The Blue Lagoon: A tourist trap or an important part of your Iceland checklist?

One of the questions I get asked the most by my friends that visit Iceland, Couchsurfers that stay with me and even some of the readers who contact me through the blog is whether the Blue Lagoon is worth visiting. I haven’t really written about the Blue Lagoon before because I prefer to point you towards things you might not find on other travel sites and you are bound to discover the existence of the Blue Lagoon on your own. I heard a statistic once that something like 80% of everyone that comes to Iceland visits the the Blue Lagoon during their stay. Considering that it’s not free, and not even cheap, that’s an insane amount.

But is the Blue Lagoon worth it?

The Blue Lagoon is not the natural wonder that many people think it is. In fact, it’s man made. They don’t tell you that on their website, or least I didn’t find it, but it actually came about when they were building the geothermal power station Svartsengi and the lagoon consists of surplus water from the plant. That doesn’t make it any less special though. The water is still very rich of minerals, thought to have good effect on your skin, and it’s a lagoon in a middle of a lava field that you happen to be able to bathe in. So in a way you could say it’s an accidental man-made wonder. Many people say that the Jarðböð in Mývatn area are much better because they are more natural but wrong again – also man made.

There has been a lot of development at the Blue Lagoon since I was a kid. It really was more about the lagoon itself in the early years and the buildings surrounding it were minimal to say the least. Now it’s a full blown spa with a hotel, a restaurant and banquet facilities. Its main draw is still the lagoon and the mineral rich water but there’s so much more too it. The prices before and after reflect that.

The buildings at the lagoon are very clever and beautiful. They morph into their otherworldly surroundings perfectly and all the facilities are well kept, functional and well – kind of pretty. The restaurant, Lava, is gorgeous with walls made out of rock and atmosphere lighting that really emphasizes the dramatic effect of the rock in the architecture. They’ve won all kinds of prizes for their buildings so it’s not just me that thinks that.

I think the biggest critique the Blue Lagoon has received in recent years is their prices. A single entry to the lagoon is 4800 ISK or 35 Euros. After the economic crash in Iceland most companies working in tourism tied their prices to Euros because of the fall the króna. So even though the prices were the same more or less in Euros, they doubled in Icelandic krónur. They have also been raising the prices pretty steeply the last few years so it has gone from something like 3000 ISK two or three years ago to 4800 ISK today. That’s a big raise in prices percentage wise.

Another thing people have mentioned is the amount of the people that visit the lagoon every day. At any given hour there are a number of buses, rental cars and mini vans outside the lagoon and it’s pretty busy inside. I guess people feel that with that many visitors it doesn’t need to be that expensive. For an Icelandic family of 4, paying full price, the amount they have to pay is almost a whole week’s worth of groceries. Why pay that when you can go to the neighborhood geothermal pool and pay not even 10% of the price?

I’ve had the good fortune of hearing the Blue Lagoon’s marketing team speak at different industry functions which has given me some perspective. First of all they took a lot of loans to build all those facilities that also doubled in the economic crash so they needed to fill that gap by raising the prices. And their marketing strategy is that the Blue Lagoon brand is a luxury brand and to keep that standard it has to be priced accordingly. It sucks for us average Joes and Janes but makes perfect business sense. I even understand the business decision behind making everyone walk through the gift shop to get out of the place, which I’ve heard also annoys people. I mean I’m a business student – I get it.

What I don’t like about the Blue Lagoon is that they are getting a little bit greedy. The Icelandic tourism industry is based around commissions, the tour operators pay the booking agents commissions for selling their tours and attractions pay the tour operators commissions for including them in their tours. It’s the same in tourism everywhere in the world. The tour operator gains from getting more people selling their tours, the booking agent gains from being able to run a business selling tours and even though this may cause slightly higher prices, the consumer actually also gains because the service gets better. The prices would be that high anyway, a company that is trying to maximize their profits puts up whatever price that customer is willing to pay and the customer is obviously willing to pay the price including the commission.

Up until this year, the Blue Lagoon has paid all the tour operators and booking agents commissions for pointing their customers towards them and driving them to the lagoon. But now, they’ve decided to stop doing that. You know why? Yeah, you’re right – because they can. Because their brand is so strong that 80% of all tourists that visit Iceland go to Blue Lagoon. As I see it, they didn’t get their on their own. They are were they are because everyone else in the industry helped them getting there. So cutting the commissions to these same people seems a bit greedy to me.

So back to the question at hand, is it worth your time visiting the Blue Lagoon?

Do you like Spas? Do you like soaking in warm water outside ? Do you like visiting places you won’t find anywhere else? Do the pictures interest you and make you think you’d like it there? Then yes, you should definitely visit. I haven’t really heard anyone who’s gone there complain about the actual experience of the lagoon. It’s lovely to float around for a while, pop into the steam baths and get silly with the mud clay. I personally just can’t afford going there except on very special and rare occasions. That’s the curse of making money in Icelandic krónur. Or as in my case at the moment, not making any money at all. Is your trip to Iceland ruined if you don’t visit the Blue Lagoon? No.

You are always faced with questions about tourist traps wherever you go. When I was in Cambodia I had to pay more than the locals to go visit the Angkor Wat. I didn’t mind – I just wanted to see the temples. I also didn’t mind paying a little more at the markets – what I bought was still a bargain. I even didn’t mind it when the border controller on the Thai-Cambodian border made me pay little extra for my visa. It’s all a part of the experience. Plus, I had a choice and I chose to buy and experience these things because the money aspect of it didn’t matter to me. It’s really the same with the Blue Lagoon. It’s a unique experience and if you don’t mind paying for that experience it’s all worth it in the end. You decide what is worth it to you.

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