One of the most unique aspects of Iceland compared to most of the world is its ice caves – and their accessibility to explore. So when I visited Iceland in June 2023, I knew I wanted to experience what it’s like to see the inside of an Ice Cave. Because it’s summer, only The Katla Ice Cave is available.
And let me tell you; it was freaking incredible. Not in an overwhelming or spiritual way, but in a “damn, this is really cool and unique” sort of way.
The Katla Ice Cave Tour is unique because it is constantly changing. The cave isn’t so much a cave but a receding glacier that is being hollowed out from within. As it opens up, you walk through it!
Below, I’ll give you everything you need to know to decide if you should book a Katla Ice Cave Tour on your trip to the South Iceland Coast.
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Ultimate Guide to the Katla Ice Cave Tour
Ya’ll ready? Let’s get exploring!
Is Katla Ice Cave Tour worth it?
It’s likely one of the most unique experiences you’ll ever do. Odds are, you don’t live in a place with glaciers. So, having this opportunity so readily available should be pounced on by all Iceland visitors. It doesn’t matter what group you go with. They all go to the same place and help maintain the infrastructure.
You will have a blast inside and keep saying, “Wow,” as you explore further and further into the cave.
What is the Katla Ice Cave?
As I mentioned above, the Katla Ice Cave isn’t so much of a cave (it’s not underground nor has a back) but is part of a glacier that has become hollowed out due to melting. It’s also not a physical location but an ever-changing area. As the glacier melts, new caves emerge.
Our guide said that the “cave” we went to might not be there next year, and the entire front portion of the glacier we were around could be gone in two years.
This is why it’s so unique and also startling. Global warming adversely affects Iceland’s glaciers and causes rapid declines that you witness yearly.
Where is the Katla Ice Cave Located In Iceland?
The Katla Ice Cave is located on the east side of the Mýrdalsjökull Glacier just north of Vik. In the Super Jeep, they can get there in about 40 minutes – most of it off-road on what would be considered an F-road (though a relatively tiny stream crossing).
Preparing for a day at the Iceland Katla Ice Cave
How do you get to the Katla Ice Cave?
All you have to do is get to the town of Vik and the meeting point of your tour. From here, you’ll check in, hop in the Super Jeep, and your guide will take you into the heart of Iceland.
The Katla Ice Cave is in a beautiful area that reminded me of the big green mountains in Kauai, Hawaii.
How long is the Ice Cave tour?
The entire tour, from start to finish, is three hours. Considering almost half of it is driving, it’s a bit quick, but it is what it is. From the beginning of the hike (10 minutes) to the cave to getting back to the car, I clocked in at 1.5 hours. As for being inside the actual Katla Ice Cave, I would estimate it’s about 50 minutes of adventure!
What do you wear to ice caves in Iceland?
What you wear will depend on the weather, but you should wear a rain jacket and maybe rain pants. (I didn’t, but my girlfriend did.) However, it was a decently warm day, so all I had on were hiking pants, a wool shirt, a fleece, a rain jacket, a hat, and sunglasses. Additionally, I had waterproof hiking boots.
What does the tour provide you?
Once you arrive, you’ll receive microspikes (they called them crampons, LOL) and a helmet from your guide. You get these 20 yards from the beginning of the Katla Ice Cave tour.
Who can do this tour?
The tours might have a different age range, but I would say it is suitable for 12 and above. The walk to the glacier opening is easy, so that’s not an issue. The potential problem is that you need sturdy footing and an understanding you need to be composed and stay on the wood planks, or else you might end up in the glacial river below.
I wouldn’t bring young kids on this unless you can trust them to behave and act like adults.
Getting Inside the Katla Ice Cave
Everything to know about the Ice Cave Tour
Breaking down the day:
We arrived 10 minutes before our 9 am trip, hit the bathroom, and hopped into the SuperJeep. It was a 40-45 minute from here drive to the Katla Ice Cave Tour launching point.
After disembarking from the jeep, we all walked 10 minutes to the mouth of the cave. The crew received our microspikes, helmets, and a mini-pep talk about safety inside the cave.
Then, we all headed in – more or less single file – and got to explore the giant cave. Once through, we explore a bit more before turning around and seeing the cave again.
What’s it like inside the Katla Ice Cave:
The cave is more or less a tunnel with a ton of water running through the middle. You crisscross back and forth from side to side via wooden planks and ropes that are set up. You’re not attached, so holding onto the ropes as you walk the planks is a good idea. (Though you won’t fall if you have good balance.)
Furthermore, the cave is literally melting as you are inside, so you will get wet to some degree. More water was dripping on the edges than in the middle.
Are you rushed?
As a photographer, I’m always rushed on these tours. But you are also shuttled through pretty quickly. You can doddle if you want, but you’ll be separated from the group, which might look bad. I walked slowly and got the shots I wanted without worrying about what everyone thought.
What Photography Equipment Should I Bring?
You will want a wide-angle lens for your trip into the Katla Ice Cave. This can be a GoPro, your newer iPhone (with the 0.5x option), or a 16-35/24-70 lens with your camera body. I would opt for whatever is your lowest f/stop, as the cave is dark, and you’ll want to let more light in.
I was a bozo and forgot my adapter, so I couldn’t use my 16-35 f/2.8. (Thankfully had my GoPro9.) I could get all the shots with my 24-105 – I just had to boost my ISO a bit higher than I would have liked.
An Honest Review of the Katla Ice Cave
It was a great experience that I would totally do again. Yes, it’s not exactly what I expected, but maybe I didn’t do enough research/browse photos enough. I thought you’d be walking on ice in an actual cave. However, not that I’ve learned how these caves are created; that ideal scenario is almost impossible to accomplish – especially in summer.
So go in with slightly lower expectations (or maybe accurate expectations now that you’ve read this) and understand this is a technical feat to be here as they had to lay all the planks and string rope to ensure a safe environment for everyone!
How to Book this Katla Ice Caves Tour
Booking this is super easy. Just click on the link below, and you’ll have everything you need for a fantastic tour!
FAQ: Katla Ice Cave Tour & Iceland
Diving into some frequently asked questions about the Katla Ice Cave and other Icelandic topics!
How far in advance should I book the tour?
Good question. We booked the night before, but we grabbed the last two spots. I would recommend it at least 48 hours in advance. We did it on such short notice because our plans changed, and we had a free morning and wanted to get it done without having to backtrack.
Can you go to Katla Ice Cave without a guide?
Yes, you can visit without a guide, but this requires driving on the F-Road (or what I think is classified as an F-Road), having the appropriate gear, and knowing how to handle the inside of the cave.
While it’ll save you $170 a person, the hassle and risk are probably not worth it. I personally wouldn’t go without a guide.
Is Katla ice cave open year-round?
Yes, the Katla Ice Cave Tour is open year-round. This is because new ones are always forming, and you go where the cave is.
Is it safe to walk on glaciers in Iceland?
If you take proper precautions, like having the right equipment or going with a guide, hiking on glaciers can be safe. You shouldn’t do it alone or without traction (microspikes or crampons). If you’re not experienced, I wouldn’t go without a guide.
Having a satellite communications device would also be smart in case you find yourself in a pickle.
How was Katla Ice Cave formed?
The ice cave is formed by the glacier melting. Holes open up and then continue to expand as water runs through it. As it grows larger, it becomes accessible to walk through. Today’s Katla Ice Cave will not be next year’s, and so forth.
Can you drink Iceland’s glacier water?
Iceland is known for its ridiculously clean water. Most of it hangs out underground and, when it emerges, is untouched and as pristine as you can get. Obviously, take necessary precautions, but if you can see the source, it’s likely safe to drink. (Not medical advice.)
Wrapping up – Adventuring in the Katla Ice Cave Iceland
Visiting the Katla Ice Cave in Iceland should definitely be on your bucket list. It is a unique and unforgettable experience that allows you to witness the incredible beauty of nature up close.
The cave’s stunning blue ice walls and intricate formations are genuinely awe-inspiring, and its location within the glacier adds to the sense of adventure and excitement. However, it is essential to remember that this natural wonder requires careful preparation and precautions before exploring.
With proper planning, safety measures, and respect for the environment, a visit to Katla Ice Cave can be an unforgettable highlight of your trip to Iceland.
Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.
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