It’s hard to imagine anything more astonishing than standing inside a blue, natural glacier ice cave. Likewise, these colossal ice caves are formed each year by melting glacial water. Therefore it’s important to remember ice caves, always vary in size and shape. In fact, you could visit the same cave with just a few days difference and it might look completely different as parts of it will melt or collapse.
One thing is for certain though, it’s best to visit the Icelandic ice caves at the height of winter when you can witness them in their full glory. But what does that mean and look like? Today we are thrilled to share with you everything you need to know about Iceland ice caves for 2024… Join us for this adventure!
Iceland Ice Caves Guide: 2024
Likely, if you’ve done your research on Iceland you might realize the majority of ice caves are found within South Iceland and into the Highlands. Also, there are man-made ones and there are natural ones. For instance, the most famous is the Into the Glacier experience on Langjökull. They have carved out an ice tunnel and a chapel for those of you looking for proposals or Iceland glacier weddings! But maybe come to us for the au naturel real deal?!
Next, there are a plethora of ice caves throughout our 4th largest glacier, Mýrdalsjökull in almost all of the outlets. For example, the famed Katla Glacier outlet has many Iceland ice caves. Additionally, she is also a subglacial volcano to add to the fun! Meanwhile, Europe’s and Iceland’s largest glacier Vatnajökull is where our Iceland glacier tours call home.
Iceland Glaciers are Dynamic
If you’re familiar with glaciers, then you’ll know that their main characteristic is that they’re always moving. Snow falls on the top of the glacier, and with time it hardens and becomes ice. The weight of the new ice on top pushes the old ice below further out and to the side. Meanwhile, the glacier then carves out nearby mountains. Which then creates deep valleys filled with ice.
As it moves over centuries it picks up sediments like gravel, rocks, or layers of ash. Additionally, you might see thin lines of black ash that are likely from previous volcanic eruptions hundreds of years ago and are contained within the thick glacier and ice strata. To illustrate, you can think of it like a cake that’s being topped with thick icing. Eventually, the top layer can’t take any more icing and it overflows in several directions. And as the icing hardens, it will begin to crack open. But what happens for ice caves to be created?
How Does a Natural Ice Cave Form?
When you think about when glaciers compress, they sort of “spill out.” Therefore, this movement and process create glacier outlets or glacial tongues. Further, they are typically filled with deep cracks or crevasses. Likewise, you might wonder how this happens.
First, during summer in Iceland, the top layer of the ice or snow will melt in warmer temperatures. Second, melted glacial water will find its way into the cracks and carve out tunnels through the ice. Third, when fall time in Iceland happens, the water has run its course or greatly receded. Fourth, the temperatures start dropping. Which leaves us with a labyrinth of brand new naturally formed ice caves! How exciting right?! A whole new world of discovery awaits you!
Furthermore, believe it or not, the most accessible ice caves are within the oldest ice of the glacier. Why? To illustrate, it’s the area that has been pushed to the edges of the glacier over the course of about a thousand years. In fact, the ice here is extremely dense and has pushed out most air bubbles. Giving it a glowing, beautiful blue color visible to the naked eye. With such a natural process this means the caves are always different in location. Also, vary in size and shape.
Why is the Ice Cave Blue?
When you come across extremely blue ice, people often wonder why it gets this blue color. Good question! Well, it’s the same reasoning that lakes and the sea appear blue. For instance, just like a big mass of water, the ice absorbs all the red color from white light (long wavelengths). But only reflects the blue color (the short wavelengths).
Next, the combination of color and texture of the ice is fascinating. Although blue ice is always the most popular with Iceland travelers! Meanwhile, our Ice Pic Journeys guides scout continuously throughout the year seeking new ice caves. Each cave actually gets its own descriptive name too. How fun, right? In fact, in recent years there have been ice caves named Dragonglass, Crystal Cave, Katla, Princess, ABC, Sapphire Cave, and Bellissimo.
So if you were going to name an ice cave in Iceland, what would you want to name it? Tell us! Maybe a new ice cave we find can be named it!
Best Time to Visit Ice Caves
Firstly, it’s important to know that there are a plethora of ice caves happening throughout the South of Iceland between November – March. This is the formal ice cave season all tour companies in Iceland offer such adventures. Outside of this time frame, it can be hit or miss depending on weather, stability, etc.
Secondly, there are some natural ice caves that are accessible in the summer season in Iceland, by the volcano Katla. But the most spectacular attraction, the almost fluorescently blue ice, is not as vivid or visible as it is in wintertime. All year round, the ice caves might be a mix of white ice, containing many air bubbles, fresh snow, and clear ice that might be partially blue. Or can be completely jet-black sand packed or full of ash from nearby volcanoes or simply golden in the sunlight.
Thirdly, ice caves in Iceland are an ever-changing natural phenomenon. But our Ice Pic Journeys team takes time to scout and make accessibility year-round. So ice caves with us isn’t just a winter thing! But that said, outside of typical ice cave season (November – March) you need to be willing to hike! Maybe even rappel and ice climb out, who knows! We never know what kind of ice caves Mother Nature will provide for us and our amazing guests.
Can You Visit Ice Caves on Your Own?
The short answer is no! In fact, you need to be on a tour with a licensed glacier guide to visit any ice caves. Why? Because they can be quite hazardous as you’ll need to know the dangers and be prepared with the right glacier gear. And we equip you with all the right gear and knowledge!
Further, there are several tour companies taking visitors to the ice caves, and all these tours take you to Sapphire Cave, which can get pretty crowded at times. In order to beat the crowds it’s highly recommended to join our Early Bird Ice Cave tour, which leaves before all the other tours do, around 8am. Also includes 5 personalized photos which is slightly more than our Ice Cave Captured Tour.
South East Iceland Caves
In the meantime, the majority of ice caves are situated on the edge of Iceland’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull, in the southeast of Iceland. Thus it’s recommended to take a minimum of 3 days for your travel from and back to Reykjavík. For example, just the drive from Reykjavík is about 6 hours, one way. Additionally, there are plenty of things to see in route such as the following:
- The Golden Circle
- Black Sand Beaches
- Cute little towns
- Magnificent Waterfalls of all sizes and shapes
- Abandoned Plane Wreck,
- Dramatic views of glaciers
- North Atlantic Ocean
You definitely want to spend a good amount of time at our meeting location, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, as well as the Diamond Beach which is right next to it. Diamond Beach is the nickname for Breiðamerkursandur and is located right where the glacier lagoon connects with the sea.
Meanwhile, the sands gained its nickname because of the many icebergs that come from the glacial lagoon and are then washed ashore by the North Atlantic Sea. For instance, the black sands then look like they are scattered with enormous chunks of icy diamonds all year round. Lastly, the views are especially nice when the ice is glistening in the sunshine or if you catch the Northern Lights dancing above, and reflected in the lagoon.
2024 Ice Caves in Iceland
Okay so your trip is booked to Iceland and now you’re wondering what amazing Day Tours or maybe a combo glacier adventure? Likewise, you might be curious to know what ice caves are happening in South Iceland in 2024? Here we will educate you on what ice caves in Iceland might be best for you to discover. Which one will stand out and entice you?
This winter season of 2023-2024 we have beautiful ice caves that invite you out to explore…
Sapphire Crystal Ice Cave
First off, there are two caves near each other, the lower one is called the Sapphire Ice Cave and the upper crevasse / sinkhole area is called Bellissimo. Meanwhile, they are both located at the edge of Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. Which is an outlet glacier from Vatnajökull Glacier, right next to Iceland’s most famous glacier lagoon, Jökulsárlón. Breiða-merkur-jökull translates to Wide-Range-Glacier and Vatna-jökull to Lake-Glacier.
All our tours start at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and begin with a drive for about 30 minutes to reach the parking space for the Sapphire Ice Cave (some refer to as the Crystal Ice Cave). When you arrive you’ll be given crampons to walk on the ice and your guide will explain the natural surroundings to you. Then you have time to explore the cave, touch the ice, and marvel at its beauty. From the parking lot, there is around a 20-30 minute hike (depending on your pace) to reach the Sapphire Ice Cave.
Also, a good thing to know is that Sapphire Ice Cave is right by the edge of the glacier with a small glacial river running through it. Therefore, you will not actually need to step on the ice to explore it as it’s got pebbles and rocks on the ground. Which makes this a very easy cave to discover on your Iceland journey. We’ve had lots of family groups and people of all ages explore.
Crystal Crevass: Bellissimo
Recently, there has been a draw to adventuring to crystal crevasses in addition to ice caves. Why? Their colors are blowing people’s minds! For example, this vivid blue this ice valley (or some say sinkhole/moulin) exudes is freaking nuts! Sometimes our guests love this open area even more than experiencing a closed-in ice cave.
Moreover, did you know, our Glacier Hike Tour gives you the best of both worlds of this vivid area combined with the famous Sapphire Crystal Cave. This tour is an hour longer and will give you the opportunity to get up close and personal with the glacier, walking on the ice itself and exploring the glacier in a completely different way.
The hike varies between 45 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes one way depending on your pace to get to Bellissimo. Note- It’s uphill on the way up. So this is for folks who enjoy moderate hikes. But it will be #worthit to experience the incredible blue ice that’s extremely photogenic. Plus it’s also an otherworldly experience to walk on the 1,000-year-old glacier! Are you up to the challenge?
Katla Ice Cave
Ice caves not too far from the tiny town of Vik is named Katla Glacier outlet. It’s changing constantly and requires constant maintenance from the tour companies who operate on those black sands. First, the hike varies from 10 minutes from the parking lot. Second, you will hike across some bridges and rivers. Third, you gear up and head into the cave system that varies in height. You’ll notice all the caves here will have a strong black sand presence which blocks light from traveling through the ice.
Ice Caves with Ice Pic Journeys
In conclusion, if you’re interested in a little more action, there is also the option to go ice climbing as well as exploring the ice caves. If you book Ice Climbing Captured, this will add one extra hour to your trip but will include 10 personalized photos as a keepsake of your journey!
Visiting Iceland in wintertime is truly a winter wonderland, and the highlight is definitely going inside a crystal-clear blue ice cave. Now all you need to do is pick a date and choose the right tour for you! And if you cannot choose or wish to embark on a more private exclusive adventure, feel free to contact us to get that grand conversation started!
All rights reserved icepicjourneys.is © 2023