The nature of writing this blog is that I can’t post real time and by the end of the trip, I am typically several days behind the events as they occurred. As I write this post, I am actually in my bed in Reykjavik on our final night in Iceland, but this will actually be my first post about the country. What will follow will be posts about our activities each day.
Let me say first off that Iceland is an amazing country. You don’t really come here for the architecture, or the museums, or even the food. The big attraction is the country itself, in all its magnificent glory. The place is spectacular – between the mountains, the sea, the glaciers, volcanic craters, cliffs, wildlife, and so on, it is really a feast for the eyes.
More eye watering, is the cost once you get here. We knew that it would be expensive, but it is REALLY expensive, especially at this time of year. Just to give a few indicators:
A chocolate bar that might cost 2-5 Euro in Amsterdam we saw locally for the equivalent of US14.50. Can you find a less expensive chocolate bar – sure, in the supermarkets they are probably only about 50% more than the equivalent in the US. But I’ve never seen a $14.50 chocolate bar before.
Petrol works out to US7.25 per gallon. One Dunkin Donut is about $4 (how can a piece of fried dough cost that much?) Cheapo coffee at Dunkin Donuts was $4.50. Some public toilets charge US3 for you to excrete it!
Perhaps it is not surprising that some things are expensive – there is a small population on a large island that has to import just about everything, so market economics and transportation costs surely factor into this. Yet even local products (such as fish and lamb) seem much more expensive than they would be abroad. Icelandic fish turns up on the menu in other countries, but doesn’t cost US$30 or more per portion. (For meat eaters, lamb dishes tend to be a minimum of about $45 each). It is kind of funny when the cost of a condiment here is as much as a budget meal in other countries.
IcelandAir have an amazing deal on flights to Europe from the US. We got a killer deal of round trip airfare from Boston to Amsterdam return with a one week layover in Iceland for $399 per person. That’s about the only inexpensive part. A modest hotel with a bathroom costs a minimum of $250/night. We mistakenly booked a guesthouse in one place where we had to share a bathroom with all the other guests and that was “only” $200 per night. We ate at an IcelandAir Hotel one night and I looked up their tariffs. This is where it gets interesting. At this time of year, for what is a decent hotel, rates start at $450 per night. However, in low season, the same room can be had for as little as $100 per night. Our guest house charges the same year round.
So clearly some of the cost involved here is around supply and demand economics – the country is essentially bursting at the seams with visitors – about 350,000 locals are expecting some 1.5 million visitors this year. But some of this seems like profiteering also. Our guidebook was published in 2015 and is the most recent version available. Tours and entrance fees that we have seen listed in the book now cost 20%-40% more just 2 years later.
Museums cost about $20-$25 minimum, often for places that only take 45 minutes to see in their entirety. Most don’t even have discounts for students during the summer, which seems odd to me. I can’t think of anywhere else where student discounts are only valid off season.
I assumed that Icelanders must earn a lot more than Americans and most other Europeans, so I did some simple research and found that the cost of living index here is 68% more expensive than the US. And yet people earn considerable less on average than Americans. Healthcare and childcare costs are the two big areas where the US is more expensive, but in general, I presume Icelanders just end up with less disposable income than many of their peers in North America and Northern Europe.
The good news financially is that so far all the natural wonders are free to visit – no entrance fees. One or two places now charge for parking and there is discussion about charging to visit some sights.
So my 2 cents’ (or two Icelandic kronors’) worth is come and have an amazing time, but ideally try not to do it during peak season and bring lots of money!