Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of the incredible blue ice caves in Iceland. Sometimes called crystal ice caves, these rare and picturesque natural wonders have been appearing more and more on Instagram and Facebook, and can look like something from another planet!
Although the photos are stunning, I’m happy to report that the experience is even more impressive in real life. Let’s dive right in and find out more about Iceland’s blue ice caves, and how you can experience them for yourself…
Go for the Glacier
“Ice cave” is a rather broad term, and can include any regular bedrock cave where patches of ice, icicles, or other ice formations can be found. Glacier ice caves, on the other hand, form inside—you guessed it—glaciers. This is an important distinction, because those incredible images you see of brilliant, translucent aquamarine ice caverns are glacier caves. And lucky for us, Iceland is home to some pretty amazing glaciers!
How are Blue Ice Caves Formed?
Most glacier caves have water to thank for their existence. Water melts on the glacier’s surface, enters the ice at a crack or moulin, and trickles down through the glacier before exiting at base level. The water gradually erodes the ice and causes more melting, which enlarges the cavitation over time.
In the spring and summer, the sun and warmer temperatures cause accelerated melting, and powerful flows can carve out impressive caverns and tunnels. In the fall and winter, the colder temperatures re-freeze and stabilize the caves. This yearly cycle means that the glacier caves are constantly changing and transforming- the same ice cave will be distinctly different from one year to the next, and more subtle changes can be noticed even by visiting the same cave several times in a season!
Sometimes glacier caves form due to geothermal activity, and there are a few great examples of this in Iceland. In this process, geothermal heat from volcanic vents or hot springs carve out caves in the ice. Some ice caves in the Vatnajökull glacier were formed this way.
Iceland’s Blue Ice Caves
There are many blue ice caves to choose from in Iceland, with new ones forming (and others disappearing) due to the thaw-freeze cycle each year. Some of the most popular ones now are:
- The Katla Ice Cave in the Kötlujökull Glacier
- Caves within Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull
- Ice caves within Europe’s second largest glacier, Langjökull
- Naturally formed ice caves and tunnels of Svínafellsjökull
Click here to see our wide selection of ice cave tours.
When and How to Visit Iceland’s Glacier Caves
You’ll need to plan ahead for your ice cave visit, since they can only be visited for about four months of the year. From mid-November to mid-March, temperatures are cold enough that the caves are stable and can be explored, and the best months are usually January and February. During the rest of the year, meltwater will be at work, making its way through the glacier and creating the next winter’s caverns. Though it might sound interesting to try and observe this process up close, please don’t attempt it- it’s not safe! And speaking of safety…
The most important rule for visiting Iceland’s glacier caves is to never, never go in alone! You must join a tour with an experienced guide. The glacier caves are complex structures with lots of little features that can be easily missed by the untrained eye. Your tour guide will provide you with the necessary safety gear and help you avoid any missteps, like falling into a hard-to-spot crevasse, never to be seen again! You’ll make it safely into the ice cave and back out again, with incredible memories and photos to share with friends and family.
Dressing for the Ice Caves
Since you’ll be visiting during the coldest months (and surrounded by ice!) you’ll want to be sure you dress appropriately. I recommend layers, starting with a good wool or blended fabric, followed by a layer of fleece and then a light, waterproof jacket. A sturdy, waterproof pair of boots with some grip, warm wool socks, and a hat and gloves will keep you comfortable as you explore the icy caverns. The weather can be unpredictable and sometimes the ice caves are wet and dripping, so it’s not a bad idea to bring waterproof protection for your camera, as well.
Final Notes About the Blue Ice Caves of Iceland
Your visit to Iceland’s crystalline blue ice caves will be unforgettable and totally one-of-a-kind. Since the glacier caves are in constant transformation, you’ll be experiencing a unique moment in history that won’t be repeated. How cool is that?
If you have any questions, just reach out to us! And this winter, come to Iceland and see the wonders of the stunning ice caverns for yourself.