Located in the northern hemisphere, on the edge of the Arctic Circle, Iceland offers a fascinating world of striking contrasts. The freezing forces of arctic weather in constant battle with a volcanic melting pot have created some of the most dramatic and breathtaking landscapes.
Arguably, one of this unique island’s most distinctive geographical features is its volcanoes. As one of the most active volcanic regions on the planet – with over 130 volcanoes – The Land of Fire and Ice is a true wonderland for volcanists and tourists alike.
In recent decades, volcano tourism has grown exponentially around the world, and Iceland is no exception.
As a result, much of the tour guide industry has been built around visiting volcano eruption sites – especially since the famous 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajokull, which made headlines by halting European air travel.
Is Volcano Tourism Safe?
Iceland’s authorities are dedicated to researching and constantly monitoring the island’s volcanoes, making it one of the safest countries to explore and witness eruptions.
Seismic stations dotted around the country are excellent at predicting eruptions, and emergency measures – when needed – are incredibly swift and effective.
However, there are still basic precautions you can take to reduce risk and be confident that your once-in-a-lifetime experience will be both thrilling and as safe as possible.
8 Top Tips For Visiting Iceland’s Volcanoes Safely
1. Plan ahead
As with any adventure, it’s important to have a plan and be organized ahead of time, so you can fully relax and enjoy your trip in safety.
Preparation is key to ensuring a safe, successful visit – from researching valuable trail information, planning your route and hiring a car to finding the right footwear!
2. Stay updated
Every volcano is different, and the conditions in Iceland can be very unpredictable. As a result, the situation can rapidly change at any moment, so it’s essential to stay updated in the days leading up to your volcanic adventure.
Find out who the local volcano monitoring and emergency management agencies are and where they post updates. This way, you can keep an eye out for alerts and other helpful information and follow any safety advice given.
On the day of your trip, you can check out the latest status updates for volcano trail conditions before you set out: https://safetravel.is.
3. Only use a reputable, licensed guide
One of the best ways to guarantee your safety when visiting volcano eruption sites is to use a local, licensed guide with great reviews – whether you opt to hike or view volcanoes from the sky.
According to Act No. 96/2018 on the Icelandic Tourist Board, anyone intending to perform organized tours within Icelandic territory must have detailed safety plans in place.
Unfortunately, a few guides will take tourists out despite authority warnings, including helicopter and small plane tours, so it’s vital to check who you are signing up with.
Contact The Icelandic Tourist Board for a list of reputable licensed tour guides.
4. Leave a travel plan with someone who can respond in an emergency
If you choose to take a self-guided hiking tour to a volcano site, it’s essential to tell someone where you’re going. Someone who will be able to react if you get into difficulties.
If possible, travel and hike with at least one other person.
There are trip-monitoring services available, for extra peace of mind, such as https://safetravel.is/travel-plan.
You’ll need a fully charged mobile (with GPS) to receive and send messages/emails about your departure, progress, and safe arrival back.
5. Follow the rules
Whether travelling as part of a group with a trusted guide – or taking a self-guided hiking option – it is critical to your safety that you:
- stay on the designated, marked paths and overlooks
- pay attention to signs
- follow all the rules.
Areas that the authorities deem a potential risk will have clear caution signs or be completely closed off. Not all hazards are visible. While it might look safe, there are likely invisible dangers, such as unstable ground or toxic volcanic fumes.
The rules are in place for your protection, so do not enter the exclusion zones or take any risks.
6. Make sure you are physically prepared
Some volcano sites are quick and easy to see during a road trip around Iceland, while others will require you to park and hike to the best viewing areas. Trails can vary considerably in length and difficulty, so be sure your body can handle the exertion before you set out.
Some of the hikes can be strenuous, across challenging terrain, with a chance of volcanic fumes, and will not be suitable for everyone.
Air quality, in particular, can present a danger to very young children, pregnant women, those with asthma/other respiratory issues, the elderly, and other vulnerable groups.
To get the most out of your volcano adventure and stay safe, be sure to do your research and choose a hike that your body can handle.
7. Wear the right clothes
The weather in Iceland can be highly erratic and change abruptly. For your own protection, you must dress appropriately and carry extra layers. You need layers of clothing that are warm, breathable, waterproof and wind resistant.
Expect the unexpected!
It’s also essential to make sure you have sturdy walking boots that fit well and will protect your feet over uneven, unstable ground (which can also be hot in places!).
Depending on the intensity and duration of the trail you’re walking, the extra stability offered by hiking poles can also prove beneficial.
8. Pack and carry the essentials
You clearly don’t want to be weighed down like a mule, but there are a few essential items to carry in your backpack that will be useful on your hike – and help to keep you safe.
There won’t be any shops once you set off, so you’ll need to carry everything you need from the start.
- Packed lunch/energy bars/snacks (depending on the length of the hike)
- Water – staying hydrated is essential
- Sunscreen, hat/cap, sunglasses – lava fields provide no shade and are hot!
- Headlamp or torch (in case your walk takes longer than predicted)
- First aid kit
- Fully charged mobile phone
- Personal medication
- N-95 mask (in case of volcanic fumes)
- Eye protection (in case of dust/ash/other airborne debris).
The Lava Centre
For those unable to visit a live volcano eruption site due to time, health, or a nervous disposition (!), The Lava Centre in Hvolsvöllur offers a safe alternative – and a wonderful experience in its own right.
This innovative museum offers interactive, state-of-the-art exhibits, depicting millions of years of Icelandic volcanic activity – from the formation of Iceland’s landmass to earthquakes, glacial floods, eruptions and more.
Volcano tourism is taking off in a big way and with the latest volcanic eruption from Fagradalsfjall – just 32km from Keflavik airport – Iceland looks set to be one of the top destinations to indulge in this passion in 2022.
Now you know how to stay safe when visiting a volcano; all that’s left to do is book your trip, rent a car, and prepare for the adventure of a lifetime!
For more travel tips and tricks for visiting Iceland, keep reading our blog.Back