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Exploring an Ice Cave by Guided Tour

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I was visiting Iceland in the early winter of 2019, so naturally, I gravitated towards activities that could only be done during the season. Hiking a glacier was quickly ruled out as an option—I wasn’t keen on the idea of slipping and sliding across a block of ice.

For my adventures, I chose to chase the northern lights (which I did on the first night) and participate in an ice cave tour. Ice cave tours are only available during the coldest months between November and March, and I thought I had the best timing by visiting in the darkest days of January. However, I was mistaken; during the week of early January 2019 that I spent there, temperatures averaged between 10°C and 17°C. Not the coldest, but thankfully, the ice caves were still intact, if just a little wet.

For the tour, I went with Arctic Adventure. The tour visits a cave in the glacier of Katla, one of the most dangerous volcanoes in Iceland but the most accessible from Reykjavik. For a short visit, it was certainly not the cheapest. But keeping in mind that I had no clue where to find an ice cave by myself and the possible danger of being in one, I chose to splurge on this once-in-a-blue-moon experience of being in ice.

Stopover in Vik

The tour departs from either Reykjavik, where I started, or Vik, a tourist village close to the Katla ice cave. Hence, our first stop was Vik, where I had lunch and stretched my legs after the hours-long journey from the capital.

Vik is known for the black sand beach, where I took a short walk before heading to the super jeep that was to take us to the glacier. The weather wasn’t the best compared to the day I took the Golden Circle tour, but I supposed that it wouldn’t matter since we were heading to a cave (or would it?).

From a distance

We forgot how bumpy the super jeep ride was when the majestic glacier came into view. I was immediately in awe of the vastness of ice and the intricate patterns in the glacier. Never in my dreams had I thought of seeing one until then!

One of the reasons a guided tour is essential for an ice cave is safety. Entering an ice cave literally means ice everywhere, and that’s why we were provided with crampons to strap to our feet before entering. Despite the crampons being fairly solid, I still found it difficult to walk due to the fear of falling. But that could just be me.

Up close with the blue(?) cave

We were brought to the entrance of the cave, where stairs led us up to it. Up close, the glacier still appeared profoundly impressive, with the fact that it was made of ice becoming clearer with its translucency.

Many photographs depict an ice cave to be blue. However, as this was a glacier cave, the ice wasn’t actually blue to the naked eye but black and white. The blue was simply a reflection of the surrounding colours.

These might sound underwhelming for a regular visitor. But if you’re a photographer, you may find the reflective blue and the unique structure of the ice made most angles a wonder in pictures. Honestly, we have to remember that it’s an ice cave—a phenomenon we don’t get to see just anywhere. Not to mention, coupled with Iceland’s beautiful glacier landscape, it makes the tour even more unique than seeing one anywhere else.

Picture of the ice captured with my camera phone (Huawei P20) appearing blue, versus the same but processed picture for clarity. 

Inside the cave

The cave itself wasn’t actually that big. It took a whole minute to reach the ‘end,’ where the cavity became too small to continue further. We were also quickly welcomed by the skylight just a few steps in, giving us an idea of the expanse of the ice around us.

In that sense, it was a little disappointing considering how much time and money had to be put into come on such tour. But still, even as a casual photographer and nature enthusiast, witnessing such a phenomenon could be a treat worth the price.

Surrounding view

Even though the ice cave was too small to explore, we were treated to a fine view of our surroundings. Iceland’s otherworldly landscape, reminiscent of fantasy movies, would always make me sigh with wonder.

Ice caves change their structure every year, but is it worth going a second time? I probably won’t, but there are plenty of other ice caves to see besides Katla. The Crystal Ice Cave, also popular but farther from Reykjavik, is one that I look forward to seeing should I return to Iceland. Otherwise, I certainly recommend this tour if you have the money to spare!

Behind the trip

I’m Angie, a traveller, web developer and blogger behind A Head Full of Travel. I’m here to document my adventures through words and photography, kindling a love for life. You can trust that all content and advice shared here is genuine and from my own experiences.

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