Iceland beauty spot Fjaðrárgljúfur closing to tourists
It seems every week brings a new story about a popular tourism destination having to close or impose controls to deal with an increased amount of foot traffic.
Located in southern Iceland about 70 kilometers (43 miles) from Vik, the canyon of Fjaðrárgljúfur is the latest addition to the list.
Fjaðrárgljúfur will be closed until June, despite the early summer start of the country’s high tourism season, according to the Environmental Agency of Iceland.
The primary reason cited was environmental damage caused by an ever-increasing number of visitors. The canyon was also briefly closed for weather-related maintenance in 2018.
While Iceland has many gorgeous natural formations throughout the country, 100-meter-deep (328 feet) Fjaðrárgljúfur has become very popular for several reasons.
Its tall, slender canyon walls are sheer, creating a beautiful effect that photographers love. The other reason? A 2015 Justin Bieber music video, “I’ll Show You,” was filmed there.
The video has more than 440 million views on YouTube, and it was filmed at several spots around the country, not just Fjaðrárgljúfur.
Inga Hlin Palsdottir, director of the national tourism agency Visit Iceland, tells CNN Travel that it’s not fair to blame overtourism — or pop stars — for Fjaðrárgljúfur’s closure.
“It’s just a natural wonder that wasn’t meant to be that popular,” she says. “We need to build a better infrastructure there so we can invite people all year round. We need paths that can be discovered all year round. It’s not only because of nature, it’s a safety issue.”
In particular, springtime presents a challenge at Fjaðrárgljúfur.
“In Iceland you have extreme weather conditions — for example, springtime can be very difficult for the nature when the snow is melting and everything gets more wet and muddy,” adds Palsdottir.
Hannes Sasi Palsson, owner of Reykjavik-based tourism company Pink Iceland, also has a balanced take.
“That part of the country simply can’t cope with all those stomping feet,” he tells CNN Travel. “We have to ask ourselves whether we want to build viewing platforms, charge entry or simply close the area down for a few months a year, giving it time to heal. It’s a debate that any country coming to grips with a massive increase in tourism has to grapple with.”
Palsdottir says that her team will take its guidance on Fjaðrárgljúfur from environmental authorities.
“I don’t necessarily think it will be solved by selling tickets,” she says. “No decisions have been made in this regard.”
Iceland’s popularity as a tourism destination has skyrocketed in the past decade.
Nearly 2.2 million people visited the country in 2017, according to the Icelandic Tourist Board, a figure that’s even more astonishing when compared to the number of people — just 350,000 — who actually live in Iceland. That’s about six times as many visitors as residents.
During the period from May 2017 to May 2018, the number of travelers departing via the country’s primary airport, Keflavík International Airport, increased more than 13%.