Iceland: The land of fire and ice

Adventure and nature at its rawest is guaranteed in Iceland, as recent volcanic activity illustrates. April Waterston gives agents the low-down on advice to pass on to nervous clients

Iceland’s reputation as the land of fire and ice is not unwarranted, with the past few months offering a dramatic display of volcanic eruptions in the Reykjanes peninsula.

A road sign accompanied by aggressively flashing lights reads: ‘STRICTLY NO STOPPING’. As the car ahead of us proceeds with caution, steam (or, ‘is that smoke?’) clouds its wheels. We soon realise, should one rebel against the sign and pause their vehicle for even a fleeting moment, the tyres would melt onto the tarmac.  

I am in Iceland – Grindavik, to be precise – on what would transpire to be a mere five days prior to one of the most powerful and sudden eruptions of the Reykjanes volcano yet.  

Nearing the Blue Lagoon as the final stop on our four-day road trip, it feels like we are trespassing a foreign planet. Mossy lava rock paves the landscapes for miles on end, broken up only by fresh jet black rock from the recent eruptions. We pass through two dystopian-like 40-metre long, 10-metre high lava walls, built to protect the nearby powerstation. The ground is hot and the threat of a volcanic eruption is high, but with a hypothetical 30 minute warning to evacuate, the Blue Lagoon remains open for business. 

Iceland springs
Hvammsvik hot springs
Iceland crater
Kerid Crater

Many of Iceland’s key landmarks are centered around geothermal activity – from the famous Blue Lagoon and other hot springs to the Gulfoss geyser or the Kerid crater. Meanwhile, the Diamond Beach and glaciers like those found in Vatnajökull National Park offer a stark contrast, with glistening blue ice part of their appeal.

Recent coverage of volcanic activity near Grindavik may make it appear like a less-than-ideal holiday destination, but Iceland’s other-wordly landscapes are putting on a dazzling display and Icelanders are well versed in living alongside Mother Nature.

“A beautiful thing about Iceland is that you can experience all four seasons in one day,” says Dennis Jung, General Manager of the Reykjavik Edition Hotel. “Even if the weather’s ‘bad’, it has a mystical feel.”

As a local, Dennis isn’t overly concerned about the volcanic activity. “There’s safety measures in place; Iceland has magma specialists and volcanic professors regularly evaluating the situation, and a massive set-up of rescue teams. I have never had a day where I don’t feel safe.”

Iceland waterfrozen
Seljalandsfoss waterfall

Safety first

Volcanic activity in Iceland is expected to remain volatile for some time. While this should not discourage agents from selling holidays to the region, clients may seek additional reassurance and support before and during their trips. It is important that both travellers and agents are prepared for all eventualities.

“Traveling near areas with active or potentially active volcanoes poses unique challenges, especially when an eruption occurs,” says Alvaro Iturmendi, a Confused.com travel insurance expert. Volcanic eruptions can impact air travel, lead to evacuations, and affect local infrastructure. As such, Alvaro recommends the following:

Stay informed: Regularly check updates from local authorities regarding the volcanic activity. This information can change rapidly, so staying on top of the news is crucial. The Icelandic Met Office is a reliable source of information. vedur.is
Be flexible: Volcanic activity can be unpredictable. Be prepared to adjust plans and follow the advice of local authorities. Where possible, book flexible travel options that allow changes or cancellations. This may come at an extra cost but can provide peace of mind.
Local infrastructure: Be aware that eruptions can affect local infrastructure, including roads, water supplies, and power. Recommend to clients that they consider a back-up plan for accommodation and carry additional supplies.
Check travel insurance: Encourage your clients to check that their travel insurance covers natural disaster-related disruptions. Some policies may exclude such events.

Tourists to Iceland can feel confident that their welfare is in hand. “The safety of our guests and staff is our top priority at Blue Lagoon Iceland,” says Bryndís Björnsdóttir, Director of Sales & Business Development, Blue Lagoon, one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions which just so happens to be located very close to the currently active volcano.

“Despite the seismic events over the course of the last few months, all our facilities remain in good condition and are surrounded by protective barriers designed to safeguard Blue Lagoon’s vital infrastructure against potential lava flows.

Visitors to the Blue Lagoon receive pre-arrival emails with information on the current situation and the evacuation actions that might need to be taken during their visit. Should further eruptions occur and tickets need to be cancelled or postponed, the team are happy to facilitate this.

“I would recommend travel agents continue to speak to our sales team and read our website and information letters to remain up to date,” Bryndís adds.

What’s new

Iceland northern
Northern lights
Iceland waterfall
Hidden Gljúfrabúi waterfall

Solar surge: Many travellers visit Iceland with hopes of catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights. The 2024 season is slated to be the best year for solar activity in over a decade, as the sun reaches its peak of its 11-year solar activity cycle. vedur.is

Access to Akureyri: easyJet is operating a new winter flight direct from London Gatwick to Akureyri. Nicknamed the ‘Capital of North Iceland’, Akureyri is in close proximity to ski resorts and home to Bjórböðin, a spa where visitors can bathe in beer. easyjet.com

Diamond Circle: The Golden Circle is something of a rite of passage for travellers to Iceland, but with increased connectivity to the north of the island the Diamond Circle is gaining in popularity. Highlights include the Gudafoss waterfall and Lake Myvat. trailfinders.com

Luxury lifestyle: The Reykjavik Edition positions itself as the first ‘luxury lifestyle’ hotel in Iceland. Located in the heart of the capital city overlooking the Old Harbour, the Reykjavik Edition – with its Michelin-recommended restaurant and quintessentially Nordic design – serves as an ideal base to bookend an Icelandic trip in the country’s capital. editionhotels.com

Refreshed experiences: The Blue Lagoon is set to unveil enhancements to its experience and in May will launch a new dining concept at its Michelin recommended restaurant, Moss. bluelagoon.com

Hvammsvík hot springs: Located a 45-minute drive from Reykjavik, Hvammsvík offers a unique bathing experience in the Icelandic wilderness. The eight hot springs are filled by a geothermal well and the Atlantic Ocean with the tides. Additional experiences include steam baths, Wim Hof breathwork sessions and hiking.
hvammsvík.com

Book it with… Regent Holidays

A South Iceland Winter Fly-Drive five-day tour starts at £860pp, including flights, car hire, and four nights’ accommodation. regent-holidays.co.uk