Super Tourism in Iceland
With its spectacular scenery and exorbitant prices, Iceland has clocked tourism. Tourists are locked in and their hard earned dinero is being siphoned into the Icelandic economy as soon as they exit the aircraft and are funnelled past 3m high billboards advertising Iceland’s signature yogurt and duty free shops full of stuffed toy puffins. There are no travellers, backpackers or global citizens in Iceland, everyone is forced to become a super tourist regardless of their individual travelling style or bohemian self-perception. Don’t believe it? Still clinging to your travel blogger ideals? Let me give you some examples.
Accommodation in Iceland’s capital and only city, Reyjavik cost more than a world class megacity like New York and that’s before the currency conversion. Even if you are comfortable sleeping in a dormitory with 14 other people and inhaling their carbon dioxide, farts, sickness and snores the cost is as much as a three bedroom holiday house would for the weekend back home. Win one for Iceland’s economy.
Supermarkets close at 8pm on weekdays, 6pm on weekends and 2pm if you are outside Reyjavik. This means if you are not organised, or travel late, (which you are likely to be as it doesn’t get dark in summer, ever) then you will be forced to eat at a restaurant or a service station if you are poor and/or have low standards. Both options are more expensive than making your own meals and gift more of your money into the local economy.
All museums cost. All of them. WTF? In the rest of the western world at least you can count on the museum to be free.
Icelandic saga museum - worth the cost of being traumatised by lifesize models (maybe not dor children)
Tourist hotspots are pimped out. From pay for parking, to an information centre were you can buy audio guides, books on runes or translations of medieval Viking sagas and more stuffed toy puffins, to a café with massively overpriced food. One American tourist I overheard complained he was hungry, but couldn’t afford to buy anything at “the most expensive shop in the world”.
Toilets at these hotspots are also a 100% return for the economy.
Need to go to the bathroom because you have been on a tour bus for the last hour or because the giant waterfall is making you wanna pee? Well, get out your wallet.
Some toilets are a donation (99% of people I saw ignored the signs and used them anyway), others are coin operated to enter (hold the door open for your friends or the next person) and some required you to swipe your credit card to gain access. Tourism in Iceland knows you have basic needs and has you covered across all bases; pay to park, pay to eat, pay to defecate.
Car rental is huge and extremely user friendly. Here Iceland supports the economy through sheer scale and awesome customer service. From videos about how to drive on the right hand side of the road and in snow, to weekly blog updates about the weather and the best places to see the Northern lights, it’s no wonder 90% of everyone you meet on the roads are tourists.
The roads are wide and straight, with a 90km speed limit and everyone seems to be driving a tiny Toyota Yaris or Vaxhuall hatchback. Even in summer the majority of cars have metal spikes on the wheels that create a humming sound that exists just at the limit of your hearing range. The other 9.9% of people you see on the roads are in tour buses. Occasionally, you might see a local in a 4x4, but as the total population of Iceland is 330,000 and 75% of them live in Reyjavik, it was probably just a gung ho American tourist who has too much pride to drive a toy car like everyone else.
But it is all worth the extra cost of single handily propping up the Icelandic economy because the natural landscape, is absolutely, fucking amazing. Iceland is literally one giant frozen volcano, which you might know theoretically before you go, but is impossible to appreciate until you are there. Travelling through the countryside is like a geology lesson, 20 minutes past the massive waterfall channelling more water than Niagra falls, is a geothermal geyser that erupts 20m in the air every 2-10 minutes and natural hot springs you can soak in.
Tourists wait for 2-10 minutes between eruptions with cellphones ready for selfies at Geysir.
Around the corner (past more waterfalls) is a lava field covered in forest green moss which stretches as far as you can see and takes 40 minutes to drive through.
After the lava moss are glaciers, one so big it stretches from horizon to horizon and the moraine desert it has spent the last several million years creating takes you almost an hour to cross.
This is all only 3.5 hours drive from Reyjavik.
Then you arrive at the glacier lagoons and holy shit are you impressed.
Photo taken with a cellphone — no fancy camera or filter required
Multiple glaciers grind their way in slow motion from between the mountains towards the ocean like giant tongues of ice from the central icecap that covers 14% of the entire island. Icebergs the size of houses calve off from the glaciers into giant lagoons, breaking into fantastical shapes that feed the imagination as if they were ice clouds reflected in the blue glacial waters of a clear sky.
Washing out to sea the icebergs are broken up and scattered along the coastline like beached frozen whales. Tourists take pictures of their reflections in the ice, not reflecting that the final resting place of these decaying ice sculptures is a bed of stones polished smooth over millions of years by the very glacier the bergs were recently part of.
Every photograph you take here is pure magic. The photos on your cell phone look like they were taken by a professional and every selfie is instagram and facebook profile gold.
The natural landscape and scenery Iceland gives you this totally for free and it is priceless.