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Winter Iceland Ice Cave Tour (Go Inside Vatnajokull Glacier)

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Did you know that winter is the only time of year that you can join one of the Iceland ice cave tours that venture inside the Vatnajokull Glacier?

When I started planning my two week road trip along Iceland’s south coast, I immediately started doing research to find activities that were only available during the winter since I was visiting during February.

I had seen the images of people walking through diamond blue ice caves of glaciers during their time in Iceland and I knew I had to experience it for myself.

Hiker standing in a blue glacial ice cave
The vibrant blue ice caves of Vatnajokull Glacier were stunning

After researching my options I ended up reserving an ice cave tour with Local Guide of Vatnajokull. Local Guide offers multiple ice caving options, and I went with their longer discovery tour which included visits to three different ice caves and more time hiking on the glacier.

The tours are small group which meant our size was capped at 9 clients. This was great since we had two guides with us which meant we received tons of personalized attention and could interact with our guides as much as we wanted during the activity.

A nice thing about booking the Vatnajokull ice cave tour with Local Guide is that the tour departs from Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. The lagoon is a can’t miss area along Iceland’s south coast and this means you can explore here once you’re finished out on the glacier.

Visitors looking out over Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
Views looking out into Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Not only does this activity get you in position to see Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, but you’ll also be across the street from Diamond Beach! This is another cool area where ice from the lagoon drifts out into the ocean before large chunks wash back up on the beach.

On the day of your activity be sure to arrive plenty early. The parking lot for the ice cave tour also services the glacier lagoon and Diamond Beach which means it can get extremely crowded. If the main lot is full, you can park across the street adjacent to Diamond Beach.

Black van with orange and white logo
Local Guide of Vatnajokull meet up spot at Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

You’ll find some food trucks and bathrooms around the parking area so be sure to take advantage of both before heading out on your ice cave tour. Once you’re ready, keep an eye out for the Local Guide of Vatnajokull vans setup around the lot and get yourself checked in.

Once you’re checked in your guide will fit you for crampons, micro spikes, a helmet and safety harness. Since you’ll be out on the excursion for 5-6 hours, you’ll want to bring plenty of water and snacks to sustain yourself during the day.

This time includes driving each way, so anticipate being out on the glacier hiking for about 3 hours.

Man standing in front of black super jeep in Iceland
Was super excited to head out onto Vatnajokull Glacier

It goes without saying that you’ll want to dress plenty warm for this activity, and be sure to check the weather the day you’re heading out. We dealt with rain, snow and strong winds but as long as you dress appropriately you’ll be fine!

After getting geared up you’ll board the super jeep, head a few minutes back down ring road and then make your way up a 4×4 only road towards the glacier access point. The road is extremely rugged and there’s no way you could make it in anything but a special purpose 4×4 vehicle. So don’t get any ideas!

Black super jeep at sunset in Iceland
The ride out to the glacier on your super jeep is a fun experience itself!

Once you reach the glacier access point you’ll put on your harness, helmet and smaller spikes before venturing out on the ice towards your first ice cave. There are other tour groups in this area, since all of the shorter ice cave tours will congregate here.

Icelandic mountain set against a blue sky and frozen lake
Mountain views from a quick stop we made on our way out to the glacier

I’d highly suggest booking the longer discovery ice cave tour option that Local Guide offers. Not only is it fun to explore additional ice caves, but most other groups will fall off after the closest caves. This means that as you hike out onto the glacier you’ll have the whole place to yourself!

As you enter the caves keep in mind that they can become a little bit crowded since they’re so narrow. If you’re set on getting good photos I’d try keeping near the front of your pack with your guide. Everyone in my group was really respectful of each other taking turns for photos and helping people by taking their picture.

Glacier guide helping two hikers inside a blue ice cave
Our guide Oscar helping two group members navigate some tricky terrain

When we got down into the caves I really couldn’t believe how blue the ice was. In fact, I’d say that it was more vibrant and blue than what you see in photos. Our guide suggested that lighting conditions from the sun and clouds can play a big part in how much color shows up.

One thing I didn’t fully anticipate was how dark some of the caves were when you you’re in the middle of them. Since there’s very little light that makes it there, it can create a really eerie and dark feeling which was cool to experience in person.

Dark ice cave with a shadowed person in the middle
The darkest parts of the ice caves were my personal favorite

During our time hiking on the glacier in between caves we encountered extremely windy conditions and some rain for parts of the day. This alone isn’t enough to cancel the tour, but keep in mind that severe weather can result in the operator cancelling these tours.

Hiker in black coat posing in a blue ice cave
Dress warm so you can really enjoy your time down in the ice caves

Chances are if it’s raining, you’ll still be going out on your hike. It’s important to pack a waterproof raincoat, backpack cover, have on water proof boots and anything else you might want to stay warm and dry since you’ll be firmly committed to being out in the elements.

The experience as a whole was incredible and I can confidently recommend this activity with Local Guide of Vatnajokull as something you should include in your winter Iceland itinerary. Special shoutout to our guides Oscar and Barbera who led us out on this incredible experience.

Through the rest of this post I’ll provide some additional information to help you prepare for this activity and to assess whether or not it’s a good fit for travel plans.

You’ll notice some links and advertisements from partner or affiliate sites throughout this post. I typically earn a small commission on any purchases made through those links at no additional cost to you. If you check those out, great. If not, I’m still happy you’re here! 

Where’s the best place to stay when doing this activity?

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, where you’ll meet for this activity, is over 5 hours from the capital city of Reykjavik. This means you can’t easily explore Vatnajokull Glacier from Reykjavik as part of a day trip.

One option is to rent a camper van from GoCampers and stay at one of the nearest campsites. During the winter your two best options are probably going to be the Skaftafell Campsite to the west or the Viking Village Campsite to the east.

Man standing in front of a camper van in Iceland
My camper van rental with Go Campers allowed me to explore Iceland’s south coast over the span of two weeks!

Each of these options are about 1 hour away so you won’t have too far to go the morning of your visit.

If you aren’t renting a camper van, there are some hotels in the area that dot Ring Road. Consider checking out the Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon or staying at the Hali Country Hotel. Both of which are popular with visitors and put you super close to the Jokulsarlon Lagoon parking area.

Another option would be to find accommodations in the town of Hofn. A nice thing about staying here is that you’ll be in excellent position for visiting nearby Vestrahorn or continuing your journey up Iceland’s eastern coast.

More information about Local Guide of Vatnajokull

Founded by Sigðurður Bjarnason and now led by his family, Local Guide prides itself on intimate knowledge of Vatnajokull Glacier, offering personalized small group tours for a truly unique experience.

The company offers a range of ice cave tours suitable for all adventure levels. During the winter, they specialize in ice cave tours of different lengths. While during the summer, they offer different types of glacier experiences including an option to try ice climbing!

Glacier hike guide exploring a blue ice cave
Our guide Oscar checking out an ice cave entrance to make sure its safe to enter

If photography is a core focus of your visit, Local Guide offers customized photography oriented tours that ensure you get the shots you’re after so that you don’t have to share spaces with other tour members.

A nice thing about booking with Local Guide is that their tours offer a 24 hour cancellation policy. Should weather, illness or other trip complications prevent you from making it to your activity, you can rest easy knowing your money is refundable up to 24 hours before your scheduled departure time.

Man kissing the blue wall of a glacial ice cave
Showing Vatnajokull Glacier some love

Our guides, Oscar and Barbera, were extremely friendly and knowledgable and made sure we had a great experience during our time out on Vatnajokull Glacier. They definitely exemplified the values that the founding family have sought to instill in their business.

You can read more about Local Guide of Vatnajokull’s story and their team here.

What month is best for visiting ice caves in Iceland?

Winter is the best time of year to attempt Iceland’s ice caves which means any time between November and March should work. During the summer glacial thawing can flood the caves and make certain areas unstable and dangerous.

Are the ice caves really that blue?

After venturing down into the ice caves of Vatnajokull Glacier I’m happy to report that the ice, is in fact, a very vivid blue.

I was pleasantly surprised when entering our first ice cave at how blue the interior was. While I didn’t think the color you see on social media was necessarily photoshopped or over enhanced, but I was afraid that the vivid blue hues could only be seen under perfect lighting conditions.

Vivid turquoise glacial ice cave entrance
It was surreal to see how blue the ice was the first time we entered an ice cave

Although lighting conditions can play a factor in the hues of color you see in the ice caves, you’ll be happy to know that overcast skies still make for great viewing conditions. Since you’ll be visiting here in the winter, cloudy skies are par for the course.

Dark area of an ice cave in Iceland
The darker areas don’t photograph well, but they were incredible to see in person

For images, the photos you take near the entrances and exits will typically turn out the best since you’ll have a little bit of light to work with. It’s harder to take great photos deep in the caves, but in person, these areas were the most spectacular to see.

What do you wear to an ice cave tour?

Starting from the top, make sure to wear a warm wool hat. You’ll want something on the thinner side since you’ll be required to wear a helmet over it. I’m not sure earmuffs would work in this situation.

You’ll also want to wear sunglasses, either to protect your eyes from the reflection off the snow and ice on sunny days or to protect them from the strong Icelandic wind. You might consider wearing a neck gaiter on extremely windy days which you can pull up over your face for extra protection.

A raincoat or waterproof top layer (including pants) is critical for this activity. You will still go out in the rain, and even clear days can turn to poor weather quickly. During my visit it was extremely windy and we ran into two big patches of rain while out on the glacier.

You’ll want bring a small or medium sized backpack with you to hold extra layers, food, water and anything else you’ll want with you. While you’re at it, make sure you have a waterproof backpack cover so all of your belongings don’t get soaked in the rain!

On your feet, waterproof boots and two pairs of warm socks will go a long way. One of the ice caves we entered was partially flooded, and having waterproof boots made it much easier to get through while staying dry.

Safety equipment that you’ll need such as a helmet, micro spikes, crampons and a harness are included with the activity. If you need sturdier boots, you can rent them from Local Guide.

While you’re at it, take a quick look over my day hike checklist which will cover other miscellaneous nice to have items.

Is it hard to walk on a glacier?

Walking with full size crampons on across glacial ice requires a bit more intention than you need wandering around the neighborhood in sneakers. Be sure to step confidently so that your crampons sink into and grab the ice.

Hiker climbing a vivid blue ice cave staircase
You’ll tread through a mixture of snow, glacial ice and water in the ice caves

Additionally, make sure you’re aware of how you swing your feet while walking. If your foot brushes up against your pant leg, chances are the crampons will rip a whole in them. Both of our guides had battle scars to show from doing exactly this to their gear.

Check out these incredible Iceland activities

Looking for more ways to fill out your south Iceland road trip itinerary? Be sure to check out the activities below from GetYourGuide.

Are ice cave tours in Iceland worth it?

Ice cave tours are one of the most unique Iceland activities you can enjoy during your winter visit to the island.

There are only so many places in the world where you can reach glaciers on foot, and then to be able to explore them beneath the surface takes this activity to a whole different level.

This is a great activity for anyone who enjoys a moderate amount of activity and doesn’t mind the prospect of being stuck out in really poor weather. If either of those is a concern, consider booking one of Local Guides ice cave tours that are shorter and less hiking oriented.

Hiker standing in an ice cave entrance
Keep an eye out for great photo opportunities like this during your hike!

A sad reality is that glaciers across the planet are receding and experiences like this will only become harder to come by as the years go on. I’m in the camp who believes that if you show people beautiful places like this in person, it will educate and promote the conservation of them.

If you’re looking for more winter Iceland travel inspiration then be sure to check out some of my posts on the following subjects:

I’ve also got a ton of useful trip planning content available on my travel blog such as my list of cheap flight hacks or tips for planning a trip abroad that will come in really handy when planning your next trip.

What did you think of Vatnajokull Glacier? Is this something you would try during your Iceland trip? Let me know what you thought of Iceland’s ice cave tour with Local Guide in the comments below!

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Wednesday 10th of April 2024

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Wednesday 10th of April 2024

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