Land of ice, fire and flights

Going on holiday seems like a pipe dream for many people right now. Yet this country has fully opened its borders, bars and mind-boggling natural attractions to international tourists.

On the 15 June, Iceland fully reopened its borders, welcoming people from countries that are still under lockdown restrictions. These tourists are free to roam the streets mask-free, visit bars, restaurants, and some of the most dramatic natural scenery they’ll likely ever see. As the revenue from foreign tourists accounts for around 42 per cent of Iceland’s economy, it was natural that they should be eager to open borders ahead of many countries.

In 2018, 2.3 million people visited Iceland, so when you imagine yourself admiring Gullfoss Waterfall, or a giant glacier, it’s normally best to remember that you’d be standing in a penguin huddle of other tourists. However, people visiting the ‘land of ice and fire’ during the pandemic will be lucky enough to explore the rugged landscape with relatively few others. Peak tourist season in Iceland usually stretches over summer, from mid-June to August, when the weather is a little less ‘freeze your toes off’ than during the colder months.

Though it may not feel like it now to arriving tourists, Iceland was hit hard by the pandemic. In fact, it had one of the highest infection rates in Europe at the beginning of the outbreak, with 513 cases per 100,000 people. This is notable when compared to the United Kingdom, which had 450 cases per 100,000 people. But through their fast, thorough and effective response the COVID-19, they have managed ensure one of the lowest death rates in the world. Just three in 100,000 people in Iceland have died of COVID-19, compared to 440 per 100,000 in the UK.

This is largely due to the country’s rigorous testing, tracking and tracing regime. Tourists are encouraged to download the country’s contact tracing app, called Rakning C-19, which will track your movements and interactions while in the country. If, for example, you are served by a waiter who has tested positive, you would be called, notified and put into quarantine. No mucking about. The country is also testing samples and tracking the mutations of the virus, allowing scientists a clearer understanding of where it has come from.

There are no exceptions to these strict testing regimes, especially not for tourists. On the plane ride over you are required to wear a mask, and upon arrival are given the choice between a nose and mouth swab test, or two weeks in quarantine. If you opt for the swab test (which goes far further up your nose than you thought was possible) then you’ll be given your results back within a few hours. If your results come back negative, you’re free to go.

While these tests will be free for passengers landing in June, tourists will have to either cover the cost of the own tests or opt for the two-week quarantine alternative. The COVID-19 tests will cost each passenger ISK15000 in July, around $A159. If this sounds like a lot, it’s important to remember that on average consumer prices in Iceland are 66 per cent high than in Europe, making it an expensive getaway.

Would you consider travelling to the ‘land of ice and fire’? Have you ever thought about visiting the glaciers, geysers and waterfalls?

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Written by Liv Gardiner

Writer and editor with interests in travel, lifestyle, health, wellbeing, astrology and the enivornment.

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