Drinking the Water

Mark emerged from diving in the Silfra rift and announced that the dive was amazing, the water was freezing, and it tasted fantastic.

Fast-flowing water at Kirkufjellsfoss

Every traveler knows the rule: don’t drink the water. It’s true in so many places around the world. It’s not always that the water is bad, but it’s different than what you are used to, and everyone who has traveled also knows that moment when something in the water, or the new food, decides to not play nice with your insides.  Pharoah’s Curse, Montezuma’s Revenge,  Dehli Belly, whatever you call it, it’s unpleasant.  It’s happened to all of us, no matter how careful we are. There are places where you even have to be worried about bottled water if you didn’t see it opened yourself.  My father-in-law spent a few miserable days on a trip to the Galapagos because he insisted on drinking tap water from our hotel in Quito, Ecuador — despite the warnings printed in the rooms!

But Icelanders tout that their water is pure and clean and drinkable everywhere. While I’m still a little leery of drinking out of streams, I can attest to the fact that the water in Iceland does taste pretty good.  The locals laugh at tourists buying bottled water, it’s simply not necessary — the tap water is pure and tasty.

We bought a few bottles our first day, and refilled them whenever we had the chance.  Iceland is one of the few places I’ve been where filling your water bottle from the bathroom tap isn’t a problem.

Apparently the risk of Giardia — so common where we are in Colorado — is very low, but not non-existent in Iceland. Any water flowing past birds or livestock has the chance of being contaminated. There aren’t really any wild animals in Iceland (well, apart from a few caribou and a handful of arctic fox), so any fast-flowing water is likely safe to drink (and pretty tasty — glacial runoff is cold, clear, and well-filtered.

You’ll often see people climbing down to drink from water near waterfalls or streams, and in most cases this is safe — heck, we did it, too.  Enjoy (with just a bit of caution).

REI has a good article about the possible dangers of drinking unfiltered water, and the CDC has a well-documented page on water safety (they err on the side of safety, as expected).

One note, though — don’t cook with or drink the hot water from most taps, it can taste vile. Many hot water taps are naturally heated, hot-spring water, which tends to be sulfurous and mineral rich. I took many hot showers that left me smelling vaguely like rotten eggs.

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