Nomad by Trade

A travel blog for the kid at heart.

Tag: Ice Cave

25 Pictures to Put Iceland on Your Winter Bucket List

You’ve probably heard about the spectacular beauty of Iceland. After spending a week roadtripping around the country, I’m convinced that it’s the most condensed concentration on natural beauty that I’ll ever see. It’s a relatively small island, but every corner is crammed with swoon-worthy sights. 80% of the landscape doesn’t even look like it belongs on this planet. Here are my favorite 25 pictures that will put Iceland on your winter bucket list.

Blue ice cave in the Vatnajokull glacier in Iceland

We were incredibly lucky to have this ice cave in the Vatnajökull glacier to ourselves for a few short minutes. The blue light filtering through the ice was incredible. We visited as part of a snowmobiling and ice caving tour – read about our adventure here.

Blue ice cave in the Vatnajokull glacier in Iceland

This one looks like something out of a sci-fi movie.

Sunset over the fjords in Borgarnes, Iceland

Sunset over the water from Borgarnes was the perfect way to end a day. The pinks and purples on the snow-covered mountains were spectacular. Don’t miss the fjord region on your visit.

Northern lights in Iceland

Seeing the Northern Lights has been on my bucket list for the longest time. We got incredibly lucky and saw them on four different nights on our trip. We relentlessly refreshed cloud tracking maps hoping and hoping for clear nights, and on this evening driving along the Ring Road, we appeared to be in the only pocket of clear sky in the whole country.

Northern lights in Iceland

A tripod and a slow exposure are key to getting good Northern Lights pictures, but don’t forget to enjoy the show yourself while snapping pictures.

Icebergs in the Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon in Iceland

This zebra striped iceberg floating in the Jökulsárlón was my favorite. The black stripes come from volcanic ash deposited by long-ago eruptions.

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The mirror-like water of Jökulsárlón was thoroughly captivating.

Icebergs in the Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon in Iceland

I could’ve spent an entire day just taking pictures of Jökulsárlón.

Dusk over Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon in Iceland

Jökulsárlón is just as magical at dusk.

Ice boulders on Diamond Beach in Iceland

After the icebergs leave Jökulsárlón, some of them make it out to sea. Others get washed up on the shore at Diamond Beach. The black sand there is covered with ice boulders that have been pushed in by the relentless waves. It’s a stunning scene.

Entrance to an ice cave in the Vatnajokull glacier in Iceland

The entrance to this ice cave looms at the base of the Vatnajökull glacier under the pink skies of sunset.

Entrance to the cavern hiding the Gljufrabui waterfall in Iceland

Gljúfrabúi, the “secret” waterfall hidden behind a rock ledge peeks out through the opening  carved out by the stream flowing away. In order to see the whole waterfall, you have to wade through the water to enter the cavern or climb up the front of the rock wall. Read about exploring it here.

Gljufrabui, the

Getting to see all of Gljúfrabúi is worth getting a little wet.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Iceland in winter

Seljalandsfoss is one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls. You can walk behind it along the edge of the cavern in the rock wall during the warmer months.

DC-3 plane wreckage in Iceland

In 1973, a US Navy plane crash landed on this stretch of black lava desert – don’t worry, all crew members survived – and the wreckage has sat here exposed to the elements ever since. It’s about a 4km walk from the Ring Road, but it’s an eerily beautiful sight. This picture wasn’t black and white – it’s still in true color. The sky was perfectly grey that day.

The Blue Lagoon in Iceland

The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most famous attractions. It’s not the ultimate experience, but it’s still a lot of fun. I enjoyed the swim-up bar and the relaxing artificial cave. If you visit in the winter, make sure to explore the whole lagoon to find the warmer spots.

Northern lights over the Geysir area in Iceland

We stayed across the road from the famous Geysir area one night and were treated to some spectacular Northern Lights. The geyser Strokkur erupted several times as we watched the dazzling show in the sky. It was an incredible Iceland experience.

Horseback riding on a black sand beach in Vik, Iceland

The adorable Icelandic horses can be spotted all over the country, and what better way to get up close and personal with them than by taking a horseback ride? I think we found the best spot possible  when we stumbled across riding stables in Vik. Trotting along the black sand beach with the iconic Reynisdrangar rock formations just offshore was incredible. Read about that experience here.

Northern Lights over the Foss á Síðu waterfall in Iceland

The Northern Lights weren’t as bright when we passed by this lesser-known, but still beautiful waterfall called Foss á Siðu, but they make for a perfect backdrop.

Steaming earth and an eruption of Strokkur geyser in the Geysir area, part of the Golden Circle in Iceland

The Geysir area is covered with steaming pools and geysers that give it an unearthly feel. Though the famous Geysir rarely erupts any more, the smaller geyser, Strokkur, right next to it shoots water into the air every few minutes.

Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland in winter, part of the Golden Circle

The snow and ice surrounding Gullfoss make it somehow more beautiful.

Winding road through the Golden Circle during winter in Iceland

This road, part of the popular Golden Circle route winds through the Icelandic country side.

Waterfall in Þingvellir National Park in Iceland, part of the Golden Circle

This waterfall, found in the Þingvellir National Park tumbles down into the rift valley formed by the North American and Eurasian continental plates separating.

Rift valley in Þingvellir National Park in Iceland, part of the Golden Circle

This broad flat valley formed by the continental rift was also the site of the first Viking parliaments, giving it both geological and historical significance.

Icelandic horses in Iceland

Don’t pass up the opportunity to see the beautiful Icelandic horses while you’re visiting. You’ll want to spend hours photographing them.

What would you most like to see on a visit to Iceland?

Looking for an itinerary that encompasses all of these photo spots? Look no further. Here’s my perfect 6-day southern Iceland roadtrip itinerary.

25 photos to put Iceland on your winter bucket list. Includes the Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon, Jokulsarlon, ice cave, and the Northern Lights25 photos to put Iceland on your winter bucket list. Includes the Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon, Jokulsarlon, ice cave, and the Northern Lights25 photos to put Iceland on your winter bucket list. Includes the Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon, Jokulsarlon, an ice cave, and the Northern Lights

Snowmobiling and Caving in the Vatnajökull Glacier

When we were planning our trip to Iceland, one of the places that caught my eye the most was Jökulsárlón, especially when I found out that it was a stepping off point for a lot of ice cave tours. It was a little out of the way for us – we hadn’t been planning on going any further east than Vík – but I’m so glad we spent the extra time in the car.

The Vatnajökull glacier is the largest in Europe, and is protected by a national park. Its size is truly massive and can be best appreciated by viewing a satellite map of it. The area of the national park accounts for just over 13% of the entire country. It is massive and it is spectacular.

We booked our tour through Extreme Iceland, but it was operated by Glacier Journey, a small business owned by a local couple. We were only expecting to go ice caving, but they were evidently missing a guide that day, so we got combined with the snowmobile tour. (Yay!) We could not have been more thrilled with this development, or our tour guide, Laufey. On the way back to Vík, my sister and I spent more time telling my mom, who didn’t go on the adventure, about her than any of the sights we’d seen on the tour. She was absolutely hilarious and had the six of us in the van cracking up for most of the ride out to the base of the glacier. Our tour happened to fall on International Women’s Day, and as there was only one guy in our group, she gave him a fair amount of good-natured teasing.

Vatnajokull Glacier

View from atop the glacier

Meeting Up with the Group

This was truly the hardest part of the trip. Our tickets said that the tour departed from the parking lot at Jökulsárlón, but when we got there, we discovered a sea of vans, trucks, and trailers for various companies. We hadn’t realized that our tour was being operated by a different company than we had booked with, so when we saw an Extreme Iceland van leaving the parking lot as we were pulling in, I got pretty nervous that we’d missed it. We went inside the little building at the end of the parking lot to inquire, and we were told that they usually picked up right outside.

We waited around for a while, but our 3pm departure time was rapidly approaching, so I went out and started wandering through the parking lot. After asking another tour guide, he pointed us in the direction of the Glacier Journey van, but no guide was there. We asked the passengers already inside, but when they said they were snowmobiling, we thought we were in the wrong place. Laufey eventually found us and took us her trailer to get suited up for the trip that we only then found out was going to include much more than ice caving.

I would recommend getting to Jökulsárlón with plenty of time to spare so that you don’t miss your tour. The parking lot there was very chaotic with tour vans parked everywhere, and you’ll want to explore the area anyway.

Getting Outfitted

My sister and I thought we were pretty well-equipped for the trip, but we were wrong. Laufey has an excellent eye for size and provided us with perfectly fitting wind- and waterproof suits and snowmobiling helmets after just a glance at us. We had brought crampons with us for the ice cave, but those were discarded since she said we wouldn’t be needing them. Our ski gloves were also set aside in favor of what I was sure were much too thin wool gloves, but they were more than enough to keep us warm – even when we had to wait on top of the glacier for a long time (more on that later). We were told to put everything we’d need in our pockets, and I shoved my camera down the front of my snowsuit to keep it warm and safe. It was a very whirlwind process, especially since we hadn’t even expected to be snowmobiling that day.

Make sure to wear warm layers for your tour, since you’ll be leaving your coat behind. You’ll also want to make sure to wear warm (preferably wool) socks and waterproof boots so your feet stay warm and dry while you’re up on the glacier. The helmets we were given had sun shades on them, but sunglasses (wire framed would be ideal because thicker plastic ones won’t fit in your helmet well) would also be helpful on a sunny day.

The Ride Out

Our tour had six people on it, all of whom turned out to be Americans. It was kind of funny to end up in remote Iceland surrounded by a bunch of other people from the States, but it was nice to chat with them and exchange tips about other stops that were still on our itinerary.

When we got into the van, Laufey warned us that the road out to the glacier was horrible, but I had no idea just how right she was. I grew up riding roller coasters and have never gotten motion sick, seasick, or airsick anywhere and by the end of the 40-minute trip in the back of the van, I was a little queasy. There were several spots where I was sure the van was going to get stuck. Laufey has to be the best driver I’ve ever been in the presence of. I believe the road is publicly accessible, but I would not want to drive it myself. There were huge holes that would swallow my little Focus, and some downgrades so steep that I wouldn’t even attempt to drive a vehicle down them. Needless to say, I was very happy to finally arrive at the glacier.

Laufey said that it would take less than 10 minutes to snowmobile from the main road to the glacier, but that the national park no longer allowed that. She said that they also won’t fix the road for some reason, which is a shame.

Snowmobiling on Vatnajokull Glacier

Snowmobiling

Despite growing up in Michigan, neither of us had ever snowmobiled before. We had to double up and my sister insisted on driving first because she had driven a jet ski once. I was not at all pleased with this because I’m 11 years older than her and have severe trust issues. I will admit that she handled herself pretty well though.

Laufey gave us a brief demo of how to drive and instructions for what to do when we were up on the glacier. We were to follow exactly in her tracks and line up next to each other when she stopped and gave a hand signal. After a few more tips like what to do if we flipped it, she taught us how to start them up and we were ready to go.

After mounting up, we set off up the glacier. Laufey kept us going at what felt like a pretty fast pace. I was riding in back and felt like I was hanging on for my life. Every bump in the snow sent me bouncing around and I was sure that my little sister was going to get me killed. She did almost roll it at one point, but managed to keep us upright.

Stuck on the Glacier

We went a little way up the glacier and Laufey had us pull into a line to check to make sure that everyone was doing alright. She said we’d stop once more for a check-in and then go up into the mountains that she promised were spectacularly beautiful. We never made it there though.

Shortly after setting off again, she led us through a slushy puddle. My sister was next in line and sped through it just like Laufey did. However a little ways beyond the slush, Laufey had us stop next to her. She had looked back to check on the other two snowmobiles and saw that they were stuck. I never asked exactly what happened, but I think the guy driving the one behind us slowed down when he saw the slush and sunk in. As a result, the girls behind him got stuck too.

Laufey told us to wait there and rode back down to assist the others, who were far enough back that they were out of earshot. After watching them struggle for several minutes, one of the girls hopped on the back of Laufey’s snowmobile and they set off down the glacier. We were alone. And confused.

Snowmobiles on Vatnajökull glacier

Trying to rescue the snowmobiles

My sister and I debated whether we should loop around and drive down to where the other three people were, but eventually decided against it because we figured Laufey wouldn’t be pleased. After debating whether we were likely to start an avalanche – we’re from Michigan where it’s flat and don’t know about such things – I decided that it was worth a shot to try yelling down to the others. I waved at them until I got their attention and then shouted to ask what was going on. They yelled back that Laufey had gone to get rope to try to pull the stranded snowmobiles out.

We just had to wait it out until she got back. My sister had her phone with her, so she got it out and started playing some music for us. We had a little sing-along (with minor seat dancing) on our snowmobile parked on top of the glacier. Apparently we were loud enough that the others could hear faint traces of music because they asked us if we were singing Adele songs later on. It was definitely one of the more unique moments I’ve had in my life. How many people can say that they’ve had a dance party on top of a glacier?

Eventually, Laufey returned with not one, but two more snowmobiles. I think she found other guides that she knew down by the ice cave and they rode up with her. She had decided to leave the two stranded snowmobiles there and come back for them later with a Jeep. The two guys who rode up with her left one snowmobile behind and hopped on the other one together and rode back down.

The guy who had gotten stuck hopped on the back of Laufey’s and the other two girls got on the new snowmobile together. They caught up to where we had been waiting and we set off further up the glacier.

My Turn to Drive

We went a little ways further up the glacier, but we’d wasted too much time with the stuck snowmobiles and didn’t have time to go all the way up into the mountains. We got to a good spot near the top and stopped to take pictures for a while. I got to walk around for a bit to take some pictures, and then I switched spots with my sister for the trip back down the glacier.

Snowmobiling on Vatnajokull Glacier

Driving was a lot more fun than riding. I was getting bounced around a lot less than I had been when I was in back and I liked being in control. The speedometer said we were going 40-50 km/hr, but it felt so much faster. I found myself laughing with joy as we flew across the snow-covered landscape. It was a huge thrill.

Ice Caving

As much fun as snowmobiling was, the ice cave was the highlight of the trip for me. We got very lucky with the timing because we had the cave almost to ourselves for a few minutes, and even Laufey was snapping pictures because she said that she rarely got to visit it without crowds of people.

Ice cave in Vatnajokull glacier

 

The blue ice surrounding us was spectacular. The ripples and waves in the walls of the cave were mesmerizing. Water flowing under the glacier carved the cave out of the glacial ice leaving the huge cavern for us to explore. It’s inaccessible during the summer and after rainfall when the cave floods once again, so visiting in winter is your best chance to tour it. Even that is no guarantee though, as Laufey told us that the cave was flooded for several weeks earlier this year due to rains.

We were expecting it to be slippery inside – it was an ice cave after all – but the floor wasn’t icy at all. This was the main reason my mom hadn’t wanted to join us on the tour, so don’t let that hold you back. It was also quite warm inside and we were sweating in our snowmobiling suits. Drips of water were coming off of the ceiling as the ice above us melted due to the warmth.

Ice cave in Vatnajokull glacier

We had free reign to explore on our own and take as many pictures as we wanted. Laufey pointed out a black streak in the ceiling above us and said that it was ash from a volcanic eruption in the 1200s. She also showed us a spot on one of the walls with a thin sheet of ice that we could stick our heads behind to take pictures looking like we were frozen in the glacier.

Outside of the cave was a little tunnel through the ice. My sister and I climbed up the outside and then lowered ourselves into the crawlspace. It was very slushy inside and we would’ve been soaked if we hadn’t been wearing the waterproof snowmobiling outfits we were provided. Crawling through the ice was fun, but I’d skip it if you’re not wearing waterproof clothing from head to toe.

Once everyone was done exploring, we headed back to the van for the long, rough ride back to Jӧkulsárlón. When we got back to the parking lot, we took turns hopping into the trailer to return our snowmobiling gear and pick up our own coats, gloves, and other miscellaneous belongings.

The site we booked through recommends staying near Jökulsárlón the night before for the morning time slot or the night after for the afternoon time and this was very good advice. The other people on the tour were all staying in Reykjavík, which meant that they had a very long drive back to their hotels that night. Our trip to Vík was only about half of their drive and we still didn’t get back until almost midnight after a stop for dinner and Northern Lights viewing.

Final Thoughts

I would definitely recommend this tour to anyone visiting southeastern Iceland. We loved Laufey and her sense of humor. The tour is not cheap – it costs nearly 29,900 krona – but the experience was amazing. I’ve never seen anything like the ice cave before, and the adventure was the highlight of our entire trip. If you don’t want to snowmobile, you can take a tour that is only to the ice cave at a much cheaper price. We absolutely loved our afternoon with Laufey, and I couldn’t imagine our trip without this adventure. If you have the time and budget for the tour, do it!

Want to learn more about visiting? Check out the perfect 6-Day Southern Iceland Itinerary!

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Snowmobiling and ice caving in the Vatnajokull Glacier in southeast IcelandSnowmobiling and ice caving in the Vatnajokull Glacier in southeast IcelandSnowmobiling and ice caving in the Vatnajokull Glacier in southeast Iceland

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