This enchanted arctic island is an environmentalist’s dream and an adventure seeker’s playing ground.
I roam the world for a myriad of reasons. Business. An education. Pleasure. Iceland had been on my “living list” for a while, not due to its current super trendy status, but my late mother and I had wanted our next family trip to be on a Scandinavian cruise. Having already experienced Sweden and Denmark, the Norwegian, Icelandic and Faroe Islands section of the itinerary we looked at intrigued us more. Sadly, we never made it together, but pledged to myself that over the next few years I would complete my late parents “bucket lists” alongside my “living list”.
One major factor that piqued my interest was the Icelandic passion for their environment as a small island state. I was privileged to have participated in the UN’s historic COP21 in Paris with Meatless Monday Global. After witnessing the accord and euphoria we felt in that moment, each new destination visited ever since, I am curious about the way countries practice climate change initiatives to protect their natural habitat and citizenry. Iceland has been blessed with abundant clean renewable energy sources. In fact, it is the only country in the world that obtains its energy needs solely from renewable sources.
One such energy source is geothermal power from its volcanic soil. Over 80% of Icelandic homes are heated via geothermal energy and 100% of its electricity comes from renewables like hydropower. As a result, it has one of the cheapest electricity costs in the world and some of the cleanest transmission systems. Speaking of clean, the water quality in Iceland is the purest on the planet. We were advised not to purchase bottled water, or if we did, to refill bottles with tap water. Have to say, it was the best water I had tasted in my life. No chemical residue aftertaste was detected on my palate found in tap water elsewhere.
Clean water is essential to Icelanders who rely heavily on the fishing industry. Icelandic territorial waters are one of the least contaminated. The push against pollution comes from sustainable practices such as strictly enforced quotas and protection of marine life, both plant and animal. This serious nature conservation is one of the reasons Iceland is blessed with vast areas of unspoiled natural beauty. Lupin fields for miles, lunar landscapes that resemble the moon’s surface, breathtaking glaciers, stunning waterfalls, gorgeous basalt rock formations and scenic villages dot the landscape.
No surprise this Arctic island nation is experiencing a tourism boom. In fact, it’s equated as a miracle after the economic crash of 2008 created an economic and government collapse when all commercial banks defaulted. Next, came the natural disaster of the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruptions in 2010, creating major disruptions to air travel over large swathes of northern and western Europe. Despite it all, being descendants of Vikings and hardy from unpredictable climatic conditions, Icelanders bounced back and currently enjoy a per capita GDP of US$50,000 making it a prosperous nation with a robust welfare state. The island is sparsely populated with 350,000 people and visitor numbers surpassed 2 million in 2018. Naturally islanders politely encourage visitors to respect their habitat. There have also been concerns about mass tourism, but honestly, in my humble experience, never felt claustrophobic or encountered the type of massive crowds found in mainland Europe at popular locations. Instead, felt tiny in the epic landscapes.
‘Wonder of the World’
Most visitors to Iceland arrive at Keflavik international airport. We flew in aboard Icelandair blind to the ground or any visible lights as we descended, the sky dark and foggy, only knowing we had landed with a gentle bump on the tarmac. Once immigration and customs are cleared, there is a huge duty-free section which encourages visitors to buy spirits as alcohol is heavily taxed, so if you like a tipple or 2, stock up at the airport. There is a reliable transport system via the Reykjavik Excursions Flybus airport shuttle service which drops you off and picks you back up from most major hotels in the capital Reykjavík. Cheaper than taxis so purchase a return ticket. The buses are comfortable and have all important Wi-Fi to message your loved ones. Best to reserve a time slot, but you can book on arrival.
Depending on the time you land, you can head directly to the famous Blue Lagoon, or save this National Geographic ‘Wonder of the World’ attraction for the end of your visit. Preferably reserved in advance. There are hourly slots. Packages vary from basic entry to premium. You will gasp as the frigid air greets you, scantily clad in swimwear and wrapped in a bathrobe, but once you slip inside the hot water the cold is forgotten as you gradually relax. After a few minutes enjoying sublime heat and people watching, head to a walk-up bar to receive your complimentary silica and algae masks. Our skin felt baby smooth afterwards and enjoyed the best sleep later that evening.
Be forewarned. Iceland is expensive. Cheap to fly there and accommodation is affordable but eating out is not. Iceland is known for lamb and seafood. It may be challenging for vegans, but vegetarians will enjoy Skyr, the famous Icelandic yoghurt which is absolutely delicious. Supermarkets are well stocked with fruits and vegetables if you are staying in an Airbnb with a kitchen. On the road, I skipped my usual wine and enjoyed Icelandic beer, especially enamoured with the varietal Kaldi Dokkur. Deep reddish dark brown with spicy, toasty notes, and a perfumed nose, a delight to drink and kept the conversation flowing while I hung out with a bunch of friendly Irishmen and Icelanders. The bar scene is wonderful in Reykjavik.
From whale watching to climbing glaciers, exploring ice caves to riding Icelandic horses, helicopter tours to snorkelling, Iceland has a range of activities to do. I highly recommend a trip to the Land of Fire and Ice. For those of us who live in the tropics, it is a welcome contrast. Experience the heavenly Northern Lights. Stand in awe at the mighty icebergs of Jokulsarlon, walk behind and feel the energetic force of the mighty Seljalandfoss, stroll along the wild black sand beauty of Reynisfara beach near Vik. Breathe it all in. Add Iceland to your living lists for an unforgettable adventure.
Currency: Icelandic Kroner
Time Zone: Greenwich Mean Time
Clothing Tips: Wear layers, warm jackets/coats, raincoat advisable for Seljalandfoss as you will get drenched, comfortable hiking shoes
Hotel: Fosshotel Reykjavík
Tours: Your Day Tours, Wake Up Reykjavik
Airline: Icelandair from Heathrow, London
Jacqui ‘JuicyChef’ Sinclair, founder of Nyam & Trod, is a British Jamaican award-winning chef, writer, and food culturist. She is a co-founder of Kingston Kitchen, an annual food event supporting food artisans. Jacqui has been an advocate of the Meatless Monday Global movement in Jamaica since 2011. Jacqui’s work has been featured in such publications as the Huffington Post, the Jamaica Observer, Saveur, The Jewish Post and numerous blogs. She has appeared on the Travel Channel’s ‘Bizarre Foods’ with Andrew Zimmern and Food & Wine’s Jamaica episode with Kwame Onwuachi.