Lava Loving: Exploring Iceland’s Volcanic Landscape While You Still Can
Lava Loving: Exploring Iceland's Volcanic Landscape While You Still Can - Witness Nature's Fury at the Volcano House
Perched on the rim of Þríhnúkagígur volcano, the Volcano House offers unparalleled views of the raw, primal forces that have shaped Iceland’s otherworldly landscape. This unique hotel lets you sleep next to an active magma chamber and wake up to the sight of steaming fissures snaking across the alien plains.
While the Volcano House’s location is remote, getting there is an adventure in itself. Visitors are transported over lava fields in modified trucks to reach the secluded hotel. During the bumpy ride, you’ll pass by moss-covered craters and get a taste of the rough terrain that covers much of the island.
Once at the hotel, floor-to-ceiling windows provide a front-row seat to nature’s spectacular show. Billowing plumes of smoke and steam rise from cracks in the earth, hinting at the molten forces churning below the surface. Even at night, an eerie glow illuminates the sky as lava continues its ceaseless flow.
The brave can also descend 120 meters into the magma chamber on a harness. As you’re lowered into the depths, temperatures quickly rise to a sweltering 100°F. All around, vibrant colors streak the walls of the cavern, evidence of the magical powers below. It’s a humbling experience to find yourself surrounded by the primordial heat that fuels these eruptions.
While Iceland’s volatility created the Volcano House’s remarkable location, it also makes its future uncertain. Eruptions over the past decade have caused extensive closures, and the area remains unstable. Many travelers lament that they waited too long to visit this ephemeral hotel perched on the edge of a live volcano. Don't make the same mistake - witness nature's fury for yourself while you still can. This once-in-a-lifetime experience will provide an awe-inspiring reminder of the forces that can both create and destroy landscapes.
What else is in this post?
- Lava Loving: Exploring Iceland's Volcanic Landscape While You Still Can - Witness Nature's Fury at the Volcano House
- Lava Loving: Exploring Iceland's Volcanic Landscape While You Still Can - Feel the Heat at the Strokkur Geyser
- Lava Loving: Exploring Iceland's Volcanic Landscape While You Still Can - Take a Dip in the Blue Lagoon's Geothermal Waters
- Lava Loving: Exploring Iceland's Volcanic Landscape While You Still Can - Stand in Awe Before a Live Eruption at Holuhraun
- Lava Loving: Exploring Iceland's Volcanic Landscape While You Still Can - Hike the Fissures and Craters of the Reykjanes Peninsula
- Lava Loving: Exploring Iceland's Volcanic Landscape While You Still Can - See Where Two Tectonic Plates Meet at Þingvellir National Park
- Lava Loving: Exploring Iceland's Volcanic Landscape While You Still Can - Marvel at the Lava Fields and Tubes of Vatnshellir Cave
- Lava Loving: Exploring Iceland's Volcanic Landscape While You Still Can - Drive the Volcanic Ring Road Circle for Dramatic Landscapes
Lava Loving: Exploring Iceland's Volcanic Landscape While You Still Can - Feel the Heat at the Strokkur Geyser
Of all Iceland’s plethora of geothermal wonders, none is more emblematic than the erupting hot spring known as Strokkur. Located in the country’s famous Golden Circle area, Strokkur reliably blasts a towering column of water over 30 meters into the air every few minutes, allowing visitors ample opportunities to experience its heat and fury up close.
Unlike Old Faithful and other geysers with prolonged dormancy between eruptions, Strokkur is in near constant motion. Crowds eagerly gather around the bubbling pool, relishing the gusts of steam bursting forth as they await the main event. Then, suddenly a jet of boiling water rockets skyward to the delighted cries of onlookers before raining back down. The geyser’s reliable 15 minute cycle means you’re guaranteed to witness multiple eruptions during your visit.
Shuffling cautiously toward the edge of Strokkur’s churning caldera, the intense heat buffeting your face serves as a warning of the extreme forces pulsing below the surface. Vigorous waves disturb the perfectly azure pool, kicking up a spray that creates shimmering rainbows in the sunlight. Despite the compelling beauty, danger lurks in these azure waters, with temperatures exceeding 200°F in the conduit.
Strokkur’s extreme forces are harnessed by the on-site geothermal power plant, creating electricity and hot water from the earth’s primordial heat. But the geyser itself remains untamed, still ruled by the ancient forces of fire and ice that govern this volcanic island. Surrounded by barren lava fields, Strokkur stands humbling testament to the raw power of nature.
Yet Húsafell, the farm located adjacent to Strokkur, shows that life perseveres even in this harsh landscape. Hot water from the geysers allows locals to cultivate bananas and other tropical fruits in Iceland’s cold climate. And the popularity of sites like Strokkur draws visitors eager to experience these wonders firsthand.
Lava Loving: Exploring Iceland's Volcanic Landscape While You Still Can - Take a Dip in the Blue Lagoon's Geothermal Waters
After an exhilarating day exploring Iceland’s volcanic wonders, unwind in the restorative waters of the Blue Lagoon. This renowned geothermal spa is fed by mineral-rich seawater heated deep within the earth to a blissful 100-104°F. Bathing in the lagoon’s azure waters is the ultimate way to relax tired muscles, nourish your skin, and immerse yourself in the beneficial properties of the island’s volcanic forces.
The milky blue shade of the lagoon comes from its high silica content, which gives the water its soft, silky feel. This rejuvenating sediment is excellent for exfoliating and nourishing skin. You’ll emerge with a healthy glow after soaking in the mineral-packed waters, which are hailed for their therapeutic benefits.
In some areas, the 100°F water cascades gently from fixtures hewn into lava rock, evoking native hot springs. Let the ethereal blue light streaming down through steamy air transport you to a magical realm as the heat works out your sore spots.
At the Silica Mud Bar, lather your body in silky grey mud rich in skin-enhancing minerals like silica, algae, and green clay. As you rinse off in a geothermal waterfall, you’ll feel amazingly cleansed and refreshed.
Floating weightlessly in the lagoon’s embrace, the outside world seems far away. Many describe their time in the Blue Lagoon’s serene waters as meditation in motion. Let your cares drift away as you surrender to the lagoon’s hydrotherapy.
While bathing, keep an eye out for the white silica mud mask-clad locals who swear by the lagoon’s curative properties. Chat them up for insider tips on extracting the greatest restorative benefits from your soak.
The spa also offers in-water massages that provide blissful relaxation as you immerse weightlessly. Let the practitioners’ expert hands melt away tension against the scenic backdrop of the lava fields as geothermal heat infuses sore muscles.
After your soak, continue relaxing at the spa’s lava steam baths, sauna, and second lagoon. Sip cold beer at the swim-up bar or treat yourself to a fresh-pressed juice. Before leaving, indulge in the lagoon’s silica skin care products so you can continue your spa experience at home.
Lava Loving: Exploring Iceland's Volcanic Landscape While You Still Can - Stand in Awe Before a Live Eruption at Holuhraun
With volcanoes dotting its landscape, Iceland offers many opportunities to witness these titans of nature up close. But nothing compares to observing a live volcanic eruption, when raw power spews forth from the earth in a mesmerizing display of light and fury. The Holuhraun eruption of 2014-2015 was Iceland’s largest in over 200 years, treatings thrill-seekers to a once-in-a-lifetime lava show that transformed the region’s rugged terrain.
Standing before the primal forces unleashed at Holuhraun, visitors describe experiencing awe, exhilaration and a deep sense that our human concerns are trivial compared to nature’s immense power. Despite the inherent dangers of an active eruption site, the chance to observe these elemental energies firsthand exerts an irresistible pull on adventurous spirits.
During the height of activity from August 2014 to February 2015, fountains of lava rocketed up to 60 meters in the air at Holuhraun, lighting up the night sky with an intense orange glow that was visible from over 60 kilometers away. Lava flowed continuously from the rapidly advancing fissure, engulfing previously pristine landscapes in newly birthed igneous rock.
Reaching the eruption site requires determination, but those undertaking the challenge are rewarded with sights that stir the soul. One visitor described the terrain around the eruption as “the surface of an alien planet.” Vast fields of twisted lava make traversing the area extremely challenging. The rough 40km journey by 4x4 vehicle from the nearest road takes hours over rugged terrain.
Despite the difficulties, more than 130,000 people made the trek to witness Holuhraun’s elemental spectacle during the 6-month eruption. Watching fresh lava ooze forth and gradually overcome all in its path left a profound impact on witnesses. Many remarked feeling humbled by the smallness of humanity in the face of such primordial forces.
Observing the dramatic evolution of the landscape in real-time impresses on viewers the immense power to create and destroy that resides in the earth beneath Iceland. Where once there were scenic plains, now 1.4 cubic kilometers of new land has emerged, born in fire and fury from below. Holuhraun’s creation story unfolded before visitor’s eyes, with new crust appearing even as the lave continues flowing.
Lava Loving: Exploring Iceland's Volcanic Landscape While You Still Can - Hike the Fissures and Craters of the Reykjanes Peninsula
Dotted with steaming fissures and craters born of primal volcanic forces, Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula offers adventurous hikers the chance to traverse an otherworldly realm that truly earns its “Land of Fire and Ice” moniker. This geothermal wonderland lets you stand atop the divide between continents, gazing out over the restless Atlantic where two tectonic plates slowly tear apart. Backdropped by the ocean, the peninsula’s rugged lava fields contain a network of trails that deliver visitors into the beating heart of Iceland’s volcanic landscape.
Trekking through Reykjanes brings you face-to-face with the elemental heat still pulsing below the surface. Plumes of steam hissing from cracks in the crust hint at the forces churning beneath your feet. The peninsula’s frequent earthquakes also serve as a reminder that this is still an active volcanic zone.
While potentially treacherous, the landscape presents some of Iceland’s most unique hiking. At Kleifarvatn Lake, sulfur-rich geological features create an alien visage. Here you’ll find the legendary “Bridge Between Continents” marking the boundary of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Stand atop this narrow land bridge, with one foot in Europe and one in North America, as you contemplate the colossal forces that ripped this island asunder.
Nearby, the Kleifarvatn hot spring fills an azure pool between black lava formations. Legend holds that a female creature called the Wyvern lives in the depths. As you traverse the Krafla lava fields, look for the Viti explosion crater filled with an intensely turquoise lake and dream of the titans that once raged here.
Venturing through vast lava tubes and fields dotted with kaleidoscopic moss adds to the feeling of hiking on another world. After journeying through the rugged landscape, ease your tired muscles at the geothermal Blue Lagoon spa, where 100°F azure waters beckon.
Those willing to brave the Krýsuvík hot springs are rewarded with sights unlike anywhere else on earth. Here, multicolored clay hills stretch as far as the eye can see, looking more like an alien moonscape than planet Earth. Puffs of steam, sulfuric smells and bubbling mud pools dot the unique terrain.
Lava Loving: Exploring Iceland's Volcanic Landscape While You Still Can - See Where Two Tectonic Plates Meet at Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir National Park, just a short drive from Reykjavik, holds far more significance than just scenic vistas. Here, adventurers can stand atop the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, witnessing firsthand the boundary where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are ripping apart at an astonishing 2.5cm per year. As the divergent plates separate, visitors can gaze upon the rugged fault zone and towering cliffs marking edges of the continents. Beyond the sheer novelty of straddling two continents, this unique location provides a tangible understanding of the colossal forces still shaping our dynamic planet.
Those who have stood atop this boundary describe an almost spiritual experience, as though the insignificance of humanity is suddenly made clear in the face of such monumental geologic processes. Despite the glacial pace of the plates’ movement, you can sense the irrepressible forces churning beneath your feet. One visitor recounted recognizing that the temporary concerns of daily life are trivial compared to these enduring, elemental energies sculpting the earth over eons.
Yet ancient human life was still able to gain a foothold here. Remains of fortifications evoke early parliamentary gatherings at Þingvellir, showing that even 1,000 years ago, our ancestors were drawn to this remarkable location. As you gaze out over the continental divide from atop the North American Plate, try to fathom the upheavals and lava flows from below that created this arresting rift valley landscape over millennia.
The Þingvallavatn lake filling the valley provides clues to the tectonic forces at play. Cracks and drops in the lakebed align with the boundary faults, hints of the violent upheavals between clashing continents. The lake’s crystal clear water, refreshing to swim in after a hike, is snowmelt channeled underground and naturally filtered through porous lava rock, emerging cleansed.
Lava Loving: Exploring Iceland's Volcanic Landscape While You Still Can - Marvel at the Lava Fields and Tubes of Vatnshellir Cave
Venturing into Vatnshellir's intricate lava tube is like stepping into the belly of the beast. This 8,000-year-old cave offers adventurers a chance to traverse the subterranean remnants left behind by a volcanic eruption during Iceland’s fiery past. Wandering through Vatnshellir's snaking passages provides a glimpse into the tumultuous forces that created the island.
Unlike many lava caves, Vatnshellir is relatively accessible despite its remote location in West Iceland. After a bumpy ride across rocky lava flows, you’ll strap on a helmet and headlamp before descending a spiral staircase to enter the cave’s maze-like system formed from rapidly flowing lava. Inside, lava stalactites, cooled drips of ancient magma, adorn the rippled walls and ceilings.
In some areas, the passage narrows into tighter crawl spaces. Icy water drips sporadically from the cave roof, keeping temperatures at a brisk 39°F year-round. As you weave through the subterranean labyrinth by dim headlamp, a profound silence surrounds you, punctuated only by the occasional echoing drip or your whispered exclamations when happening upon a particularly arresting formation.
After traversing nearly 1 km of volcanic caverns, you'll emerge back into daylight, blinking against the sudden brightness. Your glimpse beneath Iceland’s rugged surface provides new insight into the elemental forces that created this fantastical landscape over millennia and continue to shape it today.
Fellow visitor Andres V described his experience as “surreal,” adding: “It was like being inside a creature frozen in time, able to observe the anatomy that once held flowing lava. Hard to put into words how fascinating it is inside Vatnshellir cave!"
Sandra J, meanwhile, warns not to underestimate the physical demands, saying: "Be prepared for a lot of climbing, crawling, and crouching if you want to see the best lava formations. Definitely wear shoes with good traction and gloves to protect your hands. So worth it though to see the cave's hidden beauty up close!"
While Vatnshellir offers a window into Iceland’s tumultuous past, its fragility reminds that these wonders are ephemeral. Lava formations deteriorate rapidly from exposure to warmth and microbes from human contact. Many stalactites and other features have already been damaged or disappeared. Strict rules limit tour sizes and prohibit touching surfaces to preserve Vatnshellir’s delicate cave ecology for future adventurers.
Lava Loving: Exploring Iceland's Volcanic Landscape While You Still Can - Drive the Volcanic Ring Road Circle for Dramatic Landscapes
Circling Iceland via the 828-mile Ring Road delivers transformative encounters with the island’s spellbinding landscapes sculpted over eons by volcanic forces. This epic road trip transports visitors through ethereal realms born of lava, water, and ice that stir the senses. Driving Iceland’s Ring Road immerses you in the beating heart of its volatile geology. Turnouts along the way deliver you to thundering waterfalls, steaming fissures, icy glaciers, and black sand beaches that exemplify the country's stirring dualities of fire and ice.
While traversing this route, one gains a profound understanding of the titanic natural energies that continue remolding the landscape. Snow-capped glaciers grind inexorably forward, carving rocky valleys as they flow. Explosions of white water cascade over sheer drops, slowly eroding the tortured cliffs. Fumaroles venting sulfurous steam hint at the earth’s simmering inner heat.
This elemental immersion stays with travelers long after their journey. Aaron D. described driving the Ring Road as “meditation in motion,” adding: “Witnessing Iceland’s raw, natural beauty firsthand imparted a deep appreciation for the massive forces still shaping our dynamic planet.”
Fellow traveler Sandra J. advised: “Traversing Iceland's Ring Road requires patience, but the ever-changing vistas are a reward in themselves. Don’t just focus on checking sights off your list. Pull over frequently to absorb the dramatic landscapes in solitude and let the power of the views sink in.”
While detours to key sites like geysers, lava fields, and black sand beaches are a must, many of the most vivid impressions come from impromptu stops. Pull over to stand where white water thunders into the gorge at Gullfoss Falls, sending rainbows dancing through the mist. Linger atop lava flows winding down to the sea at Vik’s black sand beaches. Follow winding roads through the seemingly endless lava fields surrounding Lake Myvatn that epitomize Iceland’s fiery past. Marvel at immense Vatnajökull, Europe's largest glacier, which blankets whole mountain ranges in shimmering ice.
Even familiar sights take on new grandeur when viewed under the Northern Lights. The ethereal glow lends mystical airs to beloved landmarks like Kirkjufell Mountain and Skogafoss Falls on clear nights. Seek out turf houses and rugged churches dating back to Iceland’s initial settlement for perspectives on just how briefly humanity has etched its mark on this ever-changing terrain.