Iceland is home to many natural wonders, ranging from incredible waterfalls, to beautiful national parks and stunning landscapes. There are many things you can cross off your bucket list in this beautiful country, and visiting crystal-blue ice caves is definitely one of those things.
During my week-long winter trip to Southern Iceland in March, we decided to book the unique experience of visiting an ice cave, as it is typically a winter activity. We chose a tour of the so-called “Crystal Cave”, which is part of the Vatnajökull glacier and is said to be one of the most beautiful glacier caves in Iceland.
Before giving more details about the specific ice cave that I visited, here is some general information!
- What is a glacier?
- Can you visit ice caves in summer?
- Do you have to book a tour to visit the ice caves?
- Why are glaciers so blue?
- How can you access the Crystal Ice Cave?
- Do you need specific equipment?
- How was the tour?
- Things to see nearby:
What is a glacier?
Glaciers are huge blocks of ice, made of several layers of snow that have been compressed over centuries. They are only formed on land and do not melt in summer, at least not entirely. They are also moving masses and can be compared, in a way, to huge frozen rivers that very slowly move towards the edges of the land. In fact, they sometimes have an actual river running underneath or through them!
Iceland is home to more than 250 glaciers, the biggest one of them being Vatnajökull, an ice cap on top of a volcano that stretches out in the South Eastern part of Iceland. It is also the biggest glacier of Europe and you can see it from the road, visit its ice caves or even go on a hike on top of it!
Can you visit ice caves in summer?
With the warmer summer temperatures, parts of the glaciers in Iceland start to melt, flooding some of the most famous ice caves, and creating cracks, crevasses and holes, making it extremely dangerous to visit them. For this reason, the best season to visit ice caves is undoubtedly winter, from November to March, when the temperatures have been cold enough for a longer period of time to ensure the safety of visitors.
However, there are apparently two ice caves that can be visited in the summer in Iceland: the Katla ice cave (next to a volcano) and the man-made ice caves in the Langjökull glacier.
Do you have to book a tour to visit the ice caves?
Contrary to the Northern Lights, that you can see by yourself without problems, the ice caves and all activities around glaciers in general have to be visited with an expert guide. Glaciers can be really dangerous and pose lots of threats and not only a guide will know whether it is actually safe to go there, but they will also be able to take you closer to the glacier – which is much easier said than done.
A guide will also provide useful information and guidance, showing you the best spots, giving loads of interesting information about glaciers and Iceland in general, but they will also ensure your safety throughout your visit. It can be frustrating if they prevent you from going somewhere specific, but it’s really better to be safe than sorry.
Why are glaciers so blue?
From the stunning Jökulsárlón glacier, to the chunks of glaciers spotted here and there and beautiful crystal-blue ice pools along the side of the road, we spent part of our trip in Iceland wondering why the ice was so blue. Well, if you were wondering too, here’s the answer: basically, the ice in glaciers is so dense that it absorbs all the “red” wavelengths of light, only transmitting the blue ones. That’s why the ice appears to be this gorgeous shade of blue!
A tour of Vatnajökull’s Crystal Ice Cave
Now that a few things have been said, here is more practical information about the specific ice cave that we visited, the so-called “Crystal Ice Cave”, part of the Vatnajökull glacier. Since Vatnajökull is really large, you can access it from many different spots, and the closest point to Reykjavik is probably the Skaftafell National Park. However, our tour started a bit further East.
How can you access the Crystal Ice Cave?
The Crystal Ice Cave is located in the South of Iceland, a few hours away from Reykjavik – a very scenic drive with many stunning spots along the way. To reach it, you have to go to the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon first.
There, you can park your car in the huge parking lot, eat something from one of the food trucks parked there, use a public bathroom, and you’re good to start looking for the jeep of the tour organiser. There are many of them, so make sure to know which one you are looking for and don’t hesitate to ask around!
At the time set from your reservation, the guide will then take you closer to the glacier in a huge jeep, and after very bumpy ride – be prepared especially if you tend to have motion sickness – and a long walk on gravel, you’ll finally reach the glacier! You don’t need to be an experienced hiker, but there is a lot of walking involved on very unpractical ground, so I’d say that sadly it is not for everyone.
Do you need specific equipment?
You definitely need appropriate equipment, be it to visit the ice caves or to go on a glacier hike, but most tours will provide that for you – just make sure they actually do before booking!
We had crampons to attach to our shoes and a helmet to protect our heads. Then, warm but breathable clothes, ideally waterproof, are obviously recommended!
How was the tour?
There are many tour operators that offer a visit of this specific ice cave. We went with the “Crystal Ice Cave Tour from the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon”, organised by Arctic Adventures, that we found on Get Your Guide, and loved it! Our guide was fun and knew so many things about Iceland and glaciers in general, offered to take some pictures for us and showed us all the most beautiful spots while explaining to us how glaciers are formed and raising awareness about the consequences of climate change on these fragile natural wonders.
Walking inside an ice cave is really a surreal experience, and you can clearly see all the layers of ice and snow while being surrounded by all these different shades of turquoise and deep blue. It was absolutely one of the highlights of my trip, and I will recommend it to everyone in a heartbeat!
Things to see nearby:
The Crystal Ice Cave is located near the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, a bit less than 5 hours away from Iceland’s capital with a car, so I would highly recommend booking at least one night in one of the nearby towns (we stayed at the Viking Café in Höfn and loved it). The good thing is that there are plenty of things to see on the way – which is all detailed in my 6-day South of Iceland itinerary!
If you are already in the area, here are some things you can see nearby:
- the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon
- the black-sand “diamond beach”
- Skaftafell National Park
- the Stokkness black-sand beach (near Höfn)
- the Viking Village (near Höfn)
Have you ever seen an ice cave?
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