Of all the other-worldly places in Iceland, the Jokülsárlón Glacier Lagoon is one of the strangest. After traveling two hours from Vík through some of the most barren landscape we had observed in the South of Iceland, we arrived at Jokülsárlón for our glacier lagoon tour. Like finding an oasis in the desert, the lagoon appears alongside the road after mile upon mile of bleak dark volcanic rock and ash. Suddenly you find yourself side by side with a lagoon that stretches back as far as you can see. My expectation was that from the shore we would see a few ghostly-white icebergs floating in the distance. To my surprise, there were many icebergs so close it felt like you could practically reach out and touch them from the shore. And these weren’t lifeless-looking, Hollywood-style icebergs. They were vastly different in shape, size, and color.
Luckily, we had booked ourselves on a zodiac boat tour with Jokülsárlón, so I knew we were going to have a chance to get up close to not just the icebergs, but the glacier itself. But first, we had to gear up. Going into a zodiac boat, I wasn’t quite sure how wet and cold we were going to get and exactly what gear we might need. Luckily it wasn’t a concern as they provide you with a floatation suit that makes you feel like a sumo wrestler. As long as you have a warm layer underneath, a hat and at least a pair of thin gloves, you’ll be fine — no need for additional bulk or waterproofing. You might get a little spray from the wake but no water gets into the boat, even though it does ride low enough to touch the water.
Jokülsárlón also offers amphibian (or duck) boat tours that are larger groups, can accept younger children, and are less expensive. However, these mostly go in and out of the icebergs and don’t get up close to the glacier. We wanted the full experience so decided on the zodiac boat — which gets you close to the glacier but also really gives you a sense of vastness of the lagoon.
After about a dozen of us were geared up in our flotation suits, we headed out into the lagoon. Once again, I was so surprised to see the great differences between the icebergs. Some where white, some were a icy blue, others were zebra-striped, while there were some that had sections of clear ice. The icebergs are always changing and moving, with some breaking up and others forming, creating a different experience day-to-day.
On our way out into the lagoon, our guide filled us in on the formation and ecology of the glacier lagoon. I was surprised to learn that the lagoon itself has only been around since the 1930s, as the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier beats a swift retreat from the ocean, leaving a lagoon that is up to 250 meters deep in its wake. The lagoon gets larger every year as global warming rapidly melts the glaciers.
In addition to the variations in color, we found the sizes and shapes of the icebergs to be as wholly unique as one snowflake to another. Some had that typical iceberg shape where you just know there is a lot more lurking underneath the water. Others were towering giants, while some were as pock-marked as Swiss cheese.
To add to the mystical feeling that we had happened upon a place from another planet, we visited late in the day and the sky was slate gray, with a bit of mist in the air. The lack of sun added a spooky factor that was especially apparent as we approached the glacier. If you have ever read the Game of Thrones books or seen the HBO series, the glacier edge resembles “The Wall” the separates the North from the land beyond. I couldn’t help but expect to see the white walkers scaling its heights.
Even in the zodiac boat you still can’t get too close to the glacier, as you never know when one might calve and send mountains of ice plunging into the lagoon and everything around it. While that certainly would be a sight to see, I’m actually relieved that we weren’t there to see more effects of global warming — although I do admit feeling guilty and uncertain about taking a tour that was undoubtedly contributing it its effects. Sometimes trying to find that balance between protecting our earth and wanting to see the natural wonders of our world is a tough call.
It is really easy to see why Hollywood has been drawn to the glacier lagoon in Iceland as a movie set for movies like A View to a Kill, Batman Begins, and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. In the James Bond film Die Another Day, they actually froze the lagoon so that Pierce Brosnan, as James Bond, could drive his car onto the ice.
The glacier lagoon in Iceland should be on everyone’s bucket list. Whether or not you take the zodiac boat tour is up to you. It was cool to see the glacier itself, but if you are visiting other glaciers and are more interested in the icebergs, the amphibian boat tour is probably all you need — or just take a walk along the coast to view them from the land.
If you can’t get there anytime soon, take a look at what a glacier lagoon tour with Jokülsárlón is really like:
Jokülsárlón offers amphibian boat and zodiac boat tours. The amphibian boat tour is 30-40 minutes and includes an English-speaking guide. Amphibian tours are 4500 ISK for adults, 1000 for kids 6-12, under six are free. Zodiac boat tours are a little over an hour and get closer to the glacier. These tours are 7500 ISK for adults and 3750 for kids ages 10-12 (under 10 not recommended.) It is recommended to book in advance, check times and current pricing on their website.
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Have you been to the iceberg lagoon in Iceland or taken a glacier lagoon tour?
Note: My tour was hosted by Jokulsarlon, all opinions are my own.