What does Iceland stand for? Nordic mythology? Tall mountains? Captivating glaciers? Tumbling waterfalls? When it comes to natural wonders, Iceland is the ultimate treasure trove. It is one of the most beautiful countries, with mesmerizing landscapes that are popular with global tourists. Apart from unique natural features like geysers, volcanoes, and Northern Lights, Iceland is home to glacier lagoons, the most breathtakingly beautiful creations found in nature.
Glacial ice covers 11% of the total land of Iceland. Naturally, the country is home to impressive glaciers, ice caps, and outlet glaciers. Many of these glaciers have formed lakes. Some of these lagoons have made it into the global list of must-visit tourist spots.
No doubt, Jokulsarlon is the country’s most beautiful and popular iceberg lagoons. If you love to explore hidden gems, Iceland will reward you with sights that are majestic in every way. There are a few glacier lagoons in Iceland that are equally awe-inspiring. They haven’t got the limelight that Jokulsarlon has earned.
If you want to get enthralled in Iceland, get off the beaten track and discover glacier lagoons that make the panorama more dramatic.
Glacier lakes or lagoons are water bodies that are formed at the foot of glaciers. As glaciers move and reach sea level, they start melting. This movement of the glacier on a plain or plateau creates a glacial tongue. As the ice caps recede, they leave behind depression on the ground that gets filled with meltwater of the glacier, forming a glacier lake or lagoon. Vast slabs of ice broken from the gigantic glaciers float on the glacier lagoons creating incredible vistas.
In Iceland, the first glacier lagoon was formed at the end of the Ice Age, 10,000 years ago.
When enormous glaciers reach the lowland, they start breaking down into ice blocks. In some glacier lagoons, the glacier reaches the lake, and the chunks float on the water. These pieces vary in size and shape. Some are as small as diamonds while huge lumps can be between 65-98 feet high.
We all know that ice is white, but if you see a glacier, you will find different shades in it, depending on its texture. The colors vary between pale blues and greens to browns. The sediments present in them make the color murky.
The icebergs in Iceland’s lagoons are usually cyan-blue.
The appeal of glacier lagoons lies in their varying shape, size, and color. If you visit any glacier lake, you will find it transforming itself. The factors that impact the appearance of glacier lagoons are temperature, wind, and season. These factors work together to determine the speed and movement of the icebergs. You will find a glacier lagoon changing its look overnight.
Glaciers are slowly created as it takes hundreds of years to compress the ice and form the colossal ice masses. Since the compression takes place under tremendous pressure, the air gets forced out. So, light waves can penetrate the icebergs without any disruption. Ice absorbs the red spectrum light and reflects blue, so we see the icebergs in different shades of blue.
When the icebergs start melting, air enters inside, making the ice change color from blue to white. Some icebergs flip over, revealing the underside that hasn’t come in contact with air and hence looks blue. So, we see icebergs constantly changing their color.
If you study the ice pieces of an iceberg, you may find brown or black stripes. Some appear dark also. These black layers are due to the presence of volcanic ash that was entrapped in the ice. The brownish layers are caused by the sediments that the glacier scraped and carried with it.
The lagoons of Iceland are expanding at a high rate. Jokulsarlon has doubled in size since the 1970s. It is increasing at an alarming rate which has caused worry among environmentalists.
Scientists and environmentalists are alarmed by the rate at which Icelandic glaciers are shrinking. More than 2,000 sq. km of glaciers have disappeared since the end of the 19th century. The rate increased in the 20th century as over 500 sq. km of glaciers have melted since then.
Many of the glacier lagoons that we see today emerged in the last few decades. Scientists have predicted that Langjokull, the second-largest glacier of Iceland, will reduce 85% by volume by the turn of this century. If the present rate of global warming persists, the glacier will disappear completely, leaving behind a giant lake.
So, the creation of glacier lagoons is an indicator of how fast our earth is warming up. Unless we do something now, we will soon face their extinction.
Vatnajokull, being the largest glacier in Iceland, has many outlet glaciers that have created glacier lagoons along the south coast of Iceland. These lagoons are located close to the eastern part of the glacier and are easy to access.
This is the most famous glacier lagoon in Iceland. The icebergs lying on the lake dazzle in the sunlight, enhancing the enigma of the lake. As the icebergs hit the seashore, they break into million pieces. When the waves push them back to the coast, they decorate the coastline with ice rocks stretching across hundreds of meters. Due to the glistening ice rocks, the nearby black beach has earned the name of Diamond Beach. Together with Jokulsarlon, it is one of the most brilliant tourist spots in Iceland.
Tourists love to ride on a boat and zigzag through the pieces of icebergs of various shapes and sizes. Witnessing the icebergs change their color is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most.
Jokulsarlon is unique in many aspects. Being connected to the sea through a narrow channel, its water is bluer and clearer than other glacier lagoons. The icebergs float on it gently as the mild current takes them across the ocean. The free-flowing icebergs are of interesting shapes, and they gleam in the sunlight, adding a mystical charm to the lagoon.
The largest glacier lagoon in Iceland is easily accessible. From Reykjavik, you have to take the scenic Ring Road to reach Jokulsarlon in 5 hours. The main road will take you to the lagoon across a bridge that cuts through it.
Jokulsarlon is open year-round for tourists though summer is the best time to witness the ice rocks floating on the cold waters.
Jokulsarlon promises a lot of adventures for its visitors. During the summer months, single and multiple-day trips allow visitors to explore Jokulsarlon. You can choose between zodiac, kayaking, and amphibian boat tours. Through these trips, you can see the icebergs, enjoy the cool water, and also get close to the glacier. Jokulsarlon is home to seals, who are a top attraction of this region.
Winter adorns the country with unique looks. The boat services do not operate, but tourists come here to enjoy the low winter sun that glorifies the mountains, icebergs, and the lake in its hazy light.
The short-lived crystal ice caves are another lure of this area in winter. The natural ice caves grow near the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier.
If you drive west from Jokulsarlon for 8 km, you will encounter Fjallsarlon, the second most popular glacier lagoon in Iceland. It is formed by the outlet glacier Fjallsjokull.
From Fjallsarlon, you can get a better view of the glacier as it is located closer. With Iceland’s tallest mountain, Oraefajokull, in the background Fjallsarlon looks spectacular.
Fjallsarlon is lesser-known and hence attracts fewer tourists. If you want to enjoy the beauty of glacier lagoons in Iceland, it is the ideal place. Icebergs of different shapes and sizes illuminate the lake with glittering blue, black, brown, and white hues. Boat tours will allow you to explore the whole lake and see the ice rocks closely as they lazily float on the brown water.
Between Jokulsarlon and Fjallsarlon, there is a glacier lagoon called Breiðárlón. It originates from the same outlet glacier as Fjallsarlon. This glacier lake is not easy to access, and so gets very few tourists. You have to hike or take a Jeep to reach it.
In between Fjallsarlon and Skaftafell, on Route 1, the V-shaped valleys are choked up with glacier tongues that break down into icebergs as they reach the lower zone.
Kviarjokull glacier is very picturesque. A small ice lagoon with floating icebergs will greet your eyes here. Its appeal is greatly heightened by the presence of Hvannadalshnjúkur, the tallest peak of Iceland.
Skaftafell is home to many glacier tongues with two glacier lagoons. The entire valley is a hikers’ paradise. The area is a part of the Vatnajokull National Park and hence has greenery all around. Surrounded by ice caps on three sides, this is one of the most picturesque locations in Iceland. The area is 4.5 hours’ drive from Reykjavik. 2 km away from the Visitor Center is a glacier lagoon that you can visit on foot.
Svinafellsjokull is the second glacier lagoon that you can reach by driving 15 minutes from Skaftafell Visitor Center.
Both these lagoons have greenish-brown water due to heavy sedimentation. You can see plenty of icebergs in shades of brown and bluish-white.
Tourists who are ready to walk on the uncharted path will find another gem hidden in the mountains of Skaftafell. A hike of 10 km from the Visitor Center will take you to the tip of the Morsarjokull Glacier. Here lies one of the most stunning glacier lagoons in Iceland, with Morsarfoss, Iceland’s tallest waterfall in the background. At a height of 240 m, the waterfall, along with the icecaps and the lagoon, create staggering scenery.
Only experienced hikers must try this trail as it is a long one.
Vatnajokull ice cap is the largest in Iceland, covering more than 8% of its area. In the wilderness of Vatnajokull, nature has guarded many of its secrets. However, enthusiastic travelers have discovered many of these jewels, like the Skeidararjokull glacier and its lagoons.
High up, near the tip of the Skeidararjokull glacier, there are four glacier lagoons. Since the place is remote, only locals and a few tourists are aware of them. The lagoons get water from thousands of melting glaciers. The hike is dangerous but a rewarding one. The hikers are gifted with incredible views of the glaciers and the mountains, and the four lagoons wait with their cyan blue and greenish water to revive their souls.
This glacier lagoon is unique in many ways. Located high up in the Highlands, it is tough to reach. There are no roads, and you can only visit it by hiking or a private helicopter. Graenalon originates from the Skeidararjokull outlet glacier. It is shrinking as the glacier is thickening. Once, it was larger than Jokulsarlon but now has reduced considerably in size. Another unique feature of the glacier is the presence of black stripes that give it a striking appearance.
If you are an experienced hiker and are ready for the challenge, visiting Graenalon will be one of the best moments of your life.
The vast Vatnajokull glacier has given birth to a few glacier lagoons on the eastern side. Although very scenic, these lagoons are not frequented by foreign tourists as they are not accessible. To reach them, you have to hike through rough terrain or take sturdy Jeeps. Only locals are aware of these lagoons.
In east Iceland, there are two glaciers, Hainabergsjokull and Hoffellsjokull, that have glacier lagoons. They are 30 km apart and are ideal for a day trip.
Heinabergslon is comparable to Jokulsarlon, with clear water and plenty of icebergs floating on it. The ice lumps are quite big and make fantastic scenery.
This glacier lagoon is popular with local hikers who visit it to enjoy the beauty of the glacier tongue and the adjoining cliffs. This is the largest lagoon in East Iceland and lies close to the capital of Southeast Iceland, Hofn.
People who want to spend a few hours in solitude and imbibe natural serenity must visit both these lagoons.
Are you on a short vacation in Iceland? You cannot cover all the chief tourist attractions, but there is no reason to lose hope. You can still witness a glacier lagoon at Solheimajokull. This lagoon is the closest to Reykjavik and lies near village Vik. It is quite small and may not satiate your desire. Black and brown icebergs adorn the lagoon. However, it can be the starting point of your hiking tours as you go farther up and see more beautiful lagoons.
Hvitarvatn, or the “White Water”, is Iceland’s second-largest glacier and has given rise to many appealing landforms. It has given birth to a glacial lake which is the fifth-largest in the country. The lake is devoid of icebergs but generates great views of the glacial tongue.
The glacier is the birthplace of rivers like Hvita that form the mighty Gullfoss waterfall. The river is ideal for rafting and other water sports. Hence, during summer, it becomes a hotspot for adventure-seekers.
Drangajokull is Iceland’s northernmost glacier. The glacial tongue melts directly into a small lake called Kaldalon. This is a comparatively new lagoon without any calving process. If climate change continues unabated, we may soon see massive ice shelves breaking into the lagoon.
We know that you are eager to visit glacier lagoons and explore them. However, you should be aware of the dangers. As the water of the lagoons is very cold, please take precautionary measures. Never try to swim in lagoon water.
The icebergs are unstable and flip or collapse easily. So, stepping on them is strictly prohibited, even in winter.
The best way to enjoy a lagoon is from a safe distance.
If you are visiting a glacier lagoon during the winter months, you have to be on guard. The ground becomes slippery and remains covered with snow. When snow accumulates near the shore, it becomes difficult to determine where the water ends. So, it is better to maintain a safe distance from the water.
Do not drive off-road in Iceland as it is illegal. Moreover, it is also prohibited to drive two-wheel-drive cars on mountain roads. To visit some lagoons, you have to ride on large 4X4 vehicles. Since weather conditions can change abruptly, always check road conditions and weather forecasts before venturing out. If you are not comfortable with driving in the mountains or winter, go on a guided tour.
What sets Iceland apart from other countries is its topography. No other country showcases such varied terrain. Come on a glacier lagoons tour of wonder and have a blissful vacation here.