Iceland’s Ice Cave Tour in the Vatnajokull Glacier

Iceland is known as the “Land of Ice and Fire” for its extreme landscape and conditions. From massive glaciers up to active volcanoes, you can find something on both extremes. This time, we experienced some of the colder parts of Iceland, where temperatures dipped near 0°C and windchill would feel even more frosty. These are the perfect conditions for one of Iceland’s most stunning natural wonders – crystal ice caves.

Ice Cave Tour in Vatnajokull Glacier

One of the things you can only do in winter is an ice cave tour because the temperatures are cold enough to stabilize ice formations and slow running water. We took a tour with an Icelandic company, Local Guide, at about $189 per person.

The ice cave we were taken to is located in the Vatnajokull Glacier, the largest glacier in Europe and covers 8% of Iceland. It was about a 45-minute drive from the Local Guide HQ, with the last 30 being very, very bumpy with the extreme terrain. From our parking spot, we were given helmets and crampons (metal spikes for shoes) before making the 10-minute walk to the entrance of the cave. On the way, our tour guide showed us different parts of the glacier and remnants of other ice caves.

When we reached the entrance of the ice cave where a few tour groups were already there admiring the natural spectacle. The cave is stunningly beautiful with crystal clear blue and turquoise colors, with air bubbles trapped in the ice and streaks of black that contrasts the other colors. Although the cave is formed by ice, the fluid wavy texture resembles frozen fire, and it is mesmerizing and breathtaking.

We got to spend 45 minutes in the ice cave and eventually the crowd thinned out for us to take some really nice shots. Unfortunately, one individual decided to bring out a flare for one of his photos. PLEASE DO NOT BRING FLARES! The flare was lit for at least 15 seconds before being put out, but the smoke completely limited the visibility of the cave and made it difficult to breathe due to little ventilation to get the smoke out. It took several minutes before most of the smoke dispersed, but some still remained for the incoming group.

Our final stop of the tour was also the remnants of a previous ice cave. All ice caves have lifespans and when one cave closes, a new one will be born. Although this one was no longer a cave, it had its own unique texture and was still beautiful nonetheless.

Visiting the ice caves at Vatnajokull was one of the coolest (pun definitely intended) things I’ve experienced. It’s one reason why you should make a visit to Iceland in the winter time at least once to see these spectacular formations. If this is one of your must-do activities, here are some tips to help plan your visit:

How Can I do this Ice Cave Tour?

Where to go: Vatnajokull Glacier is located near the town Hofn, 5-6 hour straight drive east from Reykjavik. Because of the many scenic stops along the way, it may take several days to get there.

When to go: Ice Cave Season runs from November through March.

Who to go through: There are various tour groups that offer ice cave tours, including the company we used, Local Guide, who are highly experienced and knowledgeable. Glacier hikes are also offered.

What to bring: Warm clothes and camera (best with a tripod). Waterproof shoes/boots may be useful if you need to step in water. Crampons are provided by the companies for your tours. DON’T BRING A FLARE INTO THE CAVE!

Additional Tips: Highly recommended to book in advance. Tour groups are fairly small and space is limited, so tours can be book several weeks out. Basic ice cave tours will be around $190-200 per person.

To see even more ice, check out our post for Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon!

 

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28 comments

  1. This is a great article Ling. Your photos are unique and I’m inspired to visit Vatnajokull Glacier. Do you know if it’s possible to just drive out there and see it or do you need to visit on a guided tour? You recommend bringing a tripod, I guess because it is dark (when the flares not lit!). Did you take a tripod and which shutter speed worked best?

    1. Yes, you technically could drive there with an extreme 4×4 to the cave of the Vatnajokull Glacier. However, it’s not really recommended because (1). an extreme 4×4 vehicle will run you $200-400 per day and ordinary vehicles/SUVs cannot get there and (2). Ice Caves can be unstable and collapse if you’re not familiar with the caves, so locals advise not going by yourself.

      You definitely should bring a tripod, although it is surprisingly bright inside this cave where you could do handheld shots or use your phone. But if you want a crisp clean shot, would recommend it. For these shots, I had the set up at around f8, the shutter at 1/3 to 1/8 and ISO 320. I could push it to f4, ISO1600 and be able to shoot around 1/40, which is decent enough for handheld shooting if you don’t have a tripod.

      Hope that helps!

  2. Iceland now slowly and surely becoming one of my must visit places and this just added to that. Beautiful photos first of all and what a wonderful even if slightly expensive experience. Must be amazing being so one with nature and the blue-ness all around us truly mezmering. Cheers

    1. An ice cave tour is definitely a fairly pricey activity, but most of the other amazing sites are free, so this is like a splurge activity. 🙂

  3. I visit this cave in early December and was amazing! Firstly, I was a little bit disappointed as I thought it was bigger but after spending some minutes there I started to appreciate its beauty and enjoyed every second of it. It is an incredible experience of a lifetime ! Your tips are on point and very useful !!

    1. It depends what kind of tour you do. If you do a normal group tour, you will get to see the main cave entrance, which is maybe a bit smaller than what you envisioned but it’s good for larger groups to see it. However, there are private tours (which are significantly more expensive) that will take you deeper into the extensive network of ice caves in the glacier. Sometimes they’re not accessible from instability or too much water melt, but they are spectacular from the images I’ve seen and I’m planning to do that in the future.

      1. I actually got a response to clarify the private tour. There isn’t really a network of ice caves but there are different ice caves to tour varying in size, but this ice cave is currently the biggest one.

  4. Simply stunning! I really pity now when I see these amazing photos that we didn’t take the opportunity during our Iceland roadtrip to check this cave out. $189 sounds actually pretty expensive but as I know for myself, nothing in Iceland is really cheap, but this would be definitely something for a second trip.

    1. Yes, definitely save up for the second time because it is well worth the price. You’re also walking around the glacier and seeing other parts, or you can partake on a glacier hike too! But yeah, Iceland is not that cheap so understandable.

  5. Wow!! This is an awesome tour. We have never seen such stunning and beautiful glacier. It seemed to us like some graphics done for a fiction movie.

  6. Hi Ling,
    Wow, this post made me feel as if I would be right there with you. Seeing those ice pictures (that gorgeous colour) makes me really want to go before the summer season starts. Your tips regarding the tour are really useful.
    Thanks
    Finja

  7. Iceland must be the flavour at the moment as checkins are popping up all over my FB feed. I have never been but desperately want to! The ice cave looks amazing. I love all the different shades of blue. I will definitely not be bringing a flare when I finally get there

    1. YES, please don’t bring the flare! Iceland is certainly getting popular. I’ll be posting a sample itinerary soon, so check it out later when you plan your first trip!

  8. The cave tour is otherworldly. It is just hard to describe in words just looking at these photos. I could only imagine how that was like to be there, to see it in your own eyes. We’ve also featured a bunch of Iceland posts on Global Girl Travels, so you know this country is close to our heart!

    1. We can’t get enough of Iceland and will go back again soon! I’ll check out some of the featured posts to plan out the next trip.

  9. That looks a bit scary being under all that ice. It’s beautiful though – absolutely stunning. Can’t believe some numb-nuts let off a flare inside the cave. Great post and pictures are superb!

  10. Wowww… it looks so out of world. Iceland is high on our list. Hope to make it happen this year. Btw why did that guy do that – to take pictures or some kind of experiment ? And, 45 min in the cave sounds fun , some great pictures there.

  11. Oh my god, these pictures are insanely beautiful. What an incredible experience – this is definitely being added to my bucket list. It looks like it is definitely worth the money.

  12. What a beautiful glacier! I cannot believe that the largest glacier in Europe covers 8% of Iceland. that is quite impressive! I do love the look of Iceland and hope to get there someday. It makes total sense that the cave tour can only take place in the wintertime to be able to maintain and stabilize the formations.

  13. Ummmm WHATTTTTT!?!?! This is AMAZING. Your pics are to die for, I bet they are blowing up on Insta! How annoying of someone to bring a flare.. What was the purpose of that? Selfish! Thanks for sharing – this is truly beautiful.

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