Places like Hawaii have black sand beaches and active volcanoes. New Zealand has accessible glacier. Greenland has mighty icebergs. The US have gorges. Canada has enormous waterfalls. Finland has the northern lights. Scotland has puffins. Russia has reindeer. But only Iceland has all of these things combined. Couple it with the warming effect of the gulf stream and this near-Arctic island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is quite the hidden gem.

Travel plans for 2020 might still be all up in the air with coronavirus cases still spreading around the world, though with a decrease, and the travel norms rapidly changing. Still, even if it is safe to travel again and your wanderlust is giving you itchy feet, figuring out where to go and where it is wise to go can be tricky.

Looking through my old travel photos, I stumbled upon images of dense waterfalls and frothy green lava fields and I remembered how jaw-dropping experiencing Iceland was. It was a trip immersed in nature and all about nature. One that established a desire to see more of the earth’s wonders, now that we can. Before the human race touches more of it.

But what is the reality of travelling to Iceland right now? Only one person I know could share extreme insight. Ryan Connolly from a small local travel agency Hidden Iceland, the guide that made my trip to this land so unforgettable, has a brain worth picking and an immense amount of knowledge to share. So, I called him up.

Without a foreseeable end to the coronavirus pandemic as of yet, how the travel industry will make it through its busiest season – the summer months – is uncertain. Without a doubt, this will also affect local tourism but vanished crowds doesn’t sound so dreadful to Ryan.

“Running off the beaten path travel will be even easier than before,” he said. “Though I personally didn’t consider Iceland to ever be crowded anyway. At Iceland’s peak, there were just over 2 million tourists per year to the entire island. Compare that to squeezing in 20 million to the tiny town of Venice and you can see why I feel this way. Even once everything goes back to ‘normal’ we are still expecting a maximum of half of the tourists from pre-COVID-19.

Saying that, if you are looking to travel to a secluded, clean and well-maintained country with social distancing still in your mind, Iceland is the place to be. I think mass tourism that plagued the summer months in Iceland will be a thing of the past and more people will opt for a more personalised experience and going off the beaten path. Two things Hidden Iceland are pretty good at doing already.”

Opening its doors to tourists on June 15, Iceland’s mass tourism days are over, as Ryan explains. And this could bring more opportunities for both tourism workers and travellers. The guys over at Hidden Iceland, couldn’t be more thrilled about welcoming a smaller number of tourists as they have always prided themselves in small group and intimate travel. But in a COVID-19 world, it is practically demanded of them.

“I suspect the number of tourists to Iceland will still be tiny this summer. Maybe 10% if we’re lucky. I do expect the demand to be higher than this though. The main thing stopping more people coming to Iceland in the short time isn’t the chance of catching COVID-19 in Iceland. There are practically no new cases in May, and everyone will be tested on arrival that needs it.

The 2 main reasons are that a) their own country may have restrictions on travel still and b) the airlines that normally frequent Iceland will be filled up due to their diminished flying schedule.  Still, if you are looking to come to Iceland this summer, it will be very quiet, peaceful and above all else, safe.”

What is there to look forward to this summer in Iceland? From early May until mid- August Iceland doesn’t have any night time, at all. It simply doesn’t get dark due to Iceland being close to the north pole. By late June, the sun barely sets at all and you can see the midnight sun low in the sky before it temporarily sets and rises again. This coincides with millions of puffins (and whales) calling Iceland their home. “It’s quite a time to come,” says Ryan. All while not coming into contact with many other tourists.

Travelling to Iceland isn’t limited to only one season. In fact, there’s something unique to explore all year round. So, if you’re not travelling this summer for whatever reason, the autumn/winter period still has a lot to offer.

Autumn onwards, Iceland becomes a winter wonderland. Regular snowfall and crystal-clear blue glacier ice make this time of year even more unique than the summer. Ryan expects a bit of a surge with recently un-quarantined people wanting to find a secluded travel spot that isn’t too far from Europe.

“I personally anticipate this winter to be one of Hidden Iceland’s busiest,” he commented. “Lower numbers overall but an increased onus on immersive travel. Going to the most popular destinations this autumn and winter are going to be a dream come true for us. We won’t need to find the best time of day to avoid other tourists because that will be at any time of the day. Starry, northern lights filled nights and daytime with a sun that stays in the permanent golden hour is worth getting a little chilly at times.”

Whether you are aiming to travel in the next few months or later on in the year, Iceland has an abundance of experiences and landscapes to see. It was there where I realised what a beautiful beast nature is and why Games of Thrones used it as a filming location. If there is one piece of advice I’d give to first-time travellers to Iceland is to get a tour guide. The country’s harsh and unpredictable weather conditions and extremely long distances could challenge even the most experienced drivers. In addition, the land is full of fascinating phenomena and cool facts, mostly known by people whose living depends on touring the country.

When picking a travel company look out for what packages they offer and what type of travel you wish to do. Because of the COVID-19 outbreak so many small companies are struggling to survive even if this is a temporary situation. What Hidden Iceland suggests is that people take advantage of the favourable exchange rate right now and the discounts on offer for guests to book for the future.

With flexible ‘book now, travel later’ terms you can even book a trip and change the date as often as you want if anything disrupts your future plans. Valuing personalised experiences Hidden Iceland is best-suited for a social distancing conscious style tour.

When it comes down to travelling right now, besides experiencing what a country has to offer and supporting its local economy, it’s vital to travel responsibly and safely. Small group, customised travel by on-the-ground agencies may be the biggest travel trend of 2020.

Thank you to Ryan Connolly and the team at Hidden Iceland for helping with this article.