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Health & safety

Dangers & annoyances

Iceland has a very low crime rate and in general any risks you’ll face while travelling here are related to the unpredictable weather and the geological conditions. Whether travelling in summer or winter, visitors need to be prepared for inclement conditions. The weather can change without warning, and it’s essential for hikers to get a reliable forecast before setting off – call 902 0600, extension 44, or visit www.vedur.is/english for a daily forecast in English. Extreme cold can be dangerous when walking around glaciers and throughout the country in winter, so proper clothing is essential. Those driving in winter should carry food, water and blankets in their car. Emergency huts are provided in places where travellers run the risk of getting caught in severe weather, and car-hire companies can provide snow tyres or chains in winter.

When hiking, river crossings can be dangerous, with glacial run-off transforming trickling streams into raging torrents on warm summer days. High winds can create vicious sandstorms in areas where there is loose volcanic sand. It’s also worth noting that hiking paths in coastal areas are often only accessible at low tide, so be sure to seek local advice and obtain the relevant tide tables (known as sjávarfallatöflur). Consult the hydrographic department of the Icelandic Coast Guard (545 2000; www.lhg.is; Skógarhlíð 14, IS-105 Reykjavík) for further information.

When visiting geothermal areas, stick to boardwalks or obviously solid ground, avoiding thin crusts of lighter-coloured soil around steaming fissures and mudpots. You also need to be careful of the water in hot springs and mudpots – it often emerges out of the ground at 100°C. Always get local advice before hiking around live volcanoes. In glacial areas beware of dangerous quicksand at the end of glaciers, and never venture out onto the ice without crampons and ice axes (even then, watch out for crevasses).

One risk most travellers must face is dangerous driving on Iceland’s roads. Locals universally ignore the speed limit, cut corners and weave out of their lanes.