Fresh home from a trip to Iceland, traveler Julie Hart gave her guide one of the highest and most extreme compliments ever: “I want to be with Atli when the zombie apocalypse comes.” Taking nothing away from one of the island’s finest guides, you’re likely to feel the same way about many of the Icelanders you meet.

Woman on Cliff in Iceland

Glaciers, auks, volcanoes and rollicking off-road truck rides are among the draws that have turned Iceland into a top travel pick for 2017. You’ll have to accept that you’re still on Earth, though at the foot of a mist-shrouded mountain with the subtle thunder of a calving glacier in the distance, you can easily have a Planet X moment. It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that the people who live here are a special breed.

Guide Atli in Iceland

Iceland’s entire population is roughly the same as St. Louis, Missouri, and a third of them live in Reykjavik. The city is outside the country’s major volcanic zone, but there’s a popular theory that the island’s combustible geology and the changeability of North Atlantic weather have made it an evolutionary advantage to be spontaneous and independent. It’s a country where no one quibbles over your credentials as a Viking priestess. Being a professional shark fisherman is a thing here because, after all, one of the national dishes is fermented and dried shark. Everybody seems to know a glacier guide or two.

Icelandic mountains

According to the World Economic Forum, Icelanders are the Friendliest People in the World. As you’ll quickly discover, they certainly take good care of each other and of visitors, too. Thanks to their almost eccentric sense of fairness, Iceland is home to the world’s oldest parliament founded in 930. It’s emblematic of these people and this place because it was located deep in the wilderness so that no chieftain had to travel more than 17 days to get there.

Woman on crack in Iceland

The “let’s-do-it!” gene is a dominant trait in Atli and his guide colleagues. That drive over the lava flow to get to the waterfall is nothing at all. If he spots wild mushrooms and herbs, he might forage them for a chef. And when a shift in the wind opens a cloud to pull a sharp shaft of sunlight down on the estuary, he’ll stop everything to take it in. Icelanders take their pleasures as they come, without a question – and it’s hard to resist people who grab life so boldly.

Woman holding ice from glacier in Iceland