Jökulsárlón: Glacial Lagoon Must-See



Again: I promise this place is real. Located east of the waterfalls in my last post, this is a haul from Reykjavik. It is NOT a day trip. I visited here while living in Laugarvatn in 2015, and with a couple quick stops it was a solid 5.5-6 hours of travel instead of the stated ~4.5 that Google Maps states. Add an hour if coming from Reykjavik. Always allow plenty of extra time if you’re using Google Maps as a tool in Iceland outside the capital region. You’ll have to pause at one-lane bridges, stop for sights, food, and bathroom breaks, and that’s a good thing! Share the driving, so that everyone gets a chance to soak in the scenery, too.

I’m on a boat!

To my latest knowledge, there are two types of tours here: large, slow-moving boats, and small, fast-moving boats. Unless you have a particular phobia, DO THE SMALL, FAST BOATS. They’re Kodiak style boats, tough inflatable crafts that seat about 4 passengers on each side, clutching ropes for stability, as your guide stands in the middle to steer and describe the significance of the location–both geologically and to several Hollywood movies. You’ll be fitted in a cozy full-body thermal/snow suit beforehand, then piled into a school bus and bumped around to the launch point. Trust me, it’s all worth it. This is some of the best travel money I’ve ever spent. Photographers: opt for your point and shoot, and your weatherproofed GoPro, but leave the DSLR-type kits in the car unless you’re prepared to constantly hold it, and it’s waterproofed. It’s not a splashy journey, but you’re clinging to the side of the boat and spray does happen.

On the tour, you’ll get up close, and I mean CLOSE, and personal with the face of Breiðamerkurjökull (literally, wide marks glacier), as it crumbles into the lagoon and the chunks slowly melt and flow into the North Atlantic Ocean, just about 250 yards down the small channel that connects the lagoon and the sea. You’ll see layers of ash, which geologists can use to date the age of the ice by linking ash types to specific volcanic eruptions.

Any area that looks that brilliant, slightly-turquoise blue has recently been exposed to the air (specifically, oxygen) after thousands of years being compacted and hidden. “Blue is new!” Ice in later stages of melt looks more clear, sometimes still containing ash.

There will be gut-wrenching statistics on the accelerated melting of this outlet of the huge Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest glacier, due to climate change. Motor tours (Jeeps and snowmobiles) are also available in this area, but remember that additional emissions won’t help the melting. Skaftafell and Vatnajökull National Parks are both in this area and offer more extreme activities, which are beyond the scope of this blog and traveler.

Channel connecting the lagoon to the ocean, looking into the Atlantic. Entrance is on the east end of the bridge (the left in this picture).

If you’re not into boats or machines, you can get right up to the edge of this lagoon and marvel at the ice, the glacier face, and if you’re lucky, spot some seals swimming in the channel!