Roads in Iceland
While we all love Reykjavik dearly, getting out of the city and exploring the unique nature of this island is an absolute must for travelers visiting Iceland. While many will go on popular tours like the Golden Circle or to see the Glacier Lagoon, there is something magical about driving through a deserted lava field in the middle of nowhere. Many travelers opt to rent a car and take to the famous Ring Road. While it is destined to be a unique and unforgettable experience, there are a few things to consider before heading off. So here are some helpful tips, pointers, and suggestions from the WOW team...
This is probably the most important element to any travel plan in Iceland. An absolute must is to get well acquainted with the Icelandic Met Office's website and by that we mean obsessively checking it for days before you hit the road. Contrary to popular belief, snowfall isn't your biggest concern here. The main destroyer of good travel plans is actually the wind. Anything above 20 m/s (that's meters per second people!) and you might be in for more than you bargained for. While you may fail to see why wind could be problematic, take into consideration that getting hit by 30, 40 or even 50 m/s while driving at 90 km/h on an icy road in a steep mountain pass surrounded by trolls and hidden people, sounds pretty scary, to say the least. We may exaggerate on the presence of supernatural beings but those gales are no joke and they can get even crazier (record breaking gust was 74 m/s). And then there's that unpredictability factor that Icelandic weather is so widely known for. Our forecasts are usually accurate but the weather can change suddenly on this rock in the middle of the North Atlantic so keeping your eye on the sky is nowhere near adequate. You. Need. That. Website. And just to be clear, this goes for July as well as January. Take no chances and keep your plan B in check, cause there she blows.
Your best friend on the day of departure will be the Road and Coastal Administration's awesome website which will tell you everything you need to know about the roads in Iceland. As a driver, this is your essential text. Get familiar with the codes, their timetables and alerts and follow their instructions to a T. The Ring Road and other main roads in Iceland are well serviced so heavy snow isn't really a big concern but in order for heavy machinery to service these roads, the winds have to be less than hellish and the visibility at least some. We cannot stress the authority of this website too often. Think rugged road bad-asses who brave those crazy elements every day to keep us up to speed, and just listen to the professionals.
If you're planning on driving in winter, a four-wheel drive vehicle, preferably equipped with studded tires, is the only way to go. If you're lucky, a normal sedan on winter tires will get you where you want to go but if you want to be able to brave the wilderness in most weathers, get a proper winter vehicle. They are usually sturdier, safer in case of a crash, more able to get out of snow (that turned out to be far deeper than you anticipated) and those studded tires will keep you where you want to be.
Aside from the proper vehicle and the obsessive reading of weather reports and the Road and Coastal Administration's website, nothing beats taking proper precautions. These include leaving your travel plan on Safe Travel's website, which ensures that if you don't adhere to your plans or check in, ICE-SAR (the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue) will start looking for you. Also make sure you pack warm clothes and extra food and water in case your car breaks down and pack a GPS even if you think your cellphone can take on the world. A compass is never a bad idea but if you run into trouble, it's usually best to wait until ICE-SAR finds you, not the other way around. Finally, if you're doing a long haul on your car, take note of the next gas station and if you pass one, stop, fill your car up, use the bathroom and stock up on snacks and drinks. Rural Iceland really can be quite remote.