Vatnajokull National Park in Iceland is the largest national park in Europe and is the location of one of the world’s most diverse landscapes. This is the site of a continuous battle between fire and ice over a wide area. The result is the creation of amazing landscapes that only nature can create. One of these is the breathtaking ice caves found near the glaciers.
Since the establishment of the national park, visitors from all over the world have trekked to the ice caves to witness some of the most breathtaking ice formations on earth. If you’re planning a trip there, here are some tips that will make your stay more enjoyable and safe.
How to Get There
The entrance to Vatnajokull National Park is at Skatafell, an area located 325 km of Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. There are buses that travel to Skatafell from Reykjavik, but most of them do so during the summer. Unfortunately, their numbers dwindle during winter, which happens to be the best time to visit the ice caves.
If you’re not able to find a bus to Skatafell, simply rent a car instead. The trip will take around 4 hours and that’s cruising at a safe speed. Once you reach Skatafell, take some time to visit the visitor center to get more information about the ice caves.
Touring the Ice Caves
The ice caves are located along the outer glaciers and there will be some hiking involved. It’s best to join a tour group since the caves and the hike there can sometimes be dangerous. In fact, the administrators of the national park have released advisories concerning the poor conditions of the ice. Apparently, due to global warming and climate change, the ice at the glaciers is continuously becoming unstable. Some of the ice caves have decreased in size while others have completely disappeared.
By joining a tour group, you’ll have the advantage of guides that know the area and the condition of the ice caves. You will also be provided with safety equipment. The minimum safety equipment required by the park administrators is a safety helmet. However, this may not be enough considering the ever-changing conditions of the glaciers. There are different routes leading the ice caves and they often change. Guides have to identify the best route at a particular time. Some of the routes are so dangerous that even a slightest slip can result in a disastrous accident.
Once you’re at the ice caves, you’ll have limited time to go exploring. There are a number of tour operators in the area and they have an agreement not to go to the caves all at one time. This means that your tour group will most likely be the only people at the caves for a certain time. This also means that your time is limited as other tour groups will be following you.
Make the most out of your time at the ice caves. It’s best to bring digital cameras with plenty of available memory because you’ll want to take pictures of everything you see. Even the hike to the ice caves can become exciting, so be ready to take a photograph at a moment’s notice.
What to Bring
You’ll certainly need waterproof clothes and sturdy hiking boots. You can expect to be crossing rivers so it’s best that your boots are at least ankle high and that they are also waterproof. The tour operator will provide you with the necessary equipment, including a safety helmet and an ice axe.
Don’t forget to bring your camera because the trip there will certainly be one of the most exciting adventures you’ll have in your life.
A trip to the ice caves will take about a day including the drive to and from Reykjavik. If you were looking for more adventure, you would probably need to go on one the following day. There are a couple of places to spend the night. The nearest hostel is around 40km away. A camping site opens there from May to September.
Other than visiting the ice caves, you might also want to go on a mountain trek where you’ll be climbing some of the mountains at the park. Glacier tours are also available where you’ll be able to marvel at the beauty of the glaciers. There are also other activities like riding on snowmobiles or going on a boat tour between the icebergs.
Safety is the main concern when visiting ice caves. Regardless of your experience going on ice expeditions, always rely on your guide to show you the way. Remember that they know the area and the best routes to travel. Without that information, you could be headed for a disaster if you travel alone.