You might be curious to know what it’s like to go on an Iceland ice cave tour?
Up until just recently, I was too. Then, I fulfilled my lifelong curiosity and took a trip to the land of fire and ice, ice baby! (It was bound to happen) 😂
As it turns out, our elementary school teachers were right… Iceland is green and Greenland is ice… But, what they failed to mention was that there is also a hell of a lot of ice in Iceland as well.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that as green as the grassy farmlands, sheep covered hillsides and seaside bluffs are, there is also plenty of glaciers… particularly Vatnajökull Glacier, which I’ll be sharing my experience about in this blog.
If you’re up for an Iceland ice cave tour, it is an absolute thrill!
In this blog, I share…
– My ice cave tour experience at Vatnajökull Glacier National Park
– What to know before booking a tour
– How to dress for an ice cave tour
– Are ice caves safe
– Who should not go on an ice cave tour
– Important resources for your trip
– Where to stay
I can’t wait to share my adventures with you! Get ready for glaciers and volcanoes!
Adventures in the Land of Fire and Ice
There are two kinds of people who travel to Iceland… The ones who come to learn about its culture and the ones who want to experience the beauty of the country while taking a walk on the wild side.
Me? You’re looking at a girl who’s enticed by adventure and pretty sights. 😉 Although, I was also surprised to be swept up into cultural traditions that I was totally unaware of before arriving in Iceland (which I’ll share in future blogs to come).
Part of the allure of Iceland for me was… well, the ice, which is why I opted for a trip in October, the start of Iceland’s Winter.
So, when I had the chance to take a tour inside the natural crystal ice caves of one of Iceland’s most famous glaciers, there’s no way I was passing it up!
Quick Ice Caves Facts
- Caves are created by water which carves tunnels around streams.
- Iceland’s ice caves are dangerous. Do not visit without a tour guide.
- Due to safety, tours don’t operate until the colder months starting in October, sometimes not even until November.
- The ice caves are constantly changing as they melt and will never look the same two days.
My Iceland Ice Cave Tour
There are so many different ice cave tours that you can take in Iceland.
The tour I took was in Vatnajökull National Park in South Iceland. We went to see the Crystal Ice Caves in Vatnajökull Glacier on Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier, which is a lagoon. Vatnajökull Glacier is Europe’s largest ice cap. There are a few more glaciers in the area as well. Our tour guide chose the most ideal glacier for us to hike to based on our fitness level and preferences.
The adventure starts in Höfn (Höfn í Hornafirði), a fishing town on Iceland’s South Coast. From there, we got on a 4×4 Super Jeep with monster wheels.
We would drive on a 40 minute path which I swear felt like off-roading (but it wasn’t because it’s illegal in Iceland). Then, we’d hike along a volcanic path until we reached the glacier’s entrance.
To say that the ride was bumpy is a massive understatement. We were rocking back and forth from side to side like we were on a boat. Good thing me and the girls in my all female tour group had become fast friends or it would have been aka-awkward!
If you get car sick easily, this tour may not be for you. I had a girl next to me with a vomit bag. Luckily, nothing happened. 🤢
Just when we had enough of the whiplash, the driver got out and deflated the wheels a bit to make the ride more comfortable. Honestly, I didn’t see much of a difference. 😂 But, it was part of the adventure and we were up for it!
It was crazy to think that the entrance to the glacier was once much closer. We were told the distance to reach the glacier would only increase as time went on and the glacier continued to melt.
Ice Cave Tour in Vatnajökull National Park
After driving for 40 minutes, it was time to hike for another 40 minutes along a rough and rocky volcanic path to the glacier ice caves. But, I wasn’t complaining. There was a lot to look at.
I could picture all the Bumble guys I’ve ever dated rolling their eyes because they could never get me to hike with them. Can we all agree, it’s different when you’re forced to do something? 😁
Continuing on the old farming road called “Þröng”, we started to see the incredible sight of the ice-covered volcano, Öræfajökull as well as Breiðamerkurjökull. From a distance, it looks like rock, then you realize the whole thing is ice.
All I kept wondering was how can two vastly different things coexist in the same environment?
With all the layers I was wearing underneath my heavy coat plus my beanie and gloves, I was heating up quite a bit. But, boy was the hike worth the sweat! The scenery was so rugged and isolated that it felt like you were on an expedition. It was a really cool feeling! Everywhere you looked was nature’s beautiful work of art and we hadn’t even reached the glacier!
Entering the Ice Cave
After walking up a rocky incline and across a platform with a spring of flowing water underneath us, we finally reached the ice cave in Vatnajökull Glacier! Helmets on! 😉
To be standing in an ice field looking up at a glacier that massive was unbelievable. Let’s just say, I’ve never been more fascinated with nature than when I visited Iceland. It’s as if everything my geologist and biology teachers said suddenly made sense.
As we stepped inside the cave, I’ll admit, at first, I was a bit disappointed about the appearance.
In the photos from my tour’s website, the cave looked like sapphire blue crystals, bright and blue with high ceilings. This looked like “Indiana Jones, Lost Ice Cave Crusader”, the sequel… a dark, hollow tunnel to no return.
That’s when I realized that glaciers are constantly changing as time goes on. The photos I saw were 2 years old. Even in 1 month from May to June, the glacier had changed dramatically, having melted significantly. The difference was uncanny. So, come with realistic expectations.
Visiting the glacier, I was reminded just how serious the effects of global warming are. In 200 years, this glacier and therefore its ice caves will cease to exist. It made me grateful to be able to witness such a majestic and fleeting scene created by nature.
Vatnajökull National Park makes up 14% of Iceland
What the Ice Cave Looked Like
It was an incredible experience to be completely surrounded by natural ice. I’d been inside ice caves before but the kind that are man-made, with Instagram models in long flowy dresses posing. This was the real thing!
Iceland Blue Ice Cave
After venturing a bit further into the cave, I finally saw what I’d been hoping for- blue ice!
At one point, I looked up at the ceiling to see the most magnificent, wavy formation with glass-like texture, almost mimicking the ocean’s waves! It’s like when you look up from below the water’s surface!
The ice formations were all different and beautiful in their own way.
Some had more light coming through it and were more deep blue, while others were grey, brown or black. Some even had ash deposits trapped inside the ice.
The ice’s color depends on the time of day, depth of ice, also whether air pockets are present. The ice that’s free of air bubbles are the bluest since the light can penetrate the ice further.
You might be wondering what the ice caves will look like by the time you make it out to Iceland. It’s hard to say…
The fact of the matter is… what I saw will be completely different from what you see. As the glacier continues to melt, the formations of the ice caves will change.
What Nobody Tells You About Ice Cave Tours
Looking back, I feel like a dare devil!
The cave was literally melting as we were in it. I’m talking rain showers from the ceiling…
We were also walking on an artificially placed plank of wood at an elevated height which joined two pieces of ice getting us through the rest of the cave.
Not to mention, there were jagged, protruding pieces of ice hanging from the cave’s ceiling that we were told not to stand under since it could and eventually would chip off one day.
There were also some parts of the cave with dark, tight spaces where you had to bend over, squat down and nearly crawl to get through which was terrifying at times, especially if you’re the claustrophobic type or have back problems.
Trust me, the last thing I want to do is dissuade you from this amazing experience! However, it’s important that I share the reality so you have facts to make your own judgement call.
Are Ice Caves Safe?
When you think about it, the environment of this natural phenomenon is unpredictable and therefore, quite dangerous, which is why you should never attempt one without a certified, experienced tour guide.
Of course, any activity is a risk and some riskier than others. You’re going at your own risk. However, tour providers usually stay up to date on any conditions that could put your life in danger and will cancel or reschedule a tour for your safety. However, it doesn’t hurt to also keep aware of changing conditions to prevent harm.
Even when booking a tour, it’s hard to know the actual state of the ice cave until you’re there in person.
Use practical, common sense. Only walk where your tour guide leads you. Don’t get lost in a selfie or venture off into unknown territory, stay with your group and pay attention to signs.
If you’d rather not visit an ice cave or if you visit when ice cave tours are not operating, you can still visit a glacier. You can also take a guided walk on glaciers or a zodiac tour!
How to Make Your Glacier Ice Cave Experience Even Better
If Iceland is known for anything, it’s their pure, fresh spring water which accounts for 95% of all drinking water in the country. It’s one of the best waters you could drink in the world!
On the way back to the Super Jeep, I couldn’t resist taking a drink from Breiðamerkurjökull which has melted into Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.
Also, don’t forget to touch the inside of the cave. Sometimes we’re so overwhelmed we forget to do these cool things.
How Long is the Tour?
We were inside the cave for about 30 minutes.
How to Dress/What to Bring for an Ice Cave Tour?
Since I live in Maine which has Winter temperatures similar to Iceland, I was more acclimated to the colder temperatures. There were moments when I even felt hot being all bundled up unlike my new friends from Florida and Texas.
However, don’t underestimate the ever-changing temperatures in Iceland. The weather can change very quickly. Always pack accordingly. It never hurts to bring a backpack to take off/put on more layers.
Iceland Packing List Essentials:
- Merino wool socks
These socks are amazing! My feet were so warm in Iceland.
- Waterproof hiking boots (good ankle support)
Sporto is a fantastic shoe brand and makes great boots. I almost bought new ones for my trip but decided to stick with the above the ankle fur lined, waterproof boots I already have which worked great! I wore them for most of my trip.
- Thermal base layer: long sleeve (wool or synthetic- no cotton!)
- Thin fleece or similar
- Wool sweater or light jacket
- Thick, warm or puffy, insulated coat (wind & waterproof)
I brought my tri-climate, thermal insulated, waterproof, wind proof North Face coat along for the trip and it kept me so warm. It also had a hood, zipper to let inside breathe and a lot of pockets on the inside and outside.
- Sports bra
- Thermal Base layer: leggings (wool or synthetic- no cotton!)
- Light and comfy, wind & waterproof softshell hiking pants or ski pants (no jeans!)
- Thick, cotton underwear
Iceland Essentials (His & Hers)
I wore these gloves on my Iceland trip and they kept my Reynaud’s hands so warm. They’re wool, fleece-lined, waterproof, great for texting and very affordable.
- Warm hat/wool headband/beanie (must fit under a helmet, no pom poms)
- Neck and/or face covering
Other things to consider:
Some people are fans of backpacks. Me personally, I think they’re heavy and cumbersome. I had big enough coat pockets for small items so I didn’t need a bag.
Depending on how long your tour is (mine was 6 hours), you may want to bring a snack or lunch and drink. Throughout my Iceland trip, I always kept 1-2 protein bars in my coat. These RX protein bars are my favorite.
You don’t need to bring anything, the tour supplies all safety equipment (helmets with lights, crampons, ice axe, etc.).
When You Should Not Go on an Ice Cave Tour
- Afraid of the dark
- Car sick
- Have trouble walking
- Have back problems
Where to Stay
Foss Hotel Glacier Lagoon
If you plan on exploring more of what Vatnajökull National Park has to offer, including a glacier hike, Vestrahorn Beach, Diamond Beach, or a zodiac tour at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, I highly recommend making your home base Foss Glacier Lagoon Hotel, especially if you want a taste of luxury. Read the hotel’s Trip Advisor reviews.
I will write a full hotel review at another time.
ICELAND TRAVEL RESOURCES
Safe Travel in Iceland
Sign up to receive free Iceland alerts and warnings as well as travel planning tips here.
Iceland Weather & Enviornmental Conditions
Important Iceland Numbers
112 (Iceland’s 911)
+354-570-5900 (Search and Rescue)
U.S. Embassy in Iceland here.
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That’s a Wrap!
Very few places in the world make you feel as alive and full of gratitude to be in such a fleeting landscape such as the Vatnajokull Glacier ice caves. I’m so happy I went on an ice cave tour… I felt like an explorer! I hope that you get the chance to experience an Iceland blue ice cave for yourself too!
Have you been to Iceland? Would you go on an ice cave tour? Tell me about it in the comments below!
Thank you so much for being apart of this journey with me! I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.
Until next time… keep it real.
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