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Is Iceland Still Safe To Visit For Travelers Amid Recent Eruptions?

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Home to areas of outstanding natural beauty, including preserved glaciers and towering waterfalls, and being well-known for its Viking heritage and aurora sightings, Iceland is one of the most popular destinations in Europe for American travelers.

However, it is not called the ‘Land of Ice and Fire' for no apparent reason.

Aerial View Of A Volcanic Eruption In Iceland, Europe

Iceland is dotted with active volcanos that tend to erupt more often than you would think: back in January, a whole town had to be evacuated as lava spewed from a nearby volcano, and just this week, a new eruption that is undergoing is already causing disruption.

Eruptions have become a yearly phenomenon in Iceland at this point, and with the risk of flights being grounded and parts of Iceland closing down due to the threat, you may be wondering how safe it actually is for visiting:

Is Iceland Safe For Visiting In 2024?

woman leaps between two rocks at Jökulsárlón lake in Iceland

The short answer is: yes, Iceland is perfectly safe to visit.

If there's one country that's prepared to deal with volcanos, it's Iceland: the Iceland Meteorological Office offers up-to-date information about volcanic activity around the island, informing citizens and security forces alike about the risks and imminence of future eruptions.

No known casualties have resulted from volcanic eruptions in Iceland in recent times, as authorities do not hesitate to completely clear municipalities, ground flights at the main international airport, or cordon off access to danger zones when necessary.

Waterfall in Iceland

Their efficiency at responding to crises has been widely documented in the media, particularly back in January, when the fishing town of Grindavik was swiftly evacuated last-minute while a river of literal molten rock approached its boundaries.

That being said, while the Iceland Met Office can calculate potential eruptions and their strength – or, in technical terms, the ‘explosivity' index – ensuring Icelandic nationals and foreign visitors alike are kept up to date, the actual impact cannot always be fully estimated.

Four Eruptions In Four Months

A Volcanic Eruption In Iceland, Europe

For starters, since December 2023, Iceland has witnessed four volcanic eruptions, the last of which took place just this month and is thought to be the most powerful one of the streak, indicating the island's lava cauldrons are not ready to go dormant again anytime soon.

Once again, it is extremely unlikely that eruptions will claim lives, largely thanks to the excellent work of meteorologists, Icelandic police, and their highly qualified ICE-SAR (Iceland Search and Rescue Team), but you may be forced to lie low for a while as you wait for flight operability to be reinstated.

@ruvfrettir Volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes Peninsula in #iceland . •An eruption started between Hagafell and Stóra-Skógfell at 8.23pm. •The source is closer to Stóra-Skógfell, in a similar place to the eruption that occurred on February 8. •The fissure is about 3.5 kilometres long. •The lava seems to flow south towards the defences north of Grindavík. Similarly, lava flows to the west towards Grindavíkurvegur, and to the east. •Grindavík and the Blue Lagoon were quickly evacuated. •Keflavik Airport and regional airports in Iceland are not impacted and are fully operational. •The current eruption is the most powerful in the current system so far, says geophysicist Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson. #volcaniceruption #news #worldnews #volcano #grindavík #earthquake #lava ♬ original sound – RÚV – fréttir

That is because eruptions are typically associated with the release of volcanic ash into the atmosphere.

Other than immediately reducing visibility, it can cause jet engines to fail and even damage flight control systems; in other words, flying conditions become suboptimal at best.

While there have been no issues of the sort in a number of years, it's sometimes not possible to know the extent of an eruption's graveness until it's well underway: for those of you who remember the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull incident, you know how out of control it can get.

Volcanic Eruption In Iceland, Europe

This series of eruptions led to large parts of European airspace shutting down for an entire week as a result of the volcanic ash spewing, affecting not only Iceland but the whole continent.

It led to millions of passengers being left stranded worldwide.

Luckily, no recent activity has had as serious an effect, even though satellites show toxic gas has been emanating from Iceland towards mainland Europe.

Thankfully, aviation has not been affected, as flights into and out of Keflavik, the main gateway into Iceland, continue operating as normal.

On the downside, some tourist services have been impacted:

Which Tourist Attractions Have Closed Down?

woman relaxing in thermal spa blue lagoon iceland

Iceland's most popular tourist destination, the Blue Lagoon, has been closed on and off due to the intermittent eruptions, and some guided outdoor activities in the Reykjanes peninsula have been unceremoniously canceled.

The Blue Lagoon's temporary closure is particularly significant, as tourists come to Iceland from all over the world to bathe in its medicinal, pearly-white hot springs and indulge in some pampering at the local spa. If only the lagoon did not find itself in the center of the seismic zone…

People swimming in the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa in Iceland

If the Reykjanes peninsula is affected, you can bet your bottom dollar that the Blue Lagoon will be off-limits.

While that's tragic for visitors, who'll miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list experience, it's further proof that Iceland takes no chances when it comes to the safety of tourists.

Safety Tips If You're Driving In Iceland During A Seismic Period

Iceland is also one of Europe's road trip hotspots.

It is incredibly common for tourists to rent cars to explore the island's volcanic sand beaches, winding fjords, and impressive glaciers, most of which are accessible only by car.

@chill_szn I road tripped Iceland in 2018 for 27 days. It is still the best place I’ve ever traveled to even after 31 countries. #iceland #icelandtravel #travel #itinerary #europe #travelguide #roadtrip ♬ Fallen down – Slowed – 「Incørrect」

Roads in Iceland can be narrow, but they're usually in great condition, except when tremors lead to wide cracks. If you're driving in the country amid ongoing seismic moves, and there's an eruption warning in place, you must:

  • Ensure you drive carefully as road conditions may change with no warning
  • Track all the relevant seismic updates on the Iceland Met Office website
  • Memorize the Icelandic Rescue Team's number in the event of an emergency (112)

Volcano Tours

Tourists Observing Lava Spilling From A Volcano In Iceland, Europe

Once again, other than the closure of certain attractions, tourists have nothing to be overly concerned about traveling to Iceland, even when eruption alerts are present, as the risk of these events disrupting travel as it did in 2010 remains low.

Volcanic activity is also (mostly) restricted to the Reykjanes peninsula, so you are truly unlikely to be affected unless you're touring this region specifically.

Ironically enough, it is home to the international airport, so it's best to check the status of your flight on the day of departure.

Tourists Watching A Volcano Erupting In Iceland, Europe

As menacing as they may be, volcanos are partly behind Iceland's tourism boom in recent months, with numerous tour operators offering hikes to volcanic sites from only $97, and even helicopter tours over active volcanos for a whopping $594.

Iceland is pretty safe, and the fact that volcano tours are currently offered only goes to show these are not exactly treated by locals as catastrophic episodes, but we definitely don't encourage you to go chasing volcanos by yourself (unless you're good at playing Floor is Lava).

Jokes aside, do not travel to eruption sites unless you're accompanied by an authorized tour guide.

When Will The Eruptions Subside?

sunrise over reykjavik in iceland with the hallgrimskirkja church in view

Blunt as it may be, never.

As Iceland sits on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, cut through by the American and Eurasian tectonic plates, it experiences frequent volcanic activity, and that is unlikely to change in the future.

Earthquakes are common, and other significant geological events are expected at this point.

That is because the American and Eurasian plates are slowly moving apart by a few centimeters per year, while magma originating from the Earth's core fills the new existing gaps, so needless to say, no trip to Iceland will ever not be a bumpy ride.

Hey, at least you can walk a bridge spanning the gap from one continent to the other.

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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com

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