Iceland Sustainable Travel Guide
Iceland has a special place in my heart. I crossed the Atlantic all the way from Vancouver to travel here solo in search of an adventure and to uplift my spirits. I spent 37 days backpacking through its otherworldly lands, fully immersed in boundless nature and freedom to the likes I can’t even describe. Its landscapes are something straight out of a fantasy movie, with steaming geysers spewing from the earth, innumerous amounts of waterfalls, as well as glaciers, volcanoes, black-sand beaches, towering cliffs and stunning fiords. Best of all, the people, both locals and fellow adventurers were some of the most amazing people I’ve met while abroad.
Iceland is a small island country at 103,000 sq km, roughly the size of the state of Kentucky. Although there are other populated areas, about half of its 320,000 residents live in the capital of Reykjavik. Reykjavik (which means Smoky Bay) is a fun and quirky town full of lively bars, young eccentrics, and a variety of interesting tourist attractions such as the Harpa music hall or the futuristic church, Hallgrimskirkja. However, the magic of Iceland is definitely outside its city centre. I highly recommend renting a vehicle (a 4x4 if you want to get to some more remote areas inaccessible without one) and driving around the country. Immediately you’ll be taken by the pristine and boundless nature in front of your eyes. The landscapes changes so often that you’ll think you’re in a completely different world from one minute to the next. Making matters easier, Iceland’s famed ring road circles the entire country, allowing you to see almost everything Iceland has to offer in a matter of a few days.
It is generally quite easy to travel sustainably in Iceland as well. Geothermal energy is the predominant source of energy used in the country. In 2014, approximately 85% of the primary energy used in Iceland came from renewable sources. Geothermal energy accounts for 66% of that. This is surprising as Iceland was once considered one of Europe’s poorest countries dependent on imported coal and peat.
Finding a place to stay in Iceland shouldn’t be difficult either. Booming tourism has resulted in the construction of many new hotels. Many have implemented stringent environmental standards, and primarily use, as mentioned above, geothermal energy to power their electricity. If you want to have a greater impact however, there are a number of small boutique hotels and cottages owned and operated by locals. Staying at a hostel (such as KEX, where I stayed while in Reykjavik) is the most cost-friendly alternative, and an awesome way to meet fellow travellers. KEX also hosts live music and block parties right in their bar!
Experiencing local foods is always going to be a part of travel. And Iceland is no different. However, there are a couple of menu items that pose serious environmental and ethical concerns. Whale meat and fermented shark are both “traditional” delicacies in Iceland. Minke Whale is the most common species found in Icelandic restaurants where they serve whale meat; Greenland Shark is the species of shark used. Both species are currently at risk of becoming endangered. Local delicacies I highly recommend instead include Skyr (Icelandic yogurt), Lamb soup, and Pylsur – their world-famous hotdogs!