Please don’t be stupid! (Or: how to return from your trip to Iceland in one piece)

Before we go any further I want to make it clear that I don’t think the people in the photos below are stupid. The behavior captured on these photos on the other hand is reckless.

I know that there are certain things that you don’t know as tourist in Iceland that we the locals do know. As a tourist I don’t expect you to know that there can be strong winds in certain areas in Kjalarnes, for example, or under Hafnarfjall mountain that can easily blow your car off the road in the right conditions and if you are not careful. Because of this we have put up signs on those roads that will let you know of dangerous winds speeds and we urge travelers to check safetravel.isvedur.is and road.is before they head out on their adventures.

I didn’t think it was necessary though to tell a grown adult that you don’t walk out onto icebergs in an area that you don’t know. Or that you don’t go out into the ocean in areas where the waves that are 3 times your size come crashing in with such force that you have to search wide and far around the world to find currents as strong. But apparently it is. Despite the fact that there are signs that warn against these dangers.

I know I’m probably going to offend someone with the language I use in this post but if it saves a life it’s worth it. Iceland is a magical, beautiful, amazing, breathtaking and even a very safe country to visit but its nature is also dangerous, cruel and unforgiving. The weather can turn crazy in a second, crevasses in glaciers swallow travelers leaving no traces of their existence behind, the water in geysers is so hot that it can make you into a stew quickly if you fall into them and waterfalls have such power that you can produce electricity for a whole nation by harnessing this power.

I want you to return home from your once-in-a-lifetime trip to Iceland in one piece and with good memories. I don’t want you to have to make arrangements to transport a deceased friend back home to a grieving family. I also don’t want you to risk the lives of my friends and family that serve on the Iceland search and rescue teams that are called out if you get yourself into trouble by ignoring the warnings. They are awesome and hardcore but they are also people that deserve that their lives are not risked by sending them into dangerous situations that are completely preventable.

So if I have to use a word like stupid to get people to listen, so be it!

Please don’t be stupid by climbing onto the icebergs at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Photo credit: Owen Hunt

Photo credit: Owen Hunt

There are many things that make going out to the icebergs in Jökulsárlón dangerous. First of all the icebergs are slippery and you can easily fall and hurt yourself from the fall or you can end up in the lagoon. The water is cold, it’s difficult for others to get to your rescue, and the consequences can be devastating. The icebergs can also flip over leaving you in the water underneath it. There’s also a undercurrent here that can sweep you out to the ocean.

Please don’t be stupid by wading into the waves at Reynisfjara beach

Photo credit: ULRICH PITTROFF

Photo credit: ULRICH PITTROFF

Reynisfjara beach, as beautiful as it is, is known for huge waves and strong currents (some of the strongest in the world) that can sweep you out to the ocean in an instance. You should always keep a safe distance from the ocean and not take unnecessary risks. There are numerous incidents where travelers have got themselves into trouble on this beach, the most tragic one was an American lady that drowned there in 2007.

Please don’t be stupid by driving on glaciers in your rental car.

Langjökull

Photo Credit: Arngrímur Hermannsson

We already covered this in my post about the ice caves a few days ago but you should never go to a glacier on your own without the proper equipment and experienced guide. Not driving or by foot.

Please don’t be stupid by going out on slippery ledges around waterfalls

Photo Credit: Gyða Hafdís Margeirsdóttir

Photo Credit: Gyða Hafdís Margeirsdóttir

Waterfalls can be dangerous because the rocks and ledges around them can be very slippery. Especially in winter when the spray from the waterfalls freezes and covers everything around it in ice. The stream can also be quite powerful and you never know what’s beneath. If you fall down you might drown but you might also hit your head hard on the rocks below which would knock you out instantly. And then you drown.

Please don’t be stupid by leaving the marked paths in geothermal areas


Geothermal areas are very unstable and you never know what is going on underneath the surface. Not so long ago a friend of ours was hiking to Reykjadalur and walked off the marked paths. He stepped onto what seemed like just normal spot of grass but his foot went straight through it and into steaming hot water underneath. He got badly burned and he’s not the only one because I hear stories of travelers encountering similar situations all the time. You should always stick to the paths in hiking areas but it’s extra important in geothermal areas.

Another example was when Gunnuhver in Reykjanes went from being a pretty lazy geyser to a sprouting mud geyser seemingly overnight last year.

Please don’t be stupid by ignoring local advice

I know that we can sometimes sound like annoying parents forbidding you to do everything that is fun in life when we are warning you about the Icelandic nature.There is a reason though why your parents probably told you not to stick your fingers or anything metal into the electric socket: it’s dangerous and you can hurt yourself. Or worse, you might end up dead. Your parents knew this from experience just like we know about Iceland from living here.

So please please please don’t be stupid and return home from your trip in Iceland in one piece!

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24 thoughts on “Please don’t be stupid! (Or: how to return from your trip to Iceland in one piece)”

  1. Lavergne Fequet says:

    Excellent post…. don’t feel badly for a moment about calling someone stupid, for this foolish irresponsible behaviour… the only person(s) who would get offended by being called “stupid”, for doings such things, would be those who have done it and those with potential & desire to do so..

    1. mm Auður says:

      I actually think name calling is pretty pointless – I just used the word stupid here to grab people’s attention.

      I truly believe that there can be genuine reasons, like not knowing better, when people do stupid things. I do stupid things all the time and I would still consider myself pretty smart (like that time when I was 11 or something and lid some “fireworks” inside my room causing a hole in the floor and black spot on the ceiling – that was pretty stupid but I just had to see what would happen if I did that 🙂 ) .

      However, I have little compassion for you if you read this post and still go on and do these things and end up in trouble. Then you should have known better.

      1. North Watt says:

        I will be visiting next month solo..thank you for your insights..yes I know this raw nature and not theme park…you blessed to have such nature..I will respect the surrounding at each turn. I am stone balance artist hoping to catch the northern lights as a back drop to small balance and to be removed after I have taken my photos, leaving not trace.

  2. Annie Riordan says:

    So true…my husband is a great example…and indeed he is not stupid…but he NEVER reads signs…he is so engrossed he heads straight on, then I have to follow sounding like an nag, super cautious…I keep saying you know the last person to die/get lost etc…did not set out with the intention to do so!! Perhaps a succinct mantra is READ THE SIGNS….Iceland is wonderful. Nature can be fierce. Thanks for your great blog and website.

  3. Dave Wilson says:

    I agree. I saw some amazing waterfalls in the last 5 days, and I couldn’t believe the stupidity of some…walking out on fenced off ledges to get that “perfect selfie”, long stick held high whilst facing backwards to the thundering falls!
    I had spikes on my boots and i wasn’t stepping on the solid ice cliffs, 30 metres up!
    The wooden paths were like frozen slippery slides, aiming for icy rock pools.
    It was all so, so beautiful. Potentially dangerous, but beautiful. There’s nothing like this in Australia, I was way out of my experience zone and wasn’t taking risks.

  4. Lisa says:

    That was something I observed during my first trip. There aren’t many barriers to keep one from injuring/killing themselves at these natural wonders if one is foolish/careless enough. If It were the US there would be high fences and walls to keep the idiots from danger. I actually admired the Libertarian attitude if “hey, you were warned, if you’re that dumb & get hurt/dead then It’s your own fault”. Iceland would be an American liability lawyers’ wet dream!

    1. darcy says:

      We got back last night and my wife and I had commented on this quite a bit. In the UK there would be huge fences and signs everywhere also. I thought it was great, the nature was real and exposed, and you felt like a real part off it all. Surely we need to be responsible for our own actions, and enjoy the countryside. Bravo Iceland, it was great!

      1. Hulda says:

        Over here building such fences is futile anyway. If someone is dead set on jumping into a geyser or Gullfoss, wandering out onto a glacier or even visiting an erupting volcano that’s spewing poisonous gas they’ll find a way somehow. You can try to make an idiot-proof fence but rest assured there’ll be an idiot big enough to be immune to it…

    2. Cornelia says:

      Right!
      But where on earth would you start putting up signs or fences in Iceland? We can’t possibly cover our country with these kind of things 🙂 – or you would not be able to see the beauty of the land anymore.

  5. Chris says:

    Fairly reckless behavior. I hope folks like this don’t ruin the raw experience of Iceland for everyone. Looking forward to my 1st visit this spring. I’ve been doing a lot of research,and I must say,your blog is outstanding .
    Thank you.

    1. mm Auður says:

      Thank you Chris, glad you find it helpful!

  6. Baobab says:

    It is (sadly) my last day in Reykjavik. I just want to say, that your recent entry about driving in winter made me change my mind about renting a car prior to coming here. I am all for being independent when out traveling and trying to blend in with the local way of life, but sometimes letting yourself be the “ordinary tourist” is the safest bet. We were on a tour to the south coast yesterday, the weather was sunny and nice. Suddenly when past Selfoss we had word that we couldn’t get back to Reykjavik the usual way, so our driver took us further down south through some mountain area. The wind was awful and a big coach bus ahead of us got blown off the road. Our driver was a pro though, he knew excatly what he was doing and got us back to town safe and sound. If I remember correctly, there were also some tourists with rentals down the south coast on sunday that didn’t pay attention to the warnings and the whole thing resulted in a lot of damaged cars, luckily no one got hurt. Thank you for providing us with valuable information about your lovely country!

  7. Jem says:

    Thanks for the post Auðer,

    We have similar problems here in the Lake District where I live. Our mountains aren’t as wild as yours (some describe them as cuddly) but in winter you really need proper gear (including crampons & ice axes) if you’re going up high (sadly several people have died this year from slips). Our rescue teams are regularly called out to people who’ve got lost because they were relying on their phones to tell them where they were.

    One of the worst (best?) stories were about a group of students who had to be rescued from the summit of one of our mountains (called Helvellyn) – they were lost and suffering from exposure. They had no water but did have a bag of raw potatoes – they planned to bake them on the summit (where there aren’t any trees or wood)!

    Politicians are talking about putting up warning signs – something that is almost as stupid as those that would ignore them anyway.

    Jem

  8. Leanne J says:

    I really, really hope these idiots stop their silly behaviour – otherwise people will get hurt and eventually people will say you have to put up barriers which will spoil the view and spoil some of what makes Iceland so incredible. As our guide on the glacier said (oh and don’t ever go on the glacier without a guide, it’s much tougher there than you’d think, and to take a car on it is so damn stupid) it is ‘natural selection’ if someone is stupid enough not to heed a warning. But it also makes a bad name for tourists – some of us are extremely respectful of the environment and make sure we are safe, sensible and doing the right thing! I don’t want to risk the lives of rescue services and I don’t think many people realise that those brave people are volunteers. I don’t want the Icelanders to regret the tourists being here or think that the English are disrespectful, for example.

    Most of all I want to respect the environment here – if a path has lots of footprints or evidence that people walked there, yet it says to not walk there then *don’t* – they are repairing the land which can take decades to recover in Iceland’s very short growing season. Never ever drive off road for this reason, and be careful where you put your feet when you walk on moss as you can damage them badly.

  9. Mary says:

    This stuff happens everywhere. Here in Montana people try to take selfies with the wild animals at yellowstone park and end up gored by bison. I think a lot is just a sort of disconnect from nature and a selfishness that one ought to be able to enjoy things however they want. Another phenomenon I think is the drive of social media to get that coveted shot. I have been doing photography most of my life and have really seen and read how people are degrading wild places or getting hurt for a picture.

  10. Alison L says:

    Considering the fine points you make above, a bumper should be added at the beginning and end of this tourism promotional video. Some quick arithmetic at Vimeo and YouTube shows it’s been watched at least 100,000 times.

    Is that someone jumping up and down alone on a glacier at 33seconds, and then a different person doing the same at 1minute? Girls who have left the safety path and are dancing close to a hotpot at 1min, 8 seconds? People swinging their arms, standing in a way that makes it look like they’re at the edge of a remote mountain? Don’t forget the SCUBA diver in the water without a buddy. On and on. Why do tourists think of Iceland as a free-for-all Disneyland? Because an Icelandic tourist group told us to.

    Watch the video and then think about whether tourists are stupid, or simply following the rich example that’s been provided by Icelanders themselves.

    1. mm Auður says:

      If you read this post again you will notice that I’m actually not calling anyone stupid, I’m just asking people not to do stupid things.

      The video you are talking about has nothing to do with me and maybe it would be more effective if you would point this out to those who made it: http://www.inspiredbyiceland.com.

      With videos like that it’s even more important that people like me warn people about the dangers of Iceland.

      1. Alison L says:

        Yes, we agree. With a video like that it’s even more important that people be warned about the dangers of Iceland.

        And the not actually calling anyone stupid part. I can only say it feels like you’re trying to have it both ways. Putting it out there and then saying “it’s not actually out there.”

        1. mm Auður says:

          I’m sorry that you feel that way and if that’s the case there’s not a lot I can say to change your mind.

          Hopefully you’ll remember some of these things if you visit these places and come home in one piece.

    2. Guðmundur says:

      This video is created by trained professionals.
      The guy jumping on the glacier at 0:33 and then another at 1:00, there’s actually a path that goes up there but is edited in a stupid way to make it look like it doesn’t. If at the time those girls at 1:08 would have been in danger they would not have been allowed to do that and if memory serves that pool of water isn’t even that warm, it’s all about camera angles as well with that video. The SCUBA guy obviously has his diving buddy doing the camera action, and there’s a rich tradition with SCUBA people diving with their partners to do stuff like this all over the world.

      Tourists are NOT STUPID.
      People are NOT STUPID.
      No one is stupid.
      It’s when adventure and excitement hits us that we as humans DO STUPID THINGS.
      It’s when adventure and excitement hits us that we as humans DO NOT THINK before doing.
      It’s at those times that NOT THINKING and DOING STUPID THINGS gets us hurt OR WORSE…killed.

    3. Mike Kissane says:

      This video has been a major faux pas. Guides and other professionals have had to constantly try and rein in people who imitate things in it (some of which are marginally legal at best) and that Justin Bieber and the Bollywood actor did, even though they were foolish. Regarding weather, I don’t hesitate to cancel a tour if it is dangerous, and have turned down ‘bonuses’ to go anyway. I told one person I’d rather have you go home alive without the risk, than to go home in a wooden box after trying, never mind MY own life, too. People just can’t digest it. Winds can approach hurricane force and it doesn’t matter who you are or how much money you have…it simply is not worth it. Here’s a tip: 26 m/sec sounds harmless enough, but that converts to 94 km/hr…or beyond legal highway driving speed. For those from the US, that’s almost 60 mph. And you want to try and stand up in that with an expensive camera, lens and tripod? You’d need a half-ton of weight for a steady shot. Believe me, I’ve lived in Iceland over 30 yrs and been a licensed guide and tour professional almost 10 yrs. Better to be safe than sorry.

      1. mm Auður says:

        Yes, thankfully most people who work in tourism in Iceland are professionals that wouldn’t do a tour in dangerous conditions. There are always bad apples in between but the majority of people are in it for the right reasons and care enough about their guests to take it seriously.

  11. Andrés Björgvin Böðvarsson says:

    I don’t see the need to be squeamish about calling people stupid. Some people are stupid, plain and simple. However, most people aren’t stupid but do stupid things because they’re unaware of the dangers involved. This video will inform them not to do such things. People who have been warned but continue to ignore the warnings, putting themselves and their potential rescuers in danger, are dangerously stupid. No force in the world can stop them because no force in the world is stronger than obstinate stupidity.

    1. mm Auður says:

      Name calling never helps – I was just trying to grab people’s attention (which seems to have worked) so my job here is done.

      If I have saved one life with this post it was worth it.

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