Despite the news about vaccines and a changing political environment, I think it's safe to say that the COVID-19 virus won't be completely eradicated anytime soon. Not in the first half of 2021 anyway. However, that doesn't mean travel and `` life '' can't take on a semblance of normalcy as countries and borders scramble to contain the spread.
Iceland is one of the few countries in Europe not to report a continuous increase in the number of cases. We've had a slight spike in recent weeks, but it's been largely contained. In fact, the chief epidemiologist expects national restrictions to be relaxed as early as November 19. With a strict double border test and a 5 day (temporary) quarantine procedure, I am confident that this recovery will continue into the New Year.
So, with a little luck and a lot of effort, Iceland may well be considered one of the few safe places to travel in 2021. Add in large open spaces, low population density, and respectful locals and you would be forgiven for forgetting the virus altogether for a few peaceful days.
This month's post will focus on some of my favorite places that allow social distancing. I'm going to focus on the fun of summer because, unfortunately, these may be the first times many of you would consider traveling. Understandable of course.
Top 3 places of social distancing in Iceland in 2021
There are countless places in Iceland where you can get away from it all. Fortunately, a luxury travel blog has allowed me to share many of my favorites with you over the past year, may this continue. But this month's article will focus on those who will continue to allow social distancing, even as hordes of tourists begin to pour in when the borders finally reopen. While that probably won't happen, I know many of you will still want some reassurance. Again, understandable.
1. The volcanic islands of Westman
I could honestly stop the list here because this remote little island in southern Iceland sums up social adventure at a distance so perfectly.
First, let me describe why this is one of my favorite places in Iceland before I discuss the social distancing aspect. The Westman Volcanic Islands are a collection of volcanic islands in southern Iceland. Although active, the last eruption dates back to 1973. This eruption was devastating for the island, adding 20% more land to the lava flow and destroying over 300 homes. Fortunately, locals, familiar with volcanic activity after the 1964 eruption that created a new island off the coast, Surtsey, were quick to act. As the lava slowly flowed down the main streets of the only inhabited island, Heimaey, they continuously sprayed large amounts of seawater onto the lava, creating a natural barrier of rock (cooled lava) and forcing the remaining lava. towards the sea.
Hike to the top of the still hot volcano that created this eruption is humbling, not to mention the views it offers once at the top. Rarely are there more than a few people up there, even in the height of summer. The rainbow colors that the volcano exhibits are almost as interesting as the hide-and-seek often played by my clients when looking for the vapor vents that remind us that we are always on top of an active volcano. .
Believe it or not, this isn't always the highlight of a trip to this remote island. For families looking for a great day out in the wild, you'll be surprised to find that the Westman Islands are also home to the world's largest puffin colony, with over a million puffins choosing to mate on the cliffs every summer. If you have the time, you can cross the southern edge of the island and get lost counting the times you have to dodge a dive puffin awkwardly aiming for their nest.
If that weren't enough, you can also take a speedboat around the island to spot seals, puffins, and even whales from time to time. Not bad for a place you probably haven't heard of when researching Iceland. Especially since it is only 1h45 from Reykjavik.
Why is this a haven of social distancing?
Aside from the fact that it is much less known to tourists, this island is immune to overcrowding anyway. For one simple reason, the ferry ride. To get to the Westman Islands you have to take a very small ferry. Ferry capacity is very limited and departure times are also limited. So even if you are traveling on a full boat in the height of summer, by the time you leave, the few other people who pass through have plenty of room to explore. Add to that the fact that masks are mandatory on the ferry and it's a nice 30 minute walk to escape the more popular south coast.
You can do this in a busy day trip or include it as part of a longer trip to the south coast. This brings us nicely to my next favorite place, Vatnajökull National Park.
2. Vatnajökull National Park
Again, allow me to explain why this is one of my favorite places before I discuss aspects of social distancing. This national park, located in south-eastern Iceland, is home to dozens of glaciers, black sand beaches, iceberg lagoons and impressive mountain ranges. In 2019, it was inducted into a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is often compared to another planet in its aesthetic. My love for this region, however, is deeply rooted in the ice itself. Glaciers, ice caves and ice caps.
In fact, I first moved to Iceland many years ago to be a glacier guide in this exact region. Some of the glaciers sink quickly with sheer ice cliffs, deep crevices, and bottomless holes, while others are flat and quiet with ice caves hidden just below the surface. Walking alongside these frozen giants is something you will never forget. Every crisp step you take in your non-slip crampons is an experience in itself. Once you reach a new frozen sculpture or gaze at a wall of ice, you'll forget the rest of the world exists for a little while.
The great thing about these glaciers in this region is that they are quite accessible so no past experience is necessary. Only a moderate level of fitness.
Why is this a haven of social distancing?
To gain access to this icy adventure, you must go with a qualified glacier guide. If you tried to explore the ice on your own, even if you had the proper equipment, you wouldn't get very far. And you certainly won't find the best of these mazes. The national park also recently put a limit on the number of tourists who can walk on each glacier per day. Match that up with a recommended maximum group size of 12 and more often than not you'll be standing on a chunk of ice with a view of the mountains, ice, and your friends next to you. Well worth the effort.
3. The forgotten Westfjords
You would be forgiven for thinking this area is close to the Westman Islands. It is not. In fact, it is the most northwest you can find in Iceland. The Westman Islands lie to the south, named after the Irish slaves (western men) who were slaughtered here during colonization.
The Western Fjords is an area of Iceland known for its deep valleys, angular mountains, 100-meter waterfalls, seal colonies, basking whales, arctic fox sanctuaries, and the highest sea cliffs in Europe (1440 meters of height difference). Not to mention the plethora of puffins, Icelandic horses and sheep roaming free. I have yet to take a traveler to the Westfjords who hasn't asked why no one else seems to come here.
Why is this a haven of social distancing?
Regardless of the pandemic, this forgotten corner of Iceland is, for lack of a better word, empty. Only 7% of tourists who visit Iceland go to this part of the country. Less than 6,000 residents occupy an area 28 times the size of New York City. You will mistakenly assume that the lack of tourists is due to remoteness. Well, considering it's only 5 hours from Reykjavik along a well-maintained main road, that can't really be the reason. I guess, like the Westman Islands, it's not at the forefront of people's concerns when they first visit. In fact, it's quite rare that first-time travelers to Iceland choose this place. It is their madness. If you are looking for unspoiled, rural and authentic Iceland, this region is for you. I recommend giving you at least 4 days here before moving to other parts of the country.
These are just 3 of my favorite places. The reality is that apart from the main streets of Reykjavik and maybe the Golden Circle at noon, Iceland is a pretty great place to avoid crowds and social distancing all over nature. With more and more land reclaimed as nature reserves and national parks, Iceland's natural habitat will remain intact and protected for many years to come.
Why not come and see for yourself when the time is right. See you soon!
Ryan Connolly is co-founder of Hidden Iceland. Hidden Iceland specializes in private tours, taking you to some of Iceland's hidden gems with a passionate and experienced guide.
The best time to visit Italy are the months of May, June, and September. Compared to the peak summer months of July and August, these months offer more comfortable temperatures and there are fewer crowds ( except around Easter ). The country experiences four classic seasons per year, although there is a marked difference between the wetter, cooler North and the drier, warmer South. The rainiest months pretty much everywhere are usually October and November.
Fall ( September – November ) : temperatures cool down gradually, although September is usually still very pleasant. Expect crisp fall leaves and some sunnier days, but plan for wet weather too. Fall carries many of the same benefits as spring, but with slightly less predictable weather.
Winter : temperatures in the South remain mild in winter, while Northern Italy is normally wet and cold. Winter in the Italian Alps is fantastic though for skiing and snowboarding, but the ski resorts do get crowded so book early.
Travelers wishing to visit Italy can use a bus, train, plane, or boat to get there. Most tourists arrive by plane though, often landing in Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport, the country’s busiest airport. This is the preferred point of entry in Italy when you want to visit Rome, or saut the entire country. Click here for a continuously updated list of airlines that offer direct flights to Rome.
Although Rome is the main getaway for most visitors to Italy, it’s often easier and cheaper to fly directly to/from one of the country’s other airports. It can also save you a lot of time to book a multi-city ticket, hereby arriving in one airport and leaving from another ( for example fly in via Milan in the north and fly out Naples in the south ). The following airports are of interest for most tourist itineraries :
Milan Malpenza Airport ( north ) is the largest international airport in the Milan metropolitan area in northern Italy ( and also the main getaway to the Italian Lakes ). Click here for a continuously updated list of airlines that offer direct flights to Milan.
Venice Marco Polo airport ( north ) is the international airport of Venice. It offers flights to many European metropolitan areas as well as some partly seasonal long-haul routes to the United States, Canada, South Korea and the Middle East. Click here for a continuously updated list of airlines that offer direct flights to Venice.