk about how not to be a bad tourist in Iceland, because we don’t want any of you to be called that.
What do we mean by “bad tourist” you ask?
This is someone who comes to Iceland and does not respect the nature, culture, or those lucky enough to call Iceland home. Someone who comes to Iceland and thinks their actions have no consequences and no harm can come to them because they are on vacation after all. Or, maybe you end up being called a bad tourist because you did something that you didn’t know was an appropriate activity to do in Iceland.
Whatever the case may be, you don’t want to end up as a story on the Icelandic news talking about the most recent “bad tourist” incident. To help you avoid this title we have put together a list of things that in recent years have caused issues in the tourism industry in Iceland. Some of them may seem like no brainers, others may surprise you. Either way, you are going to want to remember this list and avoid the dreaded label of “bad tourist in Iceland”!
Don’t damage the moss
You can’t have an iconic Icelandic landscape view without including the fluffy green moss that seems to appear wherever you are around the country. Moss covered lava fields that seem to go on for miles and miles are as much a part of the Icelandic nature as the constant breeze blowing across the country.
As you drive past mile after mile of this beautiful green moss you may be tempted to settle in for a nap in the cushy moss and we don’t blame you, it makes things look extra cosy! As inviting as the moss looks naptime is going to have to happen elsewhere as it is very fragile and it can be damaged quickly. Anything from walking on the moss, driving on it, and even tearing up the moss for a little souvenir to bring home is the quickest way to be called a bad tourist in Iceland. And especially be sure to avoid the latest issue Iceland is facing, people ripping up the moss to make writing’s in it!
Icelanders are very protective over the moss and damages done to it are very offensive to both the Icelandic people and nature. Even more unfortunate, once the moss is damaged it can take years before it will recover. So be sure to remember this, your actions and any damages they cause to the moss, they will have a lasting impact for years to come.
Don’t go to the bathroom wherever you please
You may think this sounds ridiculous, and trust us we wish we could say we are joking about this one. Sadly this is not a joke and it is becoming all too common a sight to find toilet paper floating across the landscape, or to see someone squatting out in nature wherever they please. Nothing ruins a beautiful movement out in the Icelandic nature like coming across clumps of used toilet paper along the trail!
Now, you might be wondering why in the world people are going to the bathroom out in the open. Aren’t there public restrooms in Iceland? Take this as fair warning, there is an issue of lack of public bathrooms in Iceland. This is something the tourism industry is well aware of and doing their best to improve on but it will take time for the infrastructure to catch up.
So come prepared with this in mind when you head off for your Icelandic road trip. Be strategic when it comes to bathroom breaks and take advantage of when you do see a rest stop or even a public restaurant or shop to do your business. And as a back-up, you might want to have a small plastic sack to put your used toilet paper in to be thrown in a garbage bin. We would like to avoid any other fires caused by someone trying to burn their poop, true story.
Don’t camp in someone’s front yard
Until just a few years ago you were allowed to set up camp pretty much wherever you wanted in Iceland, outside of private property of course. This was working just fine until the tourism boom happened and suddenly tents began showing up all over the place, including places that were not open for visitors, like someone’s front yard which is something that truly did happen.
In 2015 new legislation was passed which essentially states that camping is only allowed in designated areas. It is a shame that people could not respect private property to the point that this legislation had to be put into place as there was nothing more special than getting to set up camp out in nature and waking up to those open-spaced views. But it is a law that definitely needs to be respected so if you are planning on camping around Iceland make sure you are aware of where the designated camping areas are before you set up camp. And the camping grounds around Iceland, they still come with some pretty amazing views.
Don’t mess with cairns
In case you aren’t familiar with what cairns are a bit of Icelandic history first. Cairns are man-made piles of stones that were once used as a sort of GPS system before there was such a thing as cars and GPS systems. As travelers would make there way across the country they would build cairns along the way to help future travelers find the path. These small rock towers were very important as they were the only markings to show the different road or paths that crossed all over the island. Today many of these ancient stone towers are still standing and can be seen all over Iceland as you look out across the landscape.
So, what is the problem with messing around with cairns? It’s not like Icelanders travel by way of cairns markings these days.
First off, it is actually illegal to move rocks from the large ancient cairns. These are ancient artifacts of Iceland and disturbing them is kind of like messing with history. Secondly, it is also illegal to make new cairns. While cairns are not the main source of navigation these days, they are still commonly used by hikers. This means if you go around making new ones it would make new markings of pathways that are actually not the ones hikers should follow, and you really don’t want to have it on your conscious that you might have caused someone to get lost in the Icelandic nature.
Now, when you come across cairns while exploring Iceland you can impress your friends with your knowledge about them, and remind them all to look but don’t touch.
Don’t throw coins in water
Iceland is a country with endless water features to visit. From hot springs to geysers, waterfalls and the clear waters that fill gorges and craters, there are beautiful water features all over the place.
Lately, there has been a new addition to many of the most popular water attractions, and it is not a welcome addition. Places such as the water that runs through Thingvellir National Park or the famous Geysir are suddenly being turned into wishing wells as people empty their pocket change into them.
We hate to break it to you but no wish will come true if you throw your coins in the clear water. The only thing that is going to come from throwing your coins in the water is some upset locals and the ugly look of coins sitting at the bottom of the pretty water. So do yourself and the Icelandic nature a favor, keep your change in your pocket and use the extra money to buy a tasty Icelandic treat.
We wish this did not even need to be mentioned as littering is something that should not happen anywhere in the world. But, it is a major issue in Iceland that very much needs to be addressed to protect the beauty of nature and eliminate the views of someone’s garbage drifting about.
Sadly, this sight is becoming all too common as the increase in tourism continues in Iceland to the point that several bills have been submitted to Icelandic parliament to increase the fine for littering to a minimum of 100,000 ISK (910 USD/770 EUR).
Littering is not only disrespectful to both the Icelandic nature and locals, it also ruins the nature for future visitors who will have to take in a view that now includes garbage being blown about in the wind. So please, keep your trash until you find an appropriate bin to toss it in, we all have to work together to keep Icelandic nature clean for all to enjoy in the years to come.
Don’t go onto private property
One would think that when you see a big sign that says “no trespassing, private property” people would steer clear of the area. Well, all it seems to take is one picture on Instagram of a pretty place that is on private property and you suddenly have herds of people ignoring the signs and making their way over to the latest hidden gem.
Sadly this situation is becoming all too common in Iceland with tourists crossing onto private property lines trying to reach the attraction they read about online. While this used to not be as much an issue when the numbers of visitors were low, the high volume of traffic these areas are seeing is now causing damage to the private property to the point that areas have to be completely closed off.
Source: Visit South Iceland
Property owners are not closing off their hidden gems because they want to keep them all to themselves. This is a matter of protecting nature and the fact that there is no infrastructure to support the high volume of visitors. Efforts have been made to create an infrastructure to support visitors coming to these types of locations that do not include trespassing on private property. So even if it might take you a few minutes longer to walk, please respect the landowners' private property and reduce the damage you can have on nature by taking the appropriate public trails.
Don’t put yourself at risk and need to be rescued
To end this list of how to avoid being a bad tourist we are going back again to all the safety issues we have been talking about for the past few weeks. We may be starting to sound like a broken record but we truly can not say it enough, please do not ignore warnings and safety rules in Iceland! Too many of the situations we hear about tourists getting rescued from are completely avoidable if they would have followed the rules and not had risky behavior. While Iceland has an amazing search and rescue team all of them are volunteers who are putting their lives at risk to help others.
When you hear of a warning, such as a weather warning, listen to it. And when you read signs saying stay on certain pathways or don’t enter specific areas obey them. Most important, don’t forget how dangerous Icelandic nature can be, respect the nature and the rules here, and always keep your safety in mind while enjoying the gorgeous Icelandic nature. You don’t want to be the tourist that tried to do something they shouldn’t have and end up needing to be rescued. Instead, you want to be the tourist enjoying the peaceful beauty of the Icelandic nature to the fullest!
We want everyone to come here and enjoy the country, and leave without the label of “bad tourist”! For more helpful Iceland travel tips check out our blog where you will amongst others find articles about the do's and don'ts of Iceland and 10 dumb ways to die in the world's safest country.