Infrastructure Needed at Eruption Site as Stream of Visitors Continues Skip to content
Tourists at the edge of the new lava in Geldingadalur on the Reykjanes peninsula
Photo: Golli. Tourists at the edge of the new lava in Geldingadalur on the Reykjanes peninsula.

Infrastructure Needed at Eruption Site as Stream of Visitors Continues

Over 18,000 people have visited the ongoing eruption on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula, according to data collected by the Icelandic Tourist Board. A daily record was set last Sunday when 5,630 visited the site, and with Easter weekend around the corner, the numbers are not likely to drop. While a bus shuttle and even a food truck have popped up at the site, the board’s Director-General Skarphéðinn Berg Steinarsson says authorities need to learn from past mistakes at other tourist sites and act quickly to build up infrastructure by the eruption.

Whether or not the Geldingadalur eruption continues, the valley where lava is currently spewing could become Iceland’s most-visited tourist site in the coming years, Skarphéðinn stated in a RÚV radio interview yesterday. The site is just a half-hour drive from both Reykjavík and Keflavík International Airport (where most travellers to Iceland enter the country). It’s even closer to the popular Blue Lagoon, all reasons why it will likely be popular among foreign tourists once border restrictions are relaxed.

Current Infrastructure is Temporary

Search and Rescue volunteers have been monitoring the site since the eruption began to ensure the safety of visitors. They also marked the shortest, safest path to the site from the nearest road. Yet their presence at the site is a temporary solution. “Everything that’s there now is temporary infrastructure,” Skarphéðinn says. “Since we’ve started counting, some 16,000 people have visited, and during that time nearly no foreign tourists have been here. You can just imagine how it would be if there had been foreign tourists in the country, it would be maybe double, or more: 30,000-40,000 people that had gone there. So in some sense, the border closure is saving us in this case. We need to consider some sort of long-term development there.” Skarphéðinn also points out that the ground will become more sensitive to damage from visitors as it thaws in the coming weeks.

Authorities Should Learn from Mistakes at Other Sites

The eruption is located on private land. One of its owners, Gísli Grétar Sigurðsson, has stated that he doesn’t intend to charge visitors admission, but is concerned about the damage such large numbers of tourists could cause to the land. “That’s really our biggest worry today; that the untouched land there will be wrecked, moss and other things that take decades to recover,” Gísli stated. “If it ever recovers.”

Skarphéðinn says that Icelandic authorities have been too slow to build up infrastructure at some sites across the country, leaving them vulnerable to damage from tourist traffic. One example he cited is Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon, which exploded in popularity after musician Justin Bieber released a music video filmed at the site in 2015. The canyon was repeatedly closed to visitors in the following years as heavy foot traffic damaged its sensitive vegetation. Skarphéðinn expressed his hope that Icelandic authorities would learn from previous mistakes and act more quickly at the Geldingadalur eruption site.

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