What I learned about ice caves in Vatnajökull glacier (South East Iceland) by not visiting one

Image via: Glacier Guides

Image via: Glacier Guides

For the last couple of years I’ve been getting a lot of questions from people about ice caves in Vatnajökull (The Crystal Cave), how to get to them and who to do it with. This is a fairly recent thing, tours to ice caves I mean, so I had never been to one and didn’t really know which company to recommend.

At the beginning of the month I had some time off so I planned a little vacation out of the city with the boyfriend and since we were headed towards Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon anyway I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to check out these caves and get answers to your questions.

Which lead me to the first lesson I learned about visiting ice caves in Iceland:

You don’t plan such a visit with short notice.

The company we talked to were all booked out. In fact, they were more or less booked out throughout February. Because the company was quite unresponsive answering my e-mails I didn’t find out they were completely booked out until it was too late to organize something else but I’ve heard it probably didn’t matter because most of the tours were booked out anyway.

You might be wondering why we didn’t just go check out the caves ourselves, I mean we’re locals after all so we should know where to go. The reason why is pretty simple: you never climb or walk on glaciers on your own, unless you know them well and you’ve had some training. There are crevasses in the glaciers that move and change and to the untrained eye they are easy to miss. So unless you have a death wish you go with a guide. When we visited Svínafellsjökull glacier for example we passed the memorial of two German hikers that got lost on that glacier a few years ago. Their bodies have not been found. If I remember correctly they were experienced hikers too.

Svínafellsjökull

Svínafellsjökull

So lesson number two about visiting ice caves in Iceland (and just glaciers in general):

You always go with a guide!

The ice cave season in Iceland is rather short or from November to March. Outside of that season it can be dangerous to go into the caves because they can collapse which is, well, dangerous. I’m guessing the reason is that its’ not cold enough. So if a visit to an ice cave is on the top of your Iceland bucket list the window is small.

There are a few companies offering tours to the glacier caves but some of them buy services from the others and therefore the availability is pretty limited. I wan’t to make it really clear that I have not done any of these tours nor have I done any tours with these companies so I can’t tell you whether they are worth it or which company is the best. All I can really tell you is that they exist and then you have to decide what you want to do with that. I’m a helpful one, aren’t I?

Ice cave tours you might want to check out:

2-day tour around the south coast – including the ice caves

If you don’t want to rent a car and drive yourself this 2-day tour around the south coast offers great value for money. It may seem pricey at first but when you look at what is included you quickly realize that it’s actually a pretty sweet deal. The reason we recommend this one is because it has plenty of departures and the company that runs it is good and reliable.

The accommodation in the 2-day tour above is simple but  everything is clean and nice, which is fine for one night. If you want a little bit more luxury, another partner offers this 2-day south coast tour that includes accommodation in a nicer hotel and a glacier walk on top of the visit to the ice caves. We would recommend this tour before the other one if it wasn’t for the sad fact that they have a lot fewer departures.

3-day trip around the Golden Circle and the south coast – including the ice caves

If you like small groups and being with the same group for longer periods we also recommend this three-day tour around the golden circle and south coast that includes the ice cave. With the weather being all over the place in winter it’s just nice to know that there’s someone at the wheel that knows what they are doing.

You can also do a similiar 3-day tour with better accommodation but like before, for the time being at least, they just have fewer departures.

Self-drive options

If you plan on renting a car you can also do an ice cave tour as a part of a your self-drive adventure in the south-east. We don’t recommend you try to do this tour as a day tour (in this post I explain a little bit about why doing an ice cave tour in one day from Reykjavík is a bad idea) and we always recommend you spend the night in the area, close to the starting point of the tour, the night before.

This ice cave tour is our first choice because we have a very good experience with this company but this one is a close second. Both of these companies are professional and care about the safety of their guests which is important to us and should be important to you too. It’s good to check both of them for availability because both of these tours book out all the time.

Both of our partners that offer self-drive options also offer extended versions of their ice caves tours that are more strenuous and designed with photographers in mind so if that’s something you are interested in, just be in touch and we’ll hook you up.

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41 thoughts on “What I learned about ice caves in Vatnajökull glacier (South East Iceland) by not visiting one”

  1. Thank you for your post! We are visiting Iceland for the first time next week, and I’ve been looking at ice cave tour for the past 2 months.. most of them have been booked since then. I’ve checked out those sites you mentioned since late December, and I’ve also checked out Ice Guide (http://www.iceguide.is/ice-cave-tour/), and Goecco (http://www.goecco.com/faq/crystal_ice_cave_of_skaftafell_iceland) as well, and they were also booked for our date. I was checking all sites every other day hoping a couple would cancel their tour and two spots would open up. As of Feb. 2nd, Extreme Iceland announced on their Facebook page that they started offering extra time slot (17:00) everyday starting tomorrow (2/20). I am extremely grateful for this luck and booked our spots for 2/28 ASAP! 🙂 I see that they still have some dates available until March. I hope you and your boyfriend get to check them out.

    1. Auður says:

      I don’t know what it is but it’s really difficult to find information online about companies that do those tours so it’s good to see what there are more people offering them. I wonder though whether Goecco is actually selling the tour from one of the others like Extreme Iceland.

      Unfortunately we don’t often get a chance to spend a whole weekend away and Jökulsárlón is just a little bit too long of a drive for us in one day so we’ll just have to try again next winter.

  2. Danielle says:

    I really wanted to do this on this trip, but as you say, there and back in RVK in one day is a bit much. It means i’ll def have to come again, AFTER I come back again, as the next time i visit (after visiting in march this year) will be in May so i can do the ‘into the volcano’ thing cos that doesnt start til May, meaning we can also hire a car (less scary weather) – so i’d have to think of how to get to that side of iceland in winter to do the ice cave, if i dont want to drive (which i dont think i want to commit to doing)

  3. baruch schuller says:

    We went at Christmas and found last minute booking for the ice cave. This was with iceguide.is
    They had this huge 10 seater truck adapted for glaciers. The guy running it told us that he spends the late summer and early winter season finding possible icecaves and sometimes creates entrances suitable for normal tourists. It then needs to be checked regularly for safety and to ensure that snowstorms have not blocked it.
    If you can do it, the trip is most amazing and strongly recommended. Of all the wonderful sites we have been to the ice cave was the most memorable trip!

    1. Hope says:

      Where did you leave from? We are staying in Reykjavik

  4. Christina says:

    Hi this is Christina from Goecco!
    As mentioned we do go to the ice caves on our own 2-day tour called Chasing Ice departing from Reykjavik on Mondays and Fridays. This is 100% our tour, our car and our guides, so we don’t buy the service from other companies. Of course we take all safety precautions and wear helmets etc. And yes the ice caves are absolutely mind blowing creatures, sometimes they even sing like Sigur Ros when meltwater resonates through the glacier! We still have some available spaces on departures in March and early April – so maybe you wanna join us Audur?

    1. Auður says:

      Thank you for that additional information Christina 🙂 I would love to join you on a tour if this is a genuine offer 🙂

      1. Christina says:

        Of course Audur! Can you drop us a line via our email and we’ll figure out the details!

  5. Sarah says:

    Audur – I love all the great info in your blog! I’m curious if you ended up taking the ice cave tour and what you thought? We really would like to come visit in September/October, but the thought of the ice caves is making us have second thoughts about whether that’s the best time to visit?! We’re wondering if it’s worth changing our plans to see the caves. Thanks!!!

    1. Auður says:

      No I didn’t. I’m hoping I will fit it in next winter 🙂

  6. Monica says:

    Hi there!
    My husband and I will be visiting Iceland in October ( 15-22) and we would be so happy if we could find a tour to the beautiful ice caves. Unfortunately, I have contacted everything we could find online and they all said that the season starts Nov 1. Sad sad sad!
    On the other hand, only one company seems to be more flexible with the periods, but they came out to be extremely expensive. And I mean extremely, like 4-5 times more than the others.
    I never lost hope, but I am out of information. I would really appreciate if someone could guide me and suggest some local guides or companies and maybe the ways to contact them before our arrival, just to make sure we are able to book before it’s too late.
    Thank you and I appreciate any input!

    1. Auður says:

      The ice cave season starts in November because it can be dangerous to go to the caves before that. So I think you will just have to come back for the ice caves.

      1. Monica says:

        Thank you for your reply!
        Actually I’ve checked Goecco page and they say their season starts Oct 1. Unfortunately, their price is way too big for our budget, but I was hoping other guides would find the possibility to visit such crystal caves in October as well. My hopes are low right now. 🙂
        If I find anything new, I can come back with an update.
        Have a good day there!

  7. leang yin says:

    Thanks so much for the insight! I’m trying to plan a last minute trip to Iceland in August. I’m a bit confused about the mention of how ice cave season starts in November. I have noticed that their are also tours for ice caves in the summer time – different kind of ice cave? Have you heard of Langjokull ice cave? Any thoughts or comments? Please advise.

    Thank you!!!

    1. Auður says:

      The ice caves mentioned when we talk about ice cave season are caves that form naturally in the glacier and there are strange formations and such that make it interesting to see. The cave in Langjökull is man-made and has nothing to do with the other caves. I haven’t been there myself so I don’t know whether it’s good or not though.

      1. leang yin says:

        Thank you for the clarification. I had a feeling that was the case, but wanted to make sure.

  8. Caitlin says:

    Hi! I’m planning my first ever trip to Iceland this December and found your blog – it’s so useful, thanks so much!! I’m currently trying to figure out whether we can fit in a trip to the ice caves from Reykjavik, but I don’t necessarily want a whole 2 day pack. Do you happen to have any experience with places to spend a night that are a bit closer to the various caves near Skaftafell or Jökulsárlón? (Not sure if you’ve spent much time in those areas – if not, no worries, I’ll do some more research!)

    1. Auður says:

      You can do it as day tours – I can help you book it if you send me an e-mail to info@iheartreykjavik.net

  9. Kristine says:

    I forgot to ask – is there a best time of the day to see ice caves – when are the caves most blue and best for photography?

  10. kayvin says:

    your info is very useful!
    i’m planning a trip this Nov. wondered how much would this Vatnajökull Glacier Ice Cave Tour cost? Guide to Iceland cost ISK 21,450?
    also to follow up on Kristine’s question above, what’s best time of the day to see ice caves?
    looks like even the man made Langjokull ice cave cost an astounding ISK29900 each?

  11. Ariel says:

    are there any tours for ice caves in early October? Or is that too early.

  12. Claus A. Kriegst says:

    If you go, try booking with Local Guides first. It is a small family owned company.
    Local Guide was actually the company who started the whole ice cave thing thing twenty years ago or so. Today, big money minding companies such as Arctic Adventures and Glacier Guides go to the same caves as Local Guides uses (and unlike Local Guide they don’t wan’t with small numbers – the bigger the better.
    Many departures, many people in every group). If you want smaller groups while you are touring in Iceland, spent a bit ore time looking for the local companies.

    I know the Icelandic tourist industry from the inside and it is becoming more and more ugly. Bigger companies does not mean better tours. Remember this when you come here.

    1. Auður says:

      Yes, Local Guides are good. The company I work with is also a small family owned company with local guides who have been working on the glaciers for years so they are definitely not a big bad company.

      1. Andrea says:

        Do you know ahí can take me ice cave in april either is man made or natural one

        Thanks

        1. Auður says:

          The natural ice caves you can only visit until about mid march but you can do this tour year round: http://www.iheartreykjavik.net/into-the-glacier-with-transfer/

  13. Danielle says:

    I sadly read an article on Reykjavik Grapevine (I think, or another blog I follow) that the caves are closed now due to safety concerns as they are cracking and could collapse on people 🙁

    sad I’d wanted to shoot some photos there, but even sadder that something so beautiful is going to fall apart

  14. Laura says:

    Hi,

    Coming to Iceland in January and staying in Reykjavik. Are the Ice Cave tours something we could do in one day from Reykjavik? How accessible are they and how long does it take to get to them if not renting a car?

    1. Auður says:

      I would not recommend it for the simple reason that the weather can be very unstable in January and it’s very far from Reykjavík. If you can, I would recommend you look into doing a 2-day tour: http://www.iheartreykjavik.net/2-days-south-coast-ice-cave-skaftafell-and-jokulsarlon-glacier-lagoon/

  15. roy says:

    “the weather can be very unstable in January”, could u please advise the best time of visiting Iceland with an ice cave tour, in terms of weather and cost. thanks

    1. Auður says:

      The best time is between November and March – December to Feb probably in particular as they tend to be colder.

  16. Vania says:

    Curious if you ended up going on the Goecco tour. I am thinking of booking with them as now they have an express one. I know, crazy doing it all in one day, but I am traveling for few days only and not sure if/when I will have the chance to visit again on winter. Glaciers are amazing and I can find those here at home (Canada), but I have never seen an ice cave and that would be a bucket list item! Thank you!

  17. Thyra Sherman says:

    My husband and I are coming to Iceland next week and there does seem to be some availability for ice cave tours – do you have any lodging recommendations for 1night? We would drive from Reykjavik and do and evening tour, sleep over and leisurely drive back the next day . Your blog has been so helpful to me as I sort out what to do/what’s worth it for our 4 days!

    1. Auður says:

      I’m afraid I don’t have any hot leads – I would suggest you use Booking.com and find anything in close proximity that fits your budget and has availability. That’s what I do.

      1. Thyra Sherman says:

        Thank you ! I found one. Another query: you recommended two ice cave tour companies but they are booked: out of Glacier guides, Guide to Iceland and Arctic Adventures, have you heard that one is better than the others? Thank you!

  18. Jack V. says:

    We have booked our ice cave tour already for mid-March, but we were not planning on staying in the area the night before. We will not be driving all the way from Reykjavik, but we have a cabin outside of Selfoss. Do you think this will be an issue to get to the tour at Skaftafell for 10:00?

    1. Auður says:

      It can be an issue to get there if the weather is bad – it’s better if you stay on the other side of Öræfi.

  19. Kurt says:

    Thanks for the tip on planning in advance. I would want to make sure that I have a tour booked in advance before arriving, so that I wouldn’t find out they are booked. Two days seems like too much time just for exploring ice caves. I found this Vatnajökull ice cave tour that isn’t booked out and is just 2-3 hours, which seems reasonable.

  20. Becky says:

    Think this over before you book!!! Not to refute your statement, but I wanted to add my POV on the excursion:

    I was dissatisfied with my experience with the Artic Adventures Ice Caving tour and I want you to know why. As a disclaimer: This is more than the tour being overly priced for an anti-climatic trip. Just a note about the other tours I have tried: I have participated in the Laxnes Horseback riding trip and was thrown off the horse because it tripped (no fault of the horse), and I still think that excursion was worth it. I have also been on the Ice Climbing and Glacier walk tour. I, too, thought this excursion was worth it. This review isn’t to disavow the other tours. This review is for the Artic Adventures Ice Caving tours, and it IS NOT worth it!

    Scheduling: I was scheduled for the February 22, 2017 Crystal Ice Cave tour at 14:30. This appointment was later shifted to 15:45 because of initially overbooking the tour. Two hours later they informed us that it was rescheduled because of “vehicle malfunction”.

    False Advertising: In the Crystal Ice Cave tour description on the website it quotes, “Group Maximum: 16 people.”. This led me to believe that the maximum amount of fellow tourists would be limited to and not exceed 16 people. Upon reading that, we agreed that a maximum of 16 people would be a manageable group to tour with. This was not our case. There was a headcount of passengers on the bus for our time slot and it was a head count of about 30 people. This led to over crowding of the ice cave and less space to explore the nook and crannies because we had to constantly wait for each of the extra passengers.

    Overcrowding: Not only was our group twice the size of the advised amount, which, in and of itself, was too much for the limited space in the cave; there were also other groups crowding the cave. One of the groups never moved from the back of the cave. So our tour was never able to explore that section of the cave.

    No forewarning for the atrocious transport scenario: Nowhere does it warn the consumer of the extremely uncomfortable transport situation we would embark on. There is forewarning against possible injury and dangerous conditions for the ice cave, but for the transport there was no warning. The transport was one hour long going to the ice cave and one hour long coming back from the ice cave. The entire ride was extremely bumpy. Even with my seat belt on, we were all being swung harshly left and right, and bounced harshly up and down for about 60% of the entire ride. This led to nausea that kept me from enjoying the trip. No where does the tour disclaim motion sickness nor nausea. If I had prior warning to this, I would not have opted to purchase this tour. The extreme discomfort would not allow me to enjoy myself.

    Lack of a guide: For the price we paid, we deserve more than just a transport to the cave, three “interesting facts”, and a let the cattle roam type of scenario. Because of overcrowding, the lack of organization was very apparent. There was no structure to the dissemination of the shoe chains and was a cluster of a mess trying to find the right pairs as well as functional and working pairs. Beyond that, upon reaching the cave our guide only told us three facts. He also mentioned to us that he was new, and I do not think he was equipped enough to guide us with information. The guide, himself, was a very kind man, this isn’t a review to disavow him either.

    Lack of gear: The website also informs the consumer that “A guided visit to a crystal ice cave and all necessary glacier gear needed” will be provided. I noticed that I did not have a headlamp. Knowing that it was 1545, I inquired, “Do I need a headlamp?”. I was informed “No, it’s not really needed”. The webpage directly quotes, “We also provide powerful head torches allowing you to light your way safely to, from and inside the ice cave.”. We didn’t get to the ice caves until 1700. Of the entire group, we only had one headlamp. Not only did we only have one, this headlamp was very dimly lit and could barely light the way for one person let alone a whole group. The batteries should have been replaced on it. Our guide wasn’t even prepared with his own headlamp. The cave was so dark I could barely see the deeper portions of the cave nor get to fully experience the transparency of the ice cave.

    We selected this tour based off the information displayed on the webpage. We were properly misguided, falsely advertised, and greeted with incompetence. At the price of 59,970 ISK we should have had all proper gear, a scenario where transportation wasn’t 72% of the entire excursion, a proper and well-prepared guide, an expected group size of less than 16 people, and any sort of warning against the transport. We did not receive the proper equipment to enjoy this tour nor the promises the tour informed us we’d have. We are no longer in Iceland now and we cannot get a voucher for a better trip. I hope my experiences give you a proper forewarning.

    1. Auður says:

      I’m sorry to hear you had such a bad experience with Arctic Adventure – have you tried contacted them to let them know how you feel so they can maybe fix the info on their website? For the record, neither self-drive option I mention in this post is with them but we do work with them on other tours and our guests are usually very happy with them.

      Just so there’s no confusion for those who read your comment – 59.970 ISK means that your group consisted of three people – that’s not the price for one.

      1. Becky says:

        Yes, that was the first thing I did. I wanted to reach a solution before submitting a review. I reached out to Arctic Adventures, and they replied that my complaint would be elevated to higher management. Up until now I have not received a follow up email about the issue, at this point it would have been three weeks. Which is why I wanted to share my warning with follow tourist travelers undergoing the same excursions.

        And yes, this was a cost of 3 people

        1. Becky says:

          I have been contacted my Arctic Adventures after I posted my review-complaints online. They have been extremely understanding, cordial, and apologetic for the experiences I have received. They have addressed all the topics in my complaint and will update their website to reflect the notes as well as reconsidering the operational side of the tour and try their best to avoid letting other tour visits to the cave interfere with the experience of their customers in the future. They have also approved my request for a full refund. I thought that was very civil of the company, and I’m glad they took my complaints very seriously. I’m sure future tours will not run into these caveats again.

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