Safe travel in Iceland
When visiting a wild an rugged islands you better play it safe.
To be safe in Iceland all you need is common sense, a good plan and to let someone know you’re here. Sounds easy right?
Let’s start with common sense. You know what they say about common sense right; that it’s not so common and as a result countless travellers have had to be saved from dire circumstances that they needn’t have to be in.
Driving in Iceland, in any city or within town limits is usually safe except in extreme weather. However, as soon as you leave the urban area the roads can be dangerous especially during the winter. This is Iceland after all and the roads get … well icy. We also have wind, snow, darkness and rain to make it even more difficult and dangerous to drive during winter. If you are going to venture outside the city limits please make sure you have a proper vehicle, preferably a four wheel drive, with good snow tires—or hire a professional driver.
Even during the summer driving too fast (or too slow) on the Icelandic Ring Road can be dangerous; the road is rather narrow and has a speed limit of 90 km an hour, sometimes even less due to maintenance. Stopping on the side of the road for photos is dangerous to both you and other drivers so find a suitable space for your car before stopping and NEVER stop behind a hill.
Now you’ve got the vehicle all fueled up and are heading for the wilderness. Did you check the weather? Did you check if the roads are open? Did you remember to pack food? If the answer to any of these questions is a “no” you need to rethink your plan. Iceland might not be big but it seems pretty big if you get lost. Even if your car is a four wheel drive you can’t assume that you’ll be able to venture into just any road you see on your map. Many roads are closed during the winter and others close suddenly if the weather is bad. Some roads are only accessible to SUV’s or super jeeps the whole year round! In Iceland off-road driving is prohibited to protect the delicate nature.
The rule of thumb is that the more digits there are in the road’s number the more likely it is to be inaccessible. And if the road has an F in front of it you should only take it if you are an experienced driver and happen to be driving a well-equipped SUV; yes even during the summer time.
Also the chances of finding little shops, open gas stations and open restaurants in the long stretches of wilderness, slim down considerably during the winter but even in the summer many travelers have been caught without food in the Icelandic highlands trying to find a convenience store. Good luck with that.
Is there anybody out there?
To plan a successful trip in Iceland you need to let someone know you‘re out there. We mean other than your friends and family back home. Well think about it, if no one knows you’re here who will know if you get lost? Fortunately the Icelandic Association for Search & Rescue (SAR) has the solution. Go to www.safetravel.is and leave your travel plan with them. They also have a free app for download which allows anyone to call them, send an SOS message with a location and, when everything is going good, leave a trail of locations so that if anything happens later the SAR rescue teams knows where you were last and have a parameter to work with.
Also important: Whatever you do, NEVER venture onto a glacier by yourself! Not even if you’ve let someone know.
The Icelandic Association for Search & Rescue
- Almost every member of the SAR rescue teams is a volunteer.
- SAR runs mainly on donations.
- SAR has around 100 rescue teams all over Iceland.
- Every day of the year about 4,000 volunteers are ready to gear up day or night.