June 2021 visit to Iceland

By Cindi McNabb
This item appears on page 12 of the September 2021 issue.
Hot springs at Lake Mývatn, northern Iceland. Photos by Cindi McNabb

My husband, Mark, and I did a 2-week self-drive around Iceland, June 15-29, 2021, and it was WONDERFUL! We felt that two weeks was the right amount of time for this trip.

It had been 21 months since our last international trip. It was so refreshing to travel in a country that was filled with smiling, unmasked faces. We chose Iceland because it was open to vaccinated US citizens and was doing well with their vaccination program, having few cases and hospitalizations.

Planning for this trip was different because we had to pre-register with the country, get a barcode to link with the PCR COVID test we each would take after we landed and then get another test before returning to the States.

I think Iceland’s government did an excellent job of putting an efficient COVID-screening process in place that ran smoothly, requiring little or no waiting. Our PCR test upon arrival was done in a huge tent in the airport’s parking lot, where we were directed after collecting our luggage.

After doing the test, we picked up our car and were directed to wait at our hotel until we received the results by phone. That was fine with us because we wanted to catch up on our sleep anyway. We had our test results, by phone, within six hours. We got the results of our tests for our return trip home in four hours… on a Sunday!

One reason we chose Iceland for our return to international travel was that it was a place we had always wanted to visit. More importantly, though, was how the CDC rated Iceland’s “Risk Assessment Level for COVID-19,” as listed on the website www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/map-and-travel-notices.html.

With the CDC’s Risk Assessment Levels from 1 to 4, Level 1 being “Low” and Level 4, “Very High,” we only entertained the idea of visiting countries listed as level 1 (like Iceland) or 2.

While preparing for this trip, I started looking for travel posts about Iceland and saw that many travelers were not aware of the preregistration option on Iceland’s travel website (visiticeland.com/article/iceland-and-covid19-coronavirus). They were waiting until they reached the airport to fill out paperwork and link cell phones. Preregistration linked our passport numbers, phone number and pertinent info to the barcode and, later, the testing that was done.

Our PCR tests upon arrival were at Iceland’s expense. We paid for the second test ($80 each), given before we returned to the US. We weren’t sure whether a rapid test would be acceptable, so we opted for a PCR test again.

Diamond Beach, on Iceland's southeastern coast.

Iceland’s travel website listed clinics where visitor testing would be available. Twenty-four hours in advance, I made appointments to get our tests in Reykjavík two days before we were to leave Iceland. (The US, which requires everyone to show a negative test result before entering, wants the tests done no more than 72 hours before the flight departs.) We showed up for our appointment hours early because we wanted to do something else, and they took us right in, with no waiting.

As a precaution, one more thing we did was download Rakning C-19, Iceland’s official digital contact-tracing app, which would alert us later if it was found that anyone we were exposed to tested positive for COVID.

We did have to wear masks on the flights the entire time, as well as when we went to the clinic for COVID testing, but the rest of the time, we were MASKLESS. What an incredible feeling!

We enjoyed Iceland’s waterfalls, hot springs, puffins and Icelandic horses plus an incredible whale-watch boat trip, but, as for the highlights, it was a tie between two museums in the north: the historical Glaumbær Turf House outdoor museum (www.glaumbaer.is/is/information/glaumbaer-farm), comprising farmhouses built of turf, stones and timber in the 18th and 19th centuries, and The Herring Era Museum (www.sild.is/en). A herring museum sounds a bit strange, but it is a DO NOT MISS (and the Sigló Hótel (www.siglohotel.is/en), across the street, was my favorite lodging)!

Lastly, Iceland was NOT crowded. In fact, we felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.

So happy to be traveling again! For others resuming travel, I encourage you to use the CDC’s website as a screening tool and to be very aware and careful when you travel.

Sequim, WA