| ||INFORMATION STATION|
|Facts at a Glance|
| ||Full country name: Republic of Iceland|
Area: 103,000 sq km (39,768 sq mi)
Capital city: Reykjavík (pop 171,500)
People: 97% Icelanders
Religion: 95% Evangelical Lutheran, 3% other Protestant denominations, 1% Roman Catholic, & some followers of Ásatrú, an ancient Norse religion
Government: Constitutional republic
President: Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson
Iceland, the second largest island in Europe, boils and splutters in the Atlantic Ocean northwest of Scotland, west of Norway and southeast of Greenland. The main island, which stretches 500km (310mi) east to west and 300km (186mi) north to south, is characterised by desert plateaus, sandy deltas, volcanoes, lava fields, and glacial icecaps. Over half the country is above 400m (1300ft), with the highest point, Hvannadalshnúkur, rising 2119m (6952ft). Only 21% of the land, all near the coast, is considered arable and habitable. The bulk of Iceland's population and agriculture is concentrated in the southwest between Reykjavík and Vík.
Iceland is a relatively young land mass subject to periodic rumpling by volcanic activity. Earthquakes are as exciting as breakfast here, with people only bothering to tip their fur hats to proper explosions, ones that pose an island where once there was ocean, ones that sculpt the earth anew. It's hardly surprising with all this rumbling, shaking and spouting that the landscape is remarkable devoid of trees (though, in fairness, massive reforestation means the country now enjoys a few recreational forests and patches of scrubby birch). What the country does have, however, is large expanses of tundra, grassland, bogs and barren desert. The only indigenous land mammal is the Arctic fox, although polar bears, which occasionally drift across from Greenland on ice floes, would be indigenous if they weren't considered so undesirable. Introduced animals include the reindeer, mink and field mice. The country has a wealth of birdlife, especially sea birds, and its seas are rich in marine mammals and fish. Freshwater fish are limited to eels, salmon, trout and Arctic char.
Iceland's southern and western coasts experience relatively mild winter temperatures thanks to the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, though it still tends to rain an awful lot. In January, for instance, Reykjavík enjoys an average of only three sunny days (in July, one fine day is the norm). July and August are the warmest months and, in general, the chances of fine weather improve as you move north and east. It's sunniest around Akureyri and Lake Mývatn in the central north and warmest around Egilsstaðoir in the east, yet neither place seems to be free of an uncomfortably chilly wind. While they're more prone to clear weather than the coastal areas, the interior deserts can experience other problems such as blizzards, and high winds which whip up dust and sand into swirling, gritty maelstroms.
| ||GDP: US$6.4 billion|
GDP per head: US$23,700
Annual growth: 1.7%
Major industries: Fishing, aquaculture, aluminium smelting & geothermal power
Major trading partners: EU (esp. Germany, Norway, UK, Denmark, Sweden), USA
Member of EU: no
|Facts for the Traveler|
| ||Visas: Western Europeans and citizens of the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore and at least two dozen other countries do not require visas. Tourist stays are granted for up to three months, and can be easily extended at local police stations.|
Health risks: Hypothermia if trekking
Electricity: 220V, 50 cycles
Weights & measures: Metric
Tourism: 150,000 visitors per year
|Money & Costs|
| ||Currency:Icelandic Króna (Ikr)|
Budget: US$10-15Mid-range: US$15-25Top-end: US$25 and upwards
Budget: US$20-50Mid-range: US$50-100Top-end: US$100 and upwards
Because just about everything must be imported, food, accommodation and transport prices in the North Atlantic are high. In fact, Iceland is generally considered second only to Japan in its ability to deplete travellers means. If you can happily drop US$500 a day you won't encounter any problems, but those with finite means may have to put in some effort not to break the budget. If you're willing to give up some comforts and sleep in youth hostels, eat at snack bars and travel on bus passes, you'll probably be able to keep expenses down to an average of about US$50-60 per day. Europeans bringing a private vehicle to Iceland, especially a campervan or caravan, will be able to enjoy a bit more comfort while still keeping within a reasonable budget. Petrol prices are over US$1 per litre though, so be prepared.
Foreign-denomination travellers cheques, postal cheques and banknotes may be exchanged for Icelandic currency at any bank. A commission of about US$2.50 will be charged, regardless of the amount changed. Major credit cards are accepted at most places. Icelanders are plastic mad and use cards even for buying groceries and other small purchases.
Tipping is not required: finer restaurants will automatically add a service charge to the bill making further tipping unnecessary. Even so, those who feel compelled to tip for particularly good or friendly service will not be refused.
|When to Go|
Every year after 31 August, someone puts on the brakes and Icelandic tourism grinds slowly to a halt. Hotels close, youth hostels and camping grounds shut down and buses stop running. Many late-summer travellers are disappointed to find that all the most popular attractions are practically inaccessible by 15 September, and by 30 September it seems the entire country, save Reykjavík, has gone into hibernation. Although it's safe to predict that the situation will change in coming years, for now it's a good idea to plan your trip with this in mind.
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