Without a doubt, my highlight of our Iceland trip was the ice cave tour, which took us inside an actual glacier to see some of the most astonishing colours I will ever see in my life.
I’ve already talked briefly about the tour in my overall Iceland itinerary post, but this is worth an entire post in itself, not least because I took a lot of photos.
The tour took us inside Iceland’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull, near Jökulsárlón on the south coast of Iceland.
I was unbelievably excited when I found this tour, but I was also apprehensive – I saw these other-worldly photos of every shade of blue you could think of, and I thought, well I bet it doesn’t actually look like that. And even if it does, no doubt the cave we go to won’t have the right lighting or it’ll be black and grey. Either way, I would be happy – I mean, regardless of the colour, we were going INSIDE a glacier! How cool is that? (Excuse the pun.)
So it’s fair to say that my expectations deliberately weren’t too high, which meant I wouldn’t be disappointed.
Needless to say, I was taken aback even more than I could ever have hoped for. Not only were the colours just as vibrant as the photos suggested, but all the shapes carved out in the ice were just mindblowing. It felt like we were in an expertly-made glass sculpture that had taken years to design. It was so mesmerising that it was hard to believe it was completely natural.
Even getting to the glacier was an adventure – from Jökulsárlón, we had to go completely off-road to get to Vatnajökull, and not just in Jeeps; not even in one of the big monster snow trucks like on our snowmobiling tour. No, this was something totally different – three cars welded together to make one mega car (a.k.a. a Super Jeep), with insane wheels that they had to constantly inflate and deflate according to the terrain. Super Jeeps are popular for tours in Iceland, but there are only five of these specific welded-together vehicles in the world that are road-legal, and all of them are in Iceland. Pretty cool, huh?
I can safely say I’ve never been on terrain like it in a vehicle. It wasn’t a road – it was chunks of land mashed together, driving over lumps larger than actual cars. It was an experience in itself as we edged slowly towards the glacier on what felt like a bumpy ride at a theme park. And then once we got there, we had the chance to walk it off with a 20 minute walk to the glacier.
The glacier itself doesn’t look how you would expect (or how I expected anyway) – it’s a dull grey colour, black from the ash spewed from Eyjafjallajökull in 2010. And from where we were standing, the caves looked TINY. A speck compared with the expanse of the ice sprawled out in front of us.
While we were there (I say “while we were there” because these caves are ever-changing), the cave was kind of split into two sections. We explored one side of the cave while another tour was in the other, and then as they left, we moved to the larger side where I think overall we got the better photos.
It was on this side that the cave is expanding, and the guide took us deep into the cave where there were no colours at all – in fact, there was no LIGHT at all. Complete darkness in an icy tunnel, covered entirely by a thick glacier. The thought made me feel tiny and insignificant.
Our guide showed us holes in the ceiling where rocks have been slowly melted out of the ice, which is how the caves form. He told us to be careful, as you could actually see rocks still stuck in the “ceiling”, waiting to be released onto the floor below. And so the cave expands. It’s so fascinating.
We were even, somehow, able to take silly photos, courtesy of our guide showing us a little trick!
I can’t really speak highly enough about our guide – he was so informative, entertaining and funny, and clearly genuinely loves his job. He wanted to be there as much as we did, which made such a difference.
When we got back to the entrance of the cave, we were alone, and I took advantage of having nobody else around.
That said, people create perspective, which is why this is one of my favourite shots from the entire afternoon.
Inevitably, this post will now become more of a photo post… I had real trouble narrowing these down to a non-ridiculous amount, as the patterns and lighting change in every photo.
So, enjoy my insanely blue photos of what must be one of the best natural marvels on earth.
A helmet AND a wonky hat? It’s a good look.
This was probably one of my top five moments of travel. The pure shades of blue in something so gargantuan it’s hard to get your head around it.
Sadly, as giant as the glacier seems, it’s retreating at an alarming pace and scientists reckon it won’t exist within the next hundred years. A terrifying thought, and really it’s because of this that the ice caves even exist. Come spring, it will be too dangerous to enter the caves as they’ll be melting, and in the autumn the tour companies will find a newly-formed cave to visit instead.
Read more: Planning & Packing For A Winter Iceland Trip
In fact, Jökulsárlón only exists because of the blocks of ice that break off the glacier and float through the lagoon. It’s still really impressive though, and Jökulsárlón should be a highlight of anyone’s trip to Iceland. For me? The ice caves blew the icebergs out of the water (erm, excuse another pun!).
Unfortunately we didn’t have time to go down to Diamond Beach at the end of the lagoon, as it was dark by the time we got back – not that I’m complaining! It was truly sensational getting so much time in the caves.
However if you do have time to get to Diamond Beach, it’s a photographers dream, with shards of icebergs strewn along the black sand. It’s definitely on my list for next time!
Overall, the ice cave tour was my absolute highlight of Iceland. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done! If you’re thinking of booking but you’re not sure if it’s worth it – IT IS!
All the photos in this post were taken on my Sony Alpha a5000 camera, but my friend just used her phone, and her photos are still AMAZING. So don’t worry if you haven’t got a good camera, either.
– we booked a tour to Vatnajökull with Ice Explorers and they were fantastic.
– their ice cave tour cost us around £114 each (20,000ISK) and they also offer more expensive tours that include walking on the glacier.
– the tour leaves from Jökulsárlón, the iceberg lagoon, and takes you to the Vatnajökull glacier.
– I recommend booking the afternoon tour, as they didn’t have to be back for another tour and essentially allowed us to spend as long as we wanted there (basically until it started getting dark!). The tour guides genuinely love what they do and are happy to stick around.
– you can ONLY do this in the winter. If you’re visiting between April and September, these caves won’t exist. Tours usually start in September, but you might find the caves are still forming and could be really small – October onwards would be prime time to visit.
Want to read more about Iceland? Fantastic – I’ve got a few more posts!