Have you ever dreamed about visiting another planet? Well, I had. Little did I know, I could do it without leaving the planet Earth. There is another world hidden under the centuries-old glaciers in Iceland. The world of magical blue ice caves.
I had seen pictures of the blue ice caves on the internet back in 2014. And honestly, my first thought was that they were taken on another planet or simply just photoshopped. They just looked too surreal to be real. But once I found that they were indeed right here on Planet Earth, I had no other option than to go Iceland and visit blue ice caves on my own.
Why are the ice caves so blue?
The stunning blue color seen in the ice caves is the result of the ice containing almost no air bubbles, allowing it to absorb all the visible light except blue. I couldn’t believe when the guide said there were eight meters of thick ice above me! The ice is roughly around 1,200 years old. The ice looks extra blue after a heavy rain in winter, but can also look muddy which is caused by sediments in the melted water that streams through the cave.
There are actually many ice caves around the world (Alaska, Russia, Switzerland, Austria), but those in Iceland are considered to be the among most beautiful ones.
When should I go?
The best time to visit Iceland for an ice cave experience is between November and March. The ice will melt in the summer, which makes the possibility of a collapse very real, making the exploration too dangerous. Even in winter, they are not absolutely safe, which is why a tour guide is critical. They know everything about the caves and will make sure that your trip is not only enjoyable but safe. Do not try this on your own! Case in point, I visited the beautiful ice cave close to Jökulsárlón lagoon at the beginning of December 2014 and just 11 days before my visit, a big neighboring ice cave collapsed. Fortunately, there was nobody inside at the time.
How do I get there?
As I mentioned before, it is really risky to enter the ice cave on your own without knowing the conditions. Also, you’ll hardly find it without a reputable tour guide (see my recommendations below). The ice caves are really unstable and the ones you see online in pictures might not necessarily be there tomorrow. The tour guides usually know about a few, and are always in search for some new ones just in case the ones they know collapse.
You can choose from many tour operators running this trip. If you’re a professional photographer, you can go for the photography tour which is more expensive, but the group is smaller and the trip is longer, so you have enough time to set your camera and tripod and get the compositions that you are after. I was on the low budget, so I went for a ‘non-photographic’ tour and indeed I had enough time to take the photos i had envisioned.
So you have your tour booked. Now what? Charge your camera and take the tripod if you have one. It is dark in the caves, so having a longer exposure might be necessary. Don’t forget warm waterproof clothes and good hiking shoes (some tour operators are renting them for about 1000 ISK, or $8 USD).
The meeting point for most of the tours is usually close to Jökulsárlón lagoon, which is roughly five hours driving east from Reykjavík. Most of the tour operators do not provide transport to the meeting point and the public transport in winter is very limited, so I would recommend renting a car, which can be had for from $40 USD/day in winter.
We had a group of ten and at the meeting point, we all fit into a huge 4WD Jeep. After 10 km of driving through really rough and rocky roads towards the glacier, we jumped out of the car, grabbed the provided helmets with headlamps and walked another few hundred metres to the cave entrance.
Our guide disappeared inside the glacier to check the conditions and appeared again after ten minutes. He explained to us the safety rules and let us enter the cave for around one hour.
And suddenly, I felt like I was on another planet…
Below is a list of tour operators running Ice Cave Tours (November – March). The price start at 20 000 ISK ($150 USD) and while that seems pricey, but you really can’t miss this lifetime experience (and it’s still cheaper than to go to Neptune)! Be sure to book your tour in advance as it’s the most demanded winter trip in Iceland. I would recommend you to do so at least one month ahead. I booked it 10 days before and there was just one date available, so I was forced to change my itinerary.
The otherworldly blue ice caves in Iceland is one of the most magical places I’ve ever visited.
If you’d also love to experience it, don’t hesitate and travel to Iceland it as soon as possible. It’s been said that in a few years there may be no more ice caves accessible for tourists due to accelerated melting at an extreme rate.
So don’t make excuses, book your flight and go explore one of the most unique places on the planet
Martina Gebarovska is a travel blogger and photographer originally from the Czech Republic. Follow her adventures on her website, Facebook and Instagram. A version of this article originally appeared on her blog.