As a photographer, I treat a destination like Iceland with enormous respect. I research the place with as much depth as I can muster: do searches of tours (both enthusiast-oriented and general), read up on the culture, talk to friends. And mostly try to connect the best images I find (often on Pinterest) with logistical issues.
And for me, the two areas that held the most charm artistically were the South Coast and Snaefellsnes peninsula. I decided early on to do several days along the South Coast with a 4-wheel rental. The place is a few hours from Reykjavik and has 6 or 8 excellent photo locations. But the Snaefellsnes photo sites were harder to get hard data on – so I decided to do a one day tour.
Reykjavik Excursions, like all the major providers, picks you up at your hotel fairly early, @7:30. And after getting folks checked in, it’s off for the (very long) day. The peninsula is north-west of the city, over two hours away. So our guide spent the first hour or so doing an overview of the country. Some notes:
Historically, fishing has been the most important industry, not surprising given the island’s location along the northern edge of the Gulf Stream. Iceland had to fight other nations (particularly the UK) to maintain this industry from being overfished during the “Cod Wars.”
The country’s location also gave this little country (330,000 people) two big airports absolutely free. During WW2, the Brits built the city airport for a base in the mid-Atlantic. Soon after, the American’s built what became the international airport would become a prime base for NATO during the Cold War. (In fact, the American troops didn’t leave the country until 2006.) That also meant Iceland got more money under the Marshall Plan.
The airports and a mid-Atlantic location also led to the country having a far larger presence in the airline industry (with Icelandair) than its size would warrant.
All the troops led to a TV station that played American film and TV. One reason the natives speak such good English.
The country gets all it’s energy from renewables, esp. geothermal.
Tourism is now the largest industry and in the last few years (since the volcanic eruptions put Iceland on everyone’s radar screen).
The country still has some dairy and sheep farming but it’s difficult to make a living in this traditional way even for folks whose family’s have been involved for years. There are any number of Icelandic horses and some are still used for sheep roundups. Most are for personal use or for tourists.
Our guide also answered the question everyone had on their minds, why’s it so expensive. Partly the answer is the cost of importing so many goods. Part of the problem is infrastructure. A country half the size of Great Britain has to have roads and harbors all over the place. But Iceland has less than 1% of the population.
As we climbed into the higher elevations, our guide pointed out the light reflectors by the side of the road. Each about a meter high and maybe 20 meters apart on the side of the road. The snow is an issue for half the year in this area (as in most of the country). And during snowstorms, the reflectors are the only thing telling drivers if they’re still on the road.
The wind is also a huge factor. Once you leave the lowlands, the wind can blast a car or truck of the road fairly easily. In fact, just the day before our tour a bus was blown over.