What will travel in Iceland look like in a post COVID-19 world? Will I still have access to the same quality tours? With news of unrestricted entry for vaccinated and antibody individuals worldwide, is Iceland now open for business? These are the types of questions that are now being asked when we talk about travelling to Iceland in a post COVID-19 world. This Hidden Iceland blog will hopefully give future travellers an understanding of what we think a post COVID-19 Iceland will look like.
UPDATED: March 17th, 2021
Thankfully, Iceland is poised to be one of the first countries to recover and enter a post COVID-19 world.
Despite a resurgence in autumn 2020, Iceland has relatively few domestic cases today. Barely one or two cases are being reported per week at the moment. This is thanks to decisive action from the Icelandic government and strict border control. Until the 1st of May, anyone who does not hold a valid double vaccine certificate or can show proof of antibodies will have to undergo a PCR test 72 hours before arrival, a test on arrival, 5 days of quarantine and a final test before being able to explore Iceland.
However, if you have received both doses of the vaccine or have antibodies then you can come to Iceland without any restrictions, regardless of where you are in the world. For full details check out the official Iceland government website, covid.is.
Tourism has changed in Iceland
Tourism is another matter entirely. The number of travellers will be tiny, meaning no crowds at even the most popular of sights!
For example, despite the expected increase of international flights, tourist numbers will remain at a very low level, with the number of arrivals capped by the border testing capacity each day. Thankfully, Iceland has been allowing travellers from the EU/ Schengen zone since the 15th of June 2020. Testing on these travellers has been a marked success. Therefore, Iceland, it would seem, is ready to say hello to the rest of the world.
Welcome news, yes! Back to normal, no. Aside from the new ‘safe countries’ the rest of the world will NOT be able to enter Iceland just yet.
Countries that can now travel to Iceland
There are currently a small number of safe countries outside of the EU & Schengen zone on this list. Rather than list them here please click the link to see the most up to date countries as the list is updated every 2 weeks with new countries being added and removed regularly.
However, many of these safe nations are still not allowing international travel outside of the country. Others sadly don’t have direct flights to Iceland either. Please review your countries current restrictions and check out if they are allowed into Iceland. If you are living in the EU & Schengen Zone then you are free to travel to Iceland with border testing restrictions.
Direct flights to Iceland
IcelandAir, WizzAir, Easyjet, SAS, Lufthansa, Norwegian Airlines and Transavia are all flying to and from Iceland depending on the time of year so there is plenty of availability expected soon.
Also, Iceland is closer than you think. Direct flight times often rival domestic flight durations. For example, from Toronto it only takes 5 hours. From New York it’s only 5.5 hours. Boston is only 4.5 hours. Across the pond is even quicker. From London it takes just 3 hours. From Paris, 3.5 hours and from Edinburgh, a tiny 2.5 hours.
Testing on Arrival
As of January 15th everyone entering Iceland needs to test on arrival, quarantine for 5 days in an appropriate hotel, and take a second test on the 5th day. Results are expected within 24 hours (usually back between 5-7 hours), but you are expected to quarantine in an approved hotel with arranged meals or food, between the two tests and until the second results are received.
So, assuming you test negative at the airport then you begin your 5 day quarantine. At the end of the 5 days you will need to take a second test and await the results. After that you are free to travel around Iceland.
Restrictions Easing in 2021
From May 1st cautious steps will be taken to ease restrictions at the border. With the ongoing vaccination programs throughout the world, a gradual improvement in the situation is expected. This will make it possible to ease restrictions for people travelling from areas where the pandemic is under control.
Countries will be risk-assessed into green, orange, and red zones according to data published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Passengers from low-risk countries will be exempt from quarantine and a second screening if they can provide proof of a negative PCR test prior to departure. For more information on the border restrictions, and the criteria for countries according to risk zones, read more here. Exceptions for those that have been vaccinated and/or certificates showing that they have recovered from COVID (with antibodies) will also be in place.
It’s time to travel, for some
So we cautiously say, it is time to consider travelling. This is of course with a balanced viewpoint as to the potential effects and risks. With the favourable currency exchange rates and promotions that we are offering, planning a trip for later may be a great option for those that aren’t in a position to travel in the short term. Keep reading to learn why Iceland may well be the best place to travel to in 2021 or beyond.
Is Iceland a good place to start my travels?
With its isolated location as a singular island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and being crowned number 1 on the global peace index for the past 12 years, Iceland is as good a country as any to be your first post COVID-19 destination. Mix this with; modern infrastructure, super fast internet, abundant clean drinking water, near unlimited renewable energy, a low population density (around 330,000 people in a country the size of Belgium), and an uncultivated outdoor landscape.
Iceland is dominated by volcanoes, glaciers and UNESCO World Heritage Sites so you can see why we think Iceland might just see a post COVID-19 boom. However, things have changed. There’s no doubt about that.
It’s also not as cold as you think
In fact, if you are coming from Canada you will be pleasantly surprised to hear that Iceland’s winters are a great deal warmer despite their northern latitude. The average temperature in January in Iceland sits around zero degrees celsius. Compare that to the chilly -6 or 7 that Toronto experiences and it may feel like a summer holiday in winter. Maybe not. But you get the idea. You get to experience the Arctic without the extreme cold temperatures.
Sadly, listing all the fantastic reasons to come to a destination will no longer cut it. Questions like; will I be exposed to large crowds? Is social distancing possible? How clean and how well equipped is the location for dealing with another outbreak? And, how long are the flights? These types of questions wouldn’t have entered our heads in the same way before, but seem to be taking precedence now. Rightly so. Thankfully for Hidden Iceland, our little country, in the middle of nowhere, caters for all these requirements and more.
So we’ve created this Travelling To Iceland in a post COVID-19 World blog to express our own thoughts on what our tours will be like when all this is behind us.
The great thing about Hidden Iceland is that we are already heavily geared towards avoiding the crowds, small group tours and off the beaten path travel. Maybe now is the time to take advantage of the benefits of a personalised service.
We hope the below list gives some reassurance and allows you to pick the appropriate time to travel in the future. Just remember, if you want to start planning now, even for 2021, we’ll be happy to help.
1. The crowds are gone
Iceland saw a reduction in overall tourist numbers in 2019 already with some quarters reporting as much as a 20% decline in travellers. We had already begun to suggest that the boom was over for Iceland. It appears that the tourism industry is maturing into a more experience based one. As opposed to mass tourism. We believe in a post COVID-19 world, these numbers are going to be way, way lower than that.
Iceland was never overcrowded. Popular, yes. Overcrowded, no.
Hidden Iceland’s aim for every trip, even before COVID-19, was to go off the beaten path and see the popular spots at the right time of the day. In the past that could be hard though. The height of summer and the Christmas week were particularly difficult times.
Also, the most popular areas like the Golden Circle and the south coast of Iceland could be a challenge at any time of the year if our guests only have a limited amount of time in the country. To counter these busy times of the day we always aimed to rest overnight in secluded guest houses when we could, to give us a little more time to explore and miss the crowds.
Firstly, before predicting what a post COVID-19 world looks like, I would like to point out one thing – Iceland was never overcrowded. Popular, yes. Overcrowded, no. Aside from the Blue Lagoon, ideally situated next to the airport, there was virtually no spot in the country where you would need to wait in a queue or book your spot well in advance. There was a bit of an issue with hotel space in the summer months, but with new hotels popping up over the past year this was going to be a thing of a past anyway. It certainly is now. So even if the tourist numbers bounce back to a pre COVID-19 level, Iceland is still arguably the perfect spot for social distance travel.
Some people are predicting tourism numbers to stagnate around the 30-40% mark for the next few years. This is clearly guess work at best but I’ve no doubt the overall tourist numbers will be lower. My personal thoughts are that since Iceland is the ideal spot to travel to if you are still wary at mixing in larger crowded areas we might be spared the largest downturn that will be seen in other countries. For example, to me, squeezing past people on the narrow streets of a sweltering summer in Venice is as close to a nightmare as you could get right now.
Instead, enjoy the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in peace and tranquility with only the icebergs and curious seals to keep you company in the early morning air. That sounds a bit more like it to me.
2. Small group tours & private travel will be essential
Again, Hidden Iceland already has a maximum group size of 12 on any of our scheduled tours. We think this number is great for creating a good atmosphere as well as providing us with the flexibility to explore more remote locations, like on our glacier hikes. In a post COVID-19 world these limited group sizes will also give you the reassurance that you are minimising your exposure to others, without the price tag of a private tour.
However, if you can afford it, we also believe that private travel will take off in a big way in a post COVID-19 world. A little more expensive of course but well worth it for peace of mind. Private trips offer a truly intimate experience with an expert guide who knows the terrain like the back of their hand. Our private tours can follow the same path as our scheduled tours or can be bespoke planned to your needs.
You want to get away from it all to search for the northern lights in peace? No problem. You want to see the popular spots at the right time of day to avoid any tourists? Ok, let’s do it.
Check out our private tour options or pop us an email and we can start planning your trip.
3. Spend less time in the city
Iceland has so much to offer. And yet, the majority of tourists, according to the Icelandic Tourism Board, don’t venture more than 1 days worth of travel away from the capital city. Don’t get me wrong, Reykjavik is one of the best cities to practice social distancing. In fact, the day trips that start and end in Reykjavik each day are incredible. But, the expectation in a post COVID-19 world is that city breaks will go down. On the flip side, off the beaten path travel will go up.
To us, that means travelling overnight to secluded guest houses and spending more time outdoors. As opposed to making the city your base of operations.
Hidden Iceland can plan trips that pick you up straight from the airport. We can travel along the often overlooked Reykjanes Peninsula avoiding Reykjavik entirely. We could then head straight into the adventure style activities of the south coast. Then travel all the way to the Vatnajökull national park in the south east without getting anywhere near a ‘crowd’. I do suspect that many tourists in the years to come will still want to spend some time in the city too. But perhaps only for a day or two rather than it being the central point for the family.
4. Off the beaten path will be trending
We already get plenty of requests for off the beaten path travel. Our name lends itself quite nicely to these kinds of inquiries. However, I expect this to take an even more prominent role in a post COVID-19 world. People will be willing to go that extra mile, stay a little longer and experience the real Hidden Iceland in all its glory.
This means longer style glacier and mountain hikes. It also means travelling all the way around the island over the space of 6 or more days. Exploring places like the Westfjords, where only 7% of all tourists reach, could become the new normal. Boat trips to remote islands will increase. In short, it means the opening up of the rest of Iceland! Finally!!
Despite all the talk of over-tourism in the past, there were so many parts of Iceland screaming out for tourists. The South East and the Westfjords being two such examples. The bottle neck effect of having one international airport in the south west made it hard for the remote locations to capitalise, despite the spectacular attractions.
In reality, there aren’t many countries in the world that wouldn’t have already exploited the 1500ft vertical sea-cliffs in Látrabjarg. Or the free-roaming reindeer in the Eastfjords. But not Iceland. For better or worse, these spots have remained merely dreams for most tourists. Maybe now is the time to finally travel just a little bit further for true isolation.
In a post COVID-19 world I sincerely hope more and more guests will ask us to travel to these far off spots. After all, you can’t spot the ever elusive Arctic fox without some peace and quiet.
Our scheduled 4 day tour to the Westfjords or our private 6+ day adventure are excellent options to see these forgotten places.
5. Flexible bookings & travel insurance
This final point is the least fun to write but possibly the most important. This global pandemic has taught us a lot about ourselves and our business practices. Saving for a rainy day doesn’t quite cut it anymore.
Hidden Iceland has always been as flexible as we can be with re-booking. We’ve also always stated in our terms and conditions that travel insurance is a good idea. But this was before a global pandemic. As the weeks and months roll on with COVID-19 making headlines, we are realising that so many of our customers have unique requirements and can be affected in so many different ways.
In truth, COVID-19 or its future mutations, are just one of many unforeseen circumstances that could affect your travel to Iceland. What about a volcanic eruption? Will climate change play a part? What about localised weather impacts? Natural disasters and major disruption to normal daily life was not something we thought about much before when planning a trip. Sadly, it now is.
So our promise to you, if you do book, is that any tours with us will allow for a flexible move, if due to an unforeseen event out of your control. This can be a straight swap to a date of your choosing. Or in the form of a credit voucher that can be claimed at a later date. Please check our terms & conditions, or drop us an email, if you would like further details on this.
And finally, Travel Insurance. It was recommended before. It is now demanded. Please, please get travel insurance before flying to Iceland. So many things can happen that can’t be solved using our flexible cancellation policy. So make sure that the travel insurance you do take out covers; natural disasters, cancelled flights, force majeure and basically anything that will affect your ability to travel. We stop short of recommending any specific insurer. But we do recommend taking out the most comprehensive cover you can. Considering the cost, it will give you peace of mind and make sure that a dream holiday doesn’t become a nightmare.
Thank you, and see you in Iceland when the time is right!
Hi, I’m Ryan Connolly; Co-Founder, Glacier Guide, and Marketing Manager of Hidden Iceland.
I’ve guided in multiple countries around the world and stepped foot on all 7 continents but I call Iceland home. My passion for science, nature, glaciers and volcanoes has led me to study many aspects of my adopted home.