Responsible Travel in Iceland: How to be Friendly to Nature

|January 28, 2020
Kristina is a Lithuania-based, London-educated writer who loves going on adrenaline-filled adventures as much as writing about them.

Responsible travel, while similar to sustainable travel, is not exactly the same thing. A responsible traveler is one who considers not only the protection of nature but also of the local culture and economy of the country before setting off on their adventure.


Discover useful tips and tricks on how to be a responsible traveler in Iceland. Learn all the dos and don’ts of sightseeing, hiking, caving, and other activities.

Travel is as much fun as it is educational. Never too late to educate yourself on sustainable travel.

Iceland is One of the World’s Most Sustainable Destinations

 If you’ve chosen Iceland as your next holiday destination, you’re already halfway to becoming a responsible traveler! Almost 100% of electricity in Iceland comes from renewable energy generated by glacial rivers. 9 out of 10 houses in the country are heated with geothermal energy from the depths of the earth.

A few of the many natural hot springs in Iceland

Be a Responsible Traveler in Iceland

Around 8% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the tourism and travel industry. With a growing number of tourists visiting Iceland every year, it hasn’t gone unnoticed that nature here is also affected. Luckily, there is something every traveler can do to reduce greenhouse emissions and minimize the impact on Icelandic nature, culture, and economy!

Here are a few tips on how to travel responsibly in Iceland:

  • Offset your carbon footprint. Some airlines may offer the option to offset your carbon footprint by paying a small fee. Pay it and travel guilt-free.
  • Be the white sheep and stay on marked paths. Don't cross barriers just to get that perfect photo. Even the smallest step outside the marked path can cause irreversible damage to fragile Icelandic nature. The barriers are there to protect you and the environment.

Stepping off the marked path can be more harmful to nature than the path itself.

  • Don’t be the black sheep and follow unofficial paths. You’ll see many unsigned paths started by travelers that lead off the main trail. Don’t go there — it can be dangerous for both you and nature.
  • Leave nothing behind. Many rest stops, hotels, information centers, etc. have recycling bins. If you have waste, leave it there.

  • Minimize your waste. Pack your lunch, carry a bottle of water, don’t use plastic packaging, don’t print tickets.

A hot beverage or a sip of water can be life-saving. Use a reusable water bottle and save nature.

  • Bring along a reusable water bottle. Iceland’s tap water is among the cleanest in the world. Refill your reusable water bottle as you go.
  • Reduce your luggage weight. Lighter bags on jet planes and cars require less fuel. Lower CO2 emissions on the flight and in the car by packing less.
  • Choose locally produced souvenirs and indulge in local cuisine. The import of food and goods puts an environmental and economic strain on the country. Support local businesses by buying and eating locally.
  • Use public transportation. Main cities and even some of the most popular attractions can be reached by Iceland’s public buses.
  • Choose sustainable tour operators and hotels. Local travel operators, hotels, and other businesses closely related to tourism, such as Arctic Adventures, take the environment into consideration and employ actions and policies to help minimize damage from tourism. 

  • Sharing is caring. Don’t be afraid to share your ever-green knowledge of responsible travel with other travelers.

What is Arctic Adventures doing to preserve Icelandic nature?

Our team saving the ocean.

Arctic Adventures is one of the biggest tour operators in Iceland and a great example of how local businesses in the tourism sector can pay it forward. Firstly, we have developed principles upon which our sustainability policy is built. Then we generated an action plan to support these principles.

Over the last decade, Arctic Adventures has purchased zero-emission cars for our tours, regularly organized clean-ups around the country, worked closely with Safetravel Iceland, signed a contract with Iceland Carbon Fund (Kolviður) to plant 10,000 trees, and overseen many other environmental projects to help protect the Icelandic nature we all love.

Tips on how you can become a responsible traveler in Iceland on different tours

Responsible Sightseeing:

  • Choose a tour operator that offsets the carbon emissions released by your travel. Arctic Adventures already offsets about 46% of CO₂ emitted during their tours.
  • Choose group travel. By booking a tour, not only will you lower your carbon emission by sharing a car with others but you’ll also get an exclusive look into Iceland’s history, culture, and nature from your local guide.

Environmentally Friendly Hiking:

Guided hiking tours save lives and nature.

  • Avoid accidents. Don't go hiking without a local guide in wintertime unless you are highly experienced. Calling an emergency helicopter is both costly and harmful to the 
  • environment. 
  • Monitor the weather forecast, alerts, and trail conditions closely (on sites such as vedur.is or safetravel.is). This is crucial for all travelers and hikers, alone or in a group.   
  • Use proper hiking equipment. Hiking poles, crampons, GPS, etc. are life and nature saving items if you know how to properly use them. 
  • Dress accordingly. While very attractive, nature in Iceland can be ruthless. Make sure you’re dressed for every condition. 
  • Do not camp in the wild. Wild camping is forbidden in Iceland. If you’re camping during your trip, make sure you’re in a designated camping area such as a campsite or a hut. 

Eco-Friendly Ice Caving:

Your safety is our number one priority. Make it yours, too.

  • Wear proper footwear and watch your step! Ice caves are usually uneven both underfoot and overhead. We provide helmets, crampons, and headlights, but it’s up to you to stay safe.
  • No food in the ice cave! Consumption of food inside an ice cave is forbidden by Vakinn’s regulations. Vakinn is the official quality and environmental certification for Icelandic tourism, acquired by businesses that maintain high environmental standards, like Arctic Adventures. 
  • Visit the toilet before the tour. There are no bathroom facilities inside or near the ice caves. Remember to visit the toilet before the tour! 
  • No smoking inside the ice cave.

Environmentally Safe Caving:

Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time.

  • Do not touch anything. Leave the inside of the cave as you found it and refrain from touching the rock formations, especially the stalagmites and stalactites.
  • No smoking inside the cave. 

Environmentally Friendly Driving Around Iceland:

Make sure you know what the weather is going to be before you enter your car.

  • Purchase car insurance with carbon offset. Some insurance companies provide an option to pay an extra fee to offset the carbon emitted during your trip.
  • Avoid accidents. Monitor the weather forecast, alerts, road conditions, and wind speed closely. Never ignore any warnings or road closures and keep a distance from other cars as the roads can be slippery.
  • Never stop at the side of the road. Find a safe parking area to watch the Northern Lights and make sure other drivers can see you.
  • Avoid idling. Don’t run the engine when the vehicle is not in motion.

Responsible snorkeling:

Silfra Fissure is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and you get to swim in it. Cherish it!

  • Don’t touch or take anything from the water. The rift you’re snorkeling in is very fragile and narrow. Make sure not to damage it in any way.
  • Don’t use sunscreen. One of the biggest pollutants found in the freshwater is sunscreen.

Environmental whale watching:

We never approach whales from less than a 300-meter distance.

Make sure the tour operator you book follows a responsible whale watching code. Arctic Adventures makes sure the wildlife is approached from a secure distance and that the encounter is safe for both wildlife and travelers on every tour. 

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