Near the Icelandic capital Reykjavik, dominating the Bláfjöll Mountains area, there is a volcano called Thríhnúkagígur (Þríhnúkagígur), literally "the crater with 3 peaks". This dormant volcano has been inactive for four millennia.
It was only discovered very recently, surprising given its location less than 20 kilometers from the capital. Indeed, it was not until 1974 that explorer Árni B. Stefánsson discovered this cave entrance only just visible from the surface, a gap only 3 meters wide. Hidden beneath lay a cave plunging down 213 meters with a total surface area of 3270 m²!
The descent into Thríhnúkagígur: sergemi @Adobestock
If you've ever wondered what the inside of a volcano looks like, Thrihnukagigur is the only place that will answer that question. This is the only volcano in the world where visitors can take an elevator down into the magma chamber.
Jules Verne could only dream of this very real journey to the center of the Earth. The installation was built very recently, with the grand opening for visitors in 2012.
Of the 3 craters of Thrihnukagigur, this is the only one you can explore in depth. On the surface, it just looks like a small cone of ash, but under the surface lies a volcanic arch more than 120 m deep, such that you could fit the entire Statue of Liberty inside the chamber (see illustration).
This is a rare confluence of events. Often after an eruption, volcanoes are corked as the lava cools, but here the boring tunnels of lava remained open.
With Thrihnukagigur, the lava apparently drained into the depths of the earth to leave this huge, echoing magma chamber.
This chamber sat here for 4000 years, and over time the chamber developed striking colours to create a magnificent tableau: the chamber walls like stained glass shine with red, yellow and volcanic black. A stunning experience to set foot in that natural cathedral.
Thríhnúkagígur is located very close to Reykjavík, only a 30-minute drive from the capital. Take Road number 1 towards Selfoss for a few kilometers before turning right on Road 417 which is the closest road access to the volcano.
If you book an excursion down to Thríhnúkagígur (see below), you can enjoy a bus pick-up directly at your hotel in Reykjavik to take you there.
As for the best time of year to visit, you should know that the volcano can only be visited between May and mid-October.
Thríhnúkagígur - JanitaTop@Unsplash
Local tour companies offer fully accompanied excursions into the Thríhnúkagígur magma chamber.
A minibus will pick you up in Reykjavík and take you to the Bláfjöll Mountains. This is followed by a short, very pleasant 3.2 km through the lava fields to reach the cone. The hike itself takes less than an hour.
On site, a specialist will equip you with safety gear, a helmet, and a harness, before explaining the instructions to follow inside the magma chamber. You go into the volcano in small groups of six people.
The descent via cable car, totalling 198 m, takes about 3 minutes. At first, you won't see much in the background, but as your eyes adjust the color palette is revealed and it is simply stunning.
Inside, you can explore more or less freely and photograph the different features of this hidden world, and you can stay for up to 1 hour (or less if you start to miss the open skies).
From the far reaches of the chamber, the sense of scale will hit you as you see the expanse and this pinprick of light through which you arrived, the only natural source of light. It truly is staggering when your eyes can take it in all at once.
The experience is absolutely unique, from the cable car to the magma chamber itself, and for some may be almost intimidating. Be sure to dress warmly this is a place the sun never shines, and at the bottom the temperature never exceeds 5 to 6°C.
Top photo credit : The interior of the Thríhnúkagígur volcano: sergemi @fotolia