Iceland's geology is unique and as a result the country offers an impressive number of volcanic caves and glaciers offering guided tours. The list below is far from exhaustive but these are the most visited in the country and won't disappoint.
If you appreciate the wonders of the underworld, this can be a great option on days when the weather is unpredictable.
There are many types of caves in Iceland that you can discover: from traditional easy spelunking tours to crystalline blue ice caves to visiting the bowels of a volcano. There are examples almost everywhere on the island but they can only be visited with a guide.
Going alone would be madness. Caves, especially ice caves, are particularly dangerous as they are in constant motion. And whether you can get in or out often depends on the weather. But don't worry, tour companies offer a refund if your cave tour gets cancelled because of inclement weather.
With so many glaciers in Iceland, natural ice caves (or ice caves) are commonplace, and the same applies to volcanoes and the resulting volcanic caves formed by old lava flows.
Ice caves light up in bright shades of blue and white with a million facets, and several factors determine this color variation. First the weather, because the blue will vary in depth depending on the ambient brightness. Then the thickness of the ice is also relevant, as thicker layers have more air bubbles trapped inside that scatter light, creating deeper, richer blues.
Some caves are entirely white, and others black due to contact with ash or volcanic dust.
Located on the Snaefellsnes peninsula is the Vatnshellir Cave, the very same mentioned in Jules Verne's famous Journey to the Center of the Earth. As usual, it can only be visited with a guide. After descending a long spiral staircase, we set off to explore a 200 m circuit through tunnels of cooled lava.
Búri: sergemi @fotolia
The Búri Cave was discovered relatively recently by a vulcanologist (who else would be there without a guide?) in 2005. It is located less than 40 km southeast of the capital Reykjavik, very close to Thorlákshöfn. The Leitahraun lava field was the source responsible for the creation of this cave. The most impressive aspect about this place is its size, with 10 m high ceilings in places and a length of almost one kilometer.
In this cave lies a lava pit 17 m deep, making it the deepest of its kind discovered to date. Inside the cave, beautiful ice sculptures ornament the walls, changing over time, and become even more impressive in winter.
This cave like the others can be visited with a professional guide (many companies offer this type of excursion). After transport to the departure point in 4x4 vehicles, it takes 1 hour to walk to reach Búri.
Walking through the cave is a challenge and even though the interior is quite large, the entrance is narrow. Some trails require hiking up an icy slope in there, so be mindful it's not for the faint of heart.
About 30 minutes from the capital on the Reykjanes peninsula, there is also the Raufarholshellir cave, a 1360 m lava tunnel. This cave was created following a volcanic eruption 5,200 years ago.
This one can also be visited:
Very close to the Hraunfossar Falls lie several caves: Vídgelmir, Stefanshellir and Surtshellir, all 3 of which were born from the Hallmundarhraun lava field.
Surtshellir is the most famous in the country, as it is the largest in Iceland, about 2 km long and almost 10 m high. You can visit the cave for 2-hour tours or for the whole day so you can explore every last corner. Their volcanic origin explain the interior walls composed of vitrified layers of magma and basalt.
The Stefanshellir lava cave is located 300 meters north of Surtshellir. The main entrance to the cave is about 300 meters from the northernmost skylight in Surtshellir. They are so close that they could in fact be considered as a single cave, and the Stefanshellir lava cave alone stretches 1500 meters across, so there's a lot to see.
The Vídgelmir lava cave is further away. It takes 1.5 hours to drive from Surtshellir Cave to Vídgelmir Cave. It is just over 1580 meters long, and its highest point is 16 meters.
You enter the cave starts through a narrow tunnel that leads into the main chamber, then from here all paths lead to the bottom of the cave. There is a lot to discover in this particular underground cavern, which is why Vídgelmir is known as one of the wonders of Iceland.
In this same region of Husafell, there is another treat with a whole different flavour: an ice tunnel! Indeed, you can explore a man-made ice tunnel under the second-largest glacier in Iceland: the Langjökull Glacier.
This tour runs all year round. A guide picks up the group of cave-explorers in nearby Husafell and after a drive in a 4x4 to the ice tunnel entrance you can a one-hour tour of this magical place. The ice changes from white to blue depending on where you are standing in the glacier and the weather on the other side of the thick ice wall. This experience can be booked in advance:
Lofthellir is a 3500 year old lava cave. It is a fairly small example since it only extends a little over 370 m. Located in the Myvatn region, you'll need a guide to get there and back safely, with departures either from Myvatn or from Akureyri. While small, this cave has the most beautiful glacial formations in Iceland.
The inside of the cave is cold, of course, and very humid. As soon as you enter, you will be struck by the unique nature of the frozen formations with magical light tones. Some rooms are difficult to access and you may have to rely on rope and climbing equipment to reach the most difficult to access places, but the colors and reflections of the ice and stalactites really are worth the effort. This is almost spelunking, so be prepared and you won't be disappointed.
Located in the south near Vik, Katla is a famous volcano that has known some dramatic eruptions in the past. There are tours departing from Vik, with a first leg in some of the most sturdy off-road vehicles known as superjeeps to take you to the foot of a white and black cave of volcanic ash.
For a few hours the guide will teach you all there is to know about local geology, the history of the Katla, and the ice caves themselves.
The reflections and contrasts are much more impressive in winter, and it can be visited from October to May. Inside, the cave is quite narrow and the sounds of cracking are very frequent due to the movement of the ice.
Ice cave: aiisha @fotolia
Also in the south, near the famous Jokulsarlon, there is an incredible cave you can visit nicknamed the “Crystal Cave”. This ice cave is one of the best known in Iceland and owes its name to its appearance, the place is a literal gemstone and the bright blue of the cave walls is truly breathtaking.
Under immense pressure, the ice contains almost no air bubbles. Letting the light travel through the layers of frozen water leaving only a blue glow. However, this blue ice can only be seen when the conditions are just right, so trust your guide.
The excursion to the Crystal Cave starts from the Jokulsarlon car park and the visit lasts nearly an hour.
For something completely different, you can tour the bowels of the Thrihnjukagigur volcano! This is quite simply one of the only tours of its kind in the world, so don't miss out.
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