The Highlands of central Iceland represent the biggest part of the country and are full of wonderful and diverse attractions. But at the same time, they are inaccessible for much of the year and not a single person lives there. That means this article could be a thousand words long – or a hundred. It depends on who you talk to.
As a tourist, one of the Highlands’ great attractions must surely be the fact that so many people (even locals) have never been up there. When people talk about the Highlands getting overcrowded these days, they probably mean that the likelihood of seeing another human person on any given day has gone up from 40% to 60%. And briefly seeing somebody from afar does not quite count as a forced meeting.
On the other hand, there are certain parts of the Highlands which have indeed become more accessible and extremely popular in recent decades. Landmannalaugar springs to mind; with its astonishing multi-coloured rhyolite mountains scarcely without a hiker and its glorious hot springs and rivers seldom un-bathed-in. And then there’s the Laugavegur hiking trail starting (or ending) at Landmannalaugar – that is also popular. The nearby, and connected, Fimmvörðuháls hike has also become even more popular since the 2010 eruption.
A few more (relatively) well-trodden Highland attractions include the Askja caldera, a deep, improbably-turquoise lake inside a mountain crater; Víti, the nearby hot lake one can often bathe in; Sprengisandur, the famous Icelandic ‘desert’ where there is practically nothing to see (and that’s the whole point); Herðubreið mountain and the nearby Herðubreiðarlindir lush oasis in the desert; and of course the imposing glaciers dotted around.
As with anywhere you go with the purpose of finding peace and solitude, you should really just go and explore for yourself without following some guide book’s top-ten-list! But if you decide to do that, there are some really important things to keep in mind:
- June to September is your window. The Highlands are dangerous and snowy at other times of year.
- If driving, only go in a sturdy 4x4 off-road vehicle. You will probably have to ford rivers!
- Although the marked roads are not really roads in many cases, do not go off road driving – it is illegal. Damage to soil and plants can take decades to heal.
- Having a guide with you is a good idea; or at least a two-way radio contact or a satellite phone.
- There are hundreds of kilometres between petrol stations; so make sure you have plenty of fuel.
- Have a tent with you even if you plan to stay in mountain huts/lodges. You never know when you might need it!
- Treat every trip into the Highlands as a momentous expedition. This makes it more fun and adventurous; and also helps you stay safe.
- Check out the websites safetravel.is and vegagerdin.is