Hvamstangi

I’ve been revisiting Iceland recently.  Not physically, sadly, but through the photographs I took in the years before the island became quite so swamped with tourists.  I was a tourist myself of course but I enjoyed being in the minority, not the majority. Now tourists outnumber the Icelandic people themselves.

I was lucky to visit Iceland when I did.  I made some good friends who have seen their home transformed since the financial crash and banking crisis of 2008.  I can understand why the Icelandic government took the route they did but of course politicians rarely experience the outcome of their actions.  They are far removed from the lives of the ordinary citizen.

Some in Iceland are of course making a lot of money out of tourism, taxes are boosting the economy, but for a lot of people, finding a home is becoming difficult because it’s more lucrative to rent to tourists than to the indigenous population and with thousands of people trekking and driving off road, not respecting the incredibly delicate ecosystem that exists on such a young island, well this makes me very sad.  I look back at these photographs with pleasure that I was there in the wilderness alone, and sadness that I’m not likely to ever be able to experience the same again..

42 responses

  1. So fine you can enjoy again by looking at your photos.

    April 4, 2017 at 6:10 pm

    • It is nice Lou yes, the beauty of photography. Thank you for your comment! :-)

      April 4, 2017 at 6:41 pm

  2. Exquisite

    April 4, 2017 at 6:40 pm

  3. Know the feeling all too well from visiting our National Parks from the late 60s through 70s. Before they were loved to death. The mobs of folks these days are extremely off-putting and the experience simply isn’t worth it. Nice to have such wonderful images to look back to.

    April 4, 2017 at 7:32 pm

    • It is indeed Gunta! Thank you for your comment. As Sylvia has pointed out, in places like the Antarctic where she has recently been, tourism is strictly controlled and limited both in numbers and in terms of controlling the impact on the environment. I think it’s a shame that Iceland has simply gone for the money with little regard for the impact on the indigenous population or the environment. After all, when big business is involved, the politicians bow to the lobby groups, in this case the tourism lobby, at great detriment to the island.
      The fact that visitors don’t get the experience they were expecting from all the wonderful photographs in the brochures where these wonderful landmarks are empty of people will filter through and tourism will inevitably drop off. I feel very lucky to have been in Iceland when these images of empty landmarks were taken and I was able to take my own. Seeing them absolutely overrun with people on my last visit was soul destroying. The visitors deserve better.

      April 5, 2017 at 4:02 pm

  4. Harold Rhenisch

    I feel the same way, although I only started to go in 2010. Still, there were only 10% of the tourists that there are now. Nonetheless, once you get away from the road, even 100 metres, you can be very alone, and once you get out to Hafnarfjördur, still very suburban, there are no tourists at all. It is a great pleasure to be in a genuine culture there. One sad thing is how unwelcome foreigners can be in grocery stores outside of the Capital Region. Fair enough, but it shows great disruption and stress, and it hurts to watch and to be a part of. Go North, East and West, I say, and take your knocks from angry Grannies out shopping in the vegetable section. Even in Pingveillir I found things are manageable… Hiking deep into the park on a sunny but cold day in early November, we were alone, while the gorge and the thing site were crushed. Still, if you go again, you will have to give Svartifoss, Skogafoss and the Iceberg Lagoon a miss, and will have to skip the restaurant scene. Still, searching out the areas where Icelanders go remains exciting. They are kept secret, but you can find them. I won’t say where they are, because it is in the finding that one learns to be secret.

    April 4, 2017 at 7:54 pm

    • Hi Harold,
      I am lucky to have got to know Icelanders and have some very good friends in Iceland. I too have a some very good secret locations I can visit.
      You’re right, it’s still possible to find yourself alone in the wilderness but only if one avoids the Golden Circle but it’s the Golden Circle that is being marketed with pictures of these fabulous landmarks devoid of people. I was lucky to be able to take my own pictures of these landmarks with nobody around but on my last visit, I met a couple of very keen photographers at Skogafoss. They had all the equipment and zero chance of taking the picture they’d come to take.
      I think the fact that the visitors are not getting the experience they’re promised from the brochures will eventually trickle down and visitor numbers will drop.
      For people like you and I, we do get off the beaten track and experience a different Iceland but for many people visiting on packages, they don’t get the chance and I think this is a great disservice to them.
      The Icelandic people tend to be fairly dour and this is often mistaken for rudeness. It’s not. They are very reserved. It’s not unusual for a couple of Icelanders to get together for a cup of coffee and not say a word to each other. Just meeting is OK but you’re right, in some locations, the pressure that tourism is putting ordinary Icelanders under is showing in some quarters. This is their island. They are rightly very proud of it and are dismayed that the tourism lobby has been able to direct government policy that benefits the few but costs the majority.
      Thank you for your comment. Much appreciated.

      April 5, 2017 at 4:13 pm

  5. Interestingly the Caribbean island where I was born would love some of this tourism. Several years of severe weather has damaged the tropical forests leading to a loss of the very thing that attracts tourists.

    http://www.unesco.org/csi/act/cosalc/brochvin.htm

    April 4, 2017 at 8:05 pm

    • Thank you for your comment Khurt. Tourism is obviously a good thing for many economies. Uncontrolled tourism is not. I’m sorry to hear that your home has been suffering at the expense of the weather. I hope that a recovery will come. I read the website link with great interest.
      I would love to visit the Carribean and have never had the opportunity. I hope to one day and I think I’ll put St Vincent and the Grenadines at the top of the list. It looks very beautiful despite the damage that extreme weather is doing to the Islands. My very best regards, Adrian

      April 5, 2017 at 4:20 pm

  6. That is beautiful Adrian.

    April 4, 2017 at 8:20 pm

    • Thank you so much Edith. I remember the day very well. Incredibly cold but so incredibly beautiful! :-)

      April 5, 2017 at 4:20 pm

  7. So beautiful and isolated. One sure fact of life is that nothing ever stays the same. It’s really sad that Iceland has become so overrun with tourists, and I suppose the locals need the revenue, but maybe the country will have put a cap on the number of people visiting. When we went to Antarctica there were stringent rules in place to make sure that not too many people went ashore at one time, and littering was strictly forbidden of course. How fortunate you were to get such wonderful photos with no-one else around.

    April 4, 2017 at 8:31 pm

    • Thank you for your comment Sylvia. I think that the environmental lobby in Iceland is growing and gaining in strength, sufficient to start challenging the tourism lobby that has led to government policy supporting this explosion in tourist numbers. It has to be controlled and I’m sure it will be. In my reply to Harold, I pointed out the disappointment that many are experiencing when the visit they are promised from the brochure photographs, is not what they get. Trying to photograph an iconic landmark with several hundred people in front of it is not ideal and not what most visitors expect.

      April 5, 2017 at 4:25 pm

  8. Your photographs I think truly capture the feel and look of Iceland. Completely captivating. New Zealand is similar to Iceland, can’t go anywhere without seeing tourists now.

    April 4, 2017 at 9:57 pm

    • Thank you Wendy. Tourism is a fact of everyday life now for so many. We can’t be selfish and keep beautiful places to ourselves but I do think we owe a duty to the indigenous people and the environment to implement some control. It can’t be right that tourists outnumber the people who call this beautiful island home. It’s a great shame.

      April 5, 2017 at 4:28 pm

  9. Sadly Adrian you are part of the problem – your gorgeous photos must have enticed a lot of people to visit Iceland. Places seem to suffer from being trendy: once it was the Greek Islands, then India and Nepal, Thailand, Bali and Ibiza. Hopefully it will be a phase and somewhere else will become popular soon and Iceland can go back to being remote and pretty. How do you fancy New Zealand? :-D

    April 4, 2017 at 10:41 pm

    • Hi Jude, Thank you for the compliment. I take your point that people are lured to this island because of the beautiful photographs they see in the photography magazines and brochures. I’m guilty of publishing an article in Outdoor Photography just last month. Unfortunately the photography they see and the photography they are likely to be able to take themselves, are two different things now.
      Fashion does play a part of course and I think, hope, that numbers of people visiting will dwindle. There’ll be the next ‘in’ place to be. I just hope the damage to the environment and the ordinary Icelander’s lives will be kept to a minimal in the meantime.

      April 5, 2017 at 4:35 pm

  10. That’s one of the things I love about Photography. It’s a constant and eternal reminder of the beauty one saw on a particular day (or longer visit). Each image brings back a precious memory.

    April 4, 2017 at 10:58 pm

    • Thank you Vicki. You’re absolutely right. Photography allows us to freeze a moment that we can revisit at will. Digital photography has opened that up to so many more people and that’s a wonderful thing. When I first started taking photographs in the days of film, it was expensive to get film developed, even if you did it yourself. Now photography is cheap and freely available to everyone and whilst pictures of people’s supper or a selfie outside Selfridges in London posted on Facebook and Instagram doesn’t necessarily advance the art of photography, it’s great that it’s something people can do. :-)

      April 5, 2017 at 4:42 pm

  11. What a beautiful, moody photo, Adrian! It’s a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with. I feel sad, because the tourist industry is spoiling the captivating solitude of these distant places and ruining the natural eco systems.
    I don’t think a local could afford a house in Cley now either. It’s so much more profitable to sell to the wealthy Londoners so that the can have a second or third home…
    Best wishes to you all! :-) x

    April 5, 2017 at 9:06 am

    • Sorry for such a delay in replying to your comment Hanne. It’s much appreciated. It is indeed sad what uncontrolled tourism is doing to certain parts of the world. I feel sad for people visiting Iceland today who are simply not about to experience that majesty and isolation of the landscape when they’re jostling with hundreds of people taking selfies.
      I hope all is well with you and Klausbernd. I will email soon. Take care! :-) xx

      April 12, 2017 at 3:29 pm

  12. A beautiful photo. It sounds like tourism has definitely been a 2 edged sword. More tourists than inhabitants? That is quite a strange fact and a sad situation.

    April 5, 2017 at 9:54 am

    • Thank you Mr Dragon. It is indeed a strange situation and one that the majority of Icelandic people are not terribly happy about!

      April 12, 2017 at 3:26 pm

  13. Such a beautiful photograph, Adrian…. I’m glad you can revisit visually what you likely won’t be able to do again in person…as the times have changed so drastically. What a treasure to have been there alone to participate in the full body experience of the place…without the unwanted presence of so many people….

    April 5, 2017 at 2:18 pm

    • Thank you Scott. Iceland had such a huge impact on me and so much of that was to do with being so alone in the most amazing landscape. I feel sad for people visiting today who find themselves jostling with people taking selfies trying to get a view of the most amazing waterfall I got to enjoy alone.

      April 12, 2017 at 3:26 pm

  14. Sue

    Sad times for Icelanders….

    April 5, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    • Very much so Sue! Thank you for your comment.

      April 12, 2017 at 3:23 pm

  15. Beautiful image, Adrian! It’s sad when tourism ruins the place, I hope the Icelandic tourist agencies at least manage to minimize that kind of damage.

    April 5, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    • Thank you Camilla. I hope so too. :-/

      April 12, 2017 at 3:23 pm

  16. I didn’t know it was that bad but I’m not surprised – soon Cuba will experience the same, I suppose. This is why we seek out the forgotten corners. I’m glad you experienced the country before the crowds. There’s a wistfulness about those mountains in your photo, after reading the text.

    April 7, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    • Thank you Lynn. That picture was taken on my last visit. I know Iceland well enough now to get away from the crowds but visiting the attractions, I was shocked and saddened at how mobbed these beautiful places were. How can people enjoy these magnificent natural features jostling with hundreds of people taking selfies. I really was shocked. I met a couple of photographers with all there gear, serious stuff and they were looking around them with bewilderment. How could they take the picture they’d come to take, the picture they’d seen in all the magazines and in the tourist literature. I didn’t say that you needed to have come a couple of years ago when I was able to photograph the waterfall and glacial lagoon on my own. Not a soul about. Really a very dramatic and alarming change. I can well imagine that the same is about to happen to Cuba. We can’t keep these beautiful places to ourselves by ethical tourism has got to be the way forward and this means controlling numbers. I know for sure that the photographers I mentioned and many other people will have been very disappointed by their experience of Iceland. Icelanders, dour at the best of times, are not reacting terribly well to the influx and who can blame them. Outnumbered two or three to one by tourists who don’t have the best interests of the environment they’re visiting at heart. That said, a select few Icelanders are counting the bucks, buying the yachts and having a great time but ever thus it was so.

      April 12, 2017 at 3:13 pm

  17. There’s always a negative impact to any destination being popular. As a traveler I constantly think about my own effect upon an area, but the mass accumulation of throngs eager to Instagram their experiences is hard to manage.

    April 7, 2017 at 10:29 pm

    • There is and I think the Icelandic government, influenced by the tourist industry, have not managed the influx well. Infrastructure is limited, you can’t find toilets for example at many of the ‘attractions’ with the inevitable results. Not great. Thanks for you comment!

      April 12, 2017 at 3:22 pm

  18. It is nice to enjoy in photos and remember places after few years. When I see this photo I can see that Iceland have many nice places to make great photos. And this photo live nice and strong view on nature, river and mountains. And how nature can be beautiful and strong.

    April 9, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    • Thank you so much. It is great to be able to revisit these places through the photographs I’ve taken. I’m very lucky to have visited when I did. :-)

      April 12, 2017 at 3:22 pm

  19. It is sad to see places ‘ruined’ by too many tourists – and development – but it’s a tricky thing to deal with. Money is a huge driver and there are too many people with too little vision but there is also the quandary of ‘development’ in less affluent parts of the world. Who are we to try and stop it, or slow it down, it’s just a shame that man can’t seem to learn from his own mistakes – or realise that ‘progress’ isn’t necessarily so!

    April 11, 2017 at 8:40 am

    • No, it ain’t necessarily so Noeline. Iceland got burned in the 2008 financial crash but their banks, even by banking standards, were behaving particularly badly. The government decided, unlike ours, that the tax payer wasn’t going to pay for a bail out and tourism was what they were left with to rebuild their economy. Sadly, as is always the case, those with the most to gain have the loudest voice when influencing government policy and in Iceland, that’s the tourist industry such that development has not been controlled and it’s having a huge impact. I know my friends in Iceland and many Icelanders are worried that things really have gone too far. It’s sad. Thank you for your comment Noeline. Much appreciated.

      April 12, 2017 at 3:03 pm

  20. Wow, that’s gorgeous. All the elements in one image.

    April 12, 2017 at 7:08 am

  21. Iceland has just a stunning beauty! What a picture. Thanks for sharing.

    April 17, 2017 at 8:24 pm

    • It certainly has. Thank you Cecelia!

      April 18, 2017 at 6:17 am

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