Ice caves are unique with fragile natural features and there are not many places in the world where you can explore an Ice Cave, but luckily Iceland has many ice caves that are accessible during the wintertime or throughout the year.
Hosting many glaciers on its surface Iceland has some natural and also man-made ice caves that are open to everyone through guided tours. Most of the Ice caves are in the South Region of Iceland as there are the biggest glaciers. So you will find some ice caves at Vatnajökull, another one at Kötlujökull Glacier, and a man-made ice cave at Langjökull Ice Cave.
Having so many options let’s talk about the differences between a natural ice cave, and as an example, I am going to talk about the Blue Ice Cave and a man-made ice cave, the one at Langjökull as is the first man-made ice cave in the World.
The Blue Ice Cave vs man-made Langjökull Ice Cave formation process
The Blue Ice cave forms naturally every winter. Like all ice caves, they begin as crevices in the glacier. As the glacier melts, water finds its way into these crevices, making them expand and melt faster than the glacier itself. Over time, tunnels form and these tunnels will continue in this freezing and melting cycle. Sometimes, the tunnel disappears altogether and other times, it becomes a gigantic hole. When all the right elements are in place, a cave appears. This is the typical formation of all glacier ice caves.
It is called the Blue Ice cave because of the color of the ice. But what makes the ice blue is actually the refraction of light. Glacier ice is compact ice with little or no air within. As light passes through the glacier, only the wave-length of the blue light makes its way through the ice, making them appear blue. The more compact the ice is, the bluer it will appear. On certain occasions, there has also been purple, red, and yellow ice.
The special fact about the blue ice cave is that it forms naturally every year. At the beginning of every winter, the glacier experts will go onto the glaciers to search for these blue ice caves. Some years they find small ones, some years they find big ones. Sometimes, the caves are too unstable or unsafe for tourists and there is no guarantee that any will be found the following year. So, if you have the chance to see it, you should. You might never know if that chance will occur ever again.
The ice cave at Langjökull is man-made so there has been an entire process to carve into the glacier and form the tunnel. The cave was opened to the public in 2015 and the tunnel inside the glacier is 550m long and it goes at 30 meters into the glacier. Inside the glacier, they even made 5 chambers and a chapel where people can get married..what an impressive ceremony would be there! Right?
On the walls of the tunnel, you will see marks of the glacier history formation with black volcanic ash lines that indicate that there was a volcanic eruption in its time evolution.
The formation process of the ice cave took 14 months of digging into the glacier and 7 000 tones of ice removed, but the result is mindblowing.
The Blue Ice Cave vs man-made Langjökull Ice Cave exploring options
The Blue Ice Cave can be explored only with an expert guide during the wintertime (from late November to the end of March). It is forbidden to go exploring the ice cave alone as the natural ice cave is not always a safe place. There are a lot of guided tours that will take you to the blue ice cave and the guides will give you the safety equipment needed for going inside: helmets and crampons. For the Blue Ice Cave tours, only kids up to 10 years old can participate.
You can check the blue ice cave tour options on our website with departures from Jokulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.
The Ice Cave from Langjökull is also available to explore with a guide all year round. There are tours that depart from Húsafell during the winter and from Klaki base camp (GPS coordinates: N64 39.014 W20 34.962) during the summer. An experienced guide will lead the way the whole time to make sure everyone is enjoying themselves to the fullest. Even kids can participate as the ice cave is safe for them. You will be provided with safety equipment needed for going inside the ice cave. You will be transferred from one of the meeting points, with a specially modified truck directly to the entrance of the cave.
Check the options available for the Ice Cave tour at Langjökull.
The Blue Ice Cave vs man-made Langjökull Ice Cave differences
If it is to compare the ice caves we can talk about the fact that the Blue Ice Cave is naturally formed every year which means that every year it changes its form and look and you will see different formations there. The man-made Ice Cave from Langjökull is almost the same every year or at least not so fast-changing as the natural one.
The Blue Ice cave is located in the Sout-Eastern part of Iceland in a glacier tongue of the largest glacier in Europe. The same glacier tongue named Breiðamerkurjökull is feeding the Jokulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and also the famous Diamond beach, both are ever-changing locations just as the Blue Ice Cave so even if you were there before will definitely be worth seeing them again.
The Ice cave at Langjökull is located in west Iceland and on your way to the meeting point for the tour you can visit the hottest hot spring in Iceland, Deildartunguhver, or two waterfalls that are close to each other Hraunfossar and Barnafoss.
In the end, both activities are unique and are worth doing it. You can choose any of them depending on your preferences, the period of the year you are visiting Iceland, or the time you have to spend in Iceland. Dress warmly if you want to explore any of the ice caves as there is very cold inside the glacier.
As a bonus tip, I am going to talk about the Ice Cave Exhibition at Perlan in Reykjavik. It’s a very good option for those who don’t have enough time to visit the ice caves in the glacier or an Ice Cave tour is over their budget. At Perlan there is an Ice Cave Exhibition where you can walk inside a giant freezer where they brought ice from the mountain glaciers to form the Ice Cave. It is a cheap and easy option if you are wondering what to do and see around Reykjavik. You can check the entrance fees on our website.
Exploring an Ice Cave was on top of my Icelandic bucket list and it was totally worth it. Knowing that is such a unique thing all over the world you should definitely put it on your list too if you’re coming to Iceland.