Iceland is an incredibly popular winter travel destination thanks to its unique natural landscapes, hot springs and the opportunity to witness the elusive Northern Lights. It’s typically regarded as a super safe place for travellers and expats – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t susceptible to natural disasters.
Seismic activity in one region of the country has increased significantly over the last two weeks, and it’s looking like a volcanic eruption is imminent. Here is everything we know about travelling to Iceland amid the earthquakes.
Is it safe to travel to Iceland?
November is a typically good time to visit Iceland, given it’s not peak season and the conditions are usually favourable for a chance to catch the Northern Lights.
However, since November 11, seismic activity in the southwestern Reykjanes peninsula has escalated and semi-molten rock has been spreading under the ground's surface. The country is under a state of emergency, which was declared on November 10. However, neither the UK Foreign Office nor the Iceland Travel Advisory are recommending against travel.
Where was the earthquake in Iceland?
1,000 earthquakes were recorded in the area around Mount Thorbjörn and near Grindavík, a town in the Reykjanes Peninsula, as of 12.30pm on Sunday November 12. The town has been evacuated as a precaution. Grindavík is around 60km away from the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik.
On November 13, residents were given until 4pm to re-enter their homes and collect essential items, but were evacuated again afterwards. As of November 21, the population is still waiting to see what happens to their town. A 15-kilometre-long dike has formed which runs northwest of the town into the Atlantic ocean – and Grindavík lies in the path of the expected eruption.
How likely is a volcanic eruption?
Very likely. The Iceland Met Office warned it could be within ‘a timescale of just days’ and an eruption is now considered imminent. Though it’s tricky for professionals to predict exactly when it will happen, it’s thought that the situation could escalate very quickly. There have been very clear signs of magma along the emerging dike.
How long is the Blue Lagoon closed for?
The Blue Lagoon, one of Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions, will be closed until November 30 at the very earliest. It’s already been ‘proactively’ closed for two weeks, as it’s only 6km away from the most affected area.
The Northern Light Inn, which is next to the Blue Lagoon, will also remain closed.
Have flights been cancelled?
Flights to and from Keflavik airport are operating as normal. Visit Iceland have said that ‘At this moment, it is not possible to conclude what effects a possible volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes Peninsula might have on flight traffic to and from Iceland.’
Your best bet if you have a flight booked to Iceland is to keep an eye on your airline’s website for updates on whether your journey will be affected. Multiple airlines have said they’ll contact passengers if and when the situation changes.
What is the UK Foreign Office saying?
Despite the increasing likelihood of an eruption, the UK Foreign Office has not yet advised against tourists visiting Iceland.
The statement on the website reads: ‘Earthquakes and indications of volcanic activity have increased above normal levels on the Reykjanes peninsula, southwest of Reykjavik. The Icelandic authorities continue to monitor the area closely, particularly the area northwest of Mt Thorbjörn near the Svartsengi power plant and the Blue Lagoon.
‘On 10 November, a Civil Protection Alert was declared after an intense swarm of earthquakes. The town of Grindavík was evacuated as a precaution. Some roads have been closed and visitors are advised to stay away from the area. Keflavik International Airport is operating as normal. While there is no current eruption, it is increasingly possible that one could occur. You should monitor local media for updates and follow the authorities advice on travel to the area.’
What are your rights if you’ve booked a trip to Iceland?
As the UK Foreign Office has not advised against travel, it’s likely your trip will go ahead as normal. Unless the advice changes, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to cancel your trip without a penalty.
The Blue Lagoon is closed, so the case might be different for visitors who had booked a stay in the site’s hotel. Contact your travel provider directly for all the up-to-date info about your trip.
How common are earthquakes in Iceland?
Earthquakes are very common in Iceland. The country sits on the boundary of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. That’s why Iceland has a bounty of fascinating natural attractions and 33 active volcanoes. However, the frequency of tremors over the last few weeks is considerably higher than usual, which is why a state of emergency was declared.
When was the last earthquake?
In July 2022, a 5.4 magnitude earthquake struck the southern peninsula. In 2008, two earthquakes registering 6.1 magnitude hit Iceland, between the towns of Selfoss and Hveragerdi, not far from Reykjavik.
The last volcanic eruption was in 2021, but before that, the Reykjanes Peninsula was dormant for 800 years.
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