It’s now official: tourism is killing Iceland

I love Iceland with all my heart and soul but there’s no way to say this without sounding like a hipster: I loved it before it was popular.

Not because I wanted it all to myself (although I do!) but because Iceland is too small and too fragile to cope with the volumes of visitors, and particularly the ignorant, willfully ignorant and selfish visitors. The ones who walk on the moss. The ones who scratch their names into things. The ones who drive offroad. The ones who step over fences and barriers. The ones who let rental cars fall into boiling hot lagoons.

When I first went to Iceland in December 2011, there were two airlines flying there. According to the list of arrivals in Keflavik today, there are at least sixteen now. Locals complain that downtown Reykjavik is now nothing but hotels and souvenir shops and that the roads are packed with tour company minibuses whizzing around. I’ve noticed myself that where there were once gravel lay-bys there are now huge concrete car parks outside natural attractions, and they’re so full that cars park along the roads. You have to pre-book the Blue Lagoon or you won’t get in. I’m a member of a Facebook Iceland group which has at least five daily questions of “how can I move to Iceland?” and at least another two questions from people who are going but have never thought of looking at a guidebook or even googling the word “Iceland”.

But this week, it’s gone too far. The walkway behind Seljalandsfoss has been closed. This has always been its USP. It’s a pretty waterfall but it’s carved out a cave and you can walk through there, behind the waterfall, which is an experience I don’t think I’ve ever seen anywhere else. There are always people going up there in unsuitable shoes, falling over and requiring emergency rescue but this week, it’s been closed.

Here’s the article about why.

Due to erosion, rocks weighing up to 100kg are falling. Now, I can’t read much of the article myself because I don’t speak much Icelandic (actually, I’m surprised how much I can make sense of with my very basic Icelandic and a bit of Norwegian!) but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mention tourists but the fact is, there are thousands of tourists traipsing through there every day and that can’t be good for it.

There are always tourists and travellers who want to get “off the beaten track”. But the beaten track is there for a reason, at least in Iceland. Stick to the existing path, don’t go eroding a new one – don’t go causing lasting environmental damage because you’re too *~*special*~* to go where you’re told. Swathes of Þingvellir are being fenced off to keep tourists contained to the existing gravel and tarmac paths, Gullfoss is more and more of a playground every day, someone is guaranteed to fall into one of the geysirs within the next year (and oh god, that’s going to be horrific).

It may be economically good for Iceland. The money tourism brings in is what’s made Iceland recover from the 2008 financial crisis – I was going to say “helped” but that implies that it wasn’t basically the only thing. But Iceland is so ecologically fragile and if this continues, in another ten years there won’t be an Iceland as we know it.

And now, because I want to cry at the damage being done, have some beautiful pictures of Seljalandsfoss so you can see what tourists are destroying.


Behind Seljalandsfoss

Behind Seljalandsfoss

Me behind Seljalandsfoss