If my guidebook, “The Little Book of Tourists in Iceland,” were to be believed, Iceland is positively deadly. Walk on a glacier and you could fall in a crevasse; frolic on the beach and the waves will pull you in and under; hitch a ride on an ice floe and wave bye-bye; dip a toe into a boiling mud pit and you will be airlifted to the nearest hospital, which won’t be near at all. And then there’s what can happen to your rental car: Blowing sand will strip off the paint, volcanic rocks will smash your windows, and the wind will unleash the doors from their hinges. You can’t say we weren’t warned.
And yet after a two-week trek around the Golden Circle and beyond, we came back unscathed, despite an encounter with quicksand — I hadn’t remembered the quicksand. It could be that Alda Sigmundsdóttir’s popular book is a ploy to get all those tourists to go home, because this tiny Nordic nation has been indelibly changed by the influx of visitors looking to catch a glimpse of retreating glaciers, powerful geysers, hot lava flows and geothermal waters.
But despite all its warnings and straight talk about what tourism has wrought (a housing crisis, pollution, overcrowding, soaring prices and unfettered development), it is an enjoyable, fast-paced read that does what it promises: suggests tips and excursions, dispels myths and tells you exactly what Icelanders really think of you. Mostly, though, it’s a delightful treatise on being a good visitor and traveling the country safely — with a hefty dose of attitude thrown in. Iceland is a unique place, and it comes with its own unique rules.