After many years around Iceland, visiting the most exciting sites, I wanted to go on an ice cave tour (see here)... but it turned out that the tour got cancelled as there was a massive wind storm coming by the east of Iceland! At first, I got disappointed but then I just jumped on the occasion to do something else as I was stucked in Skaftafell : hiking in the park and brave the elements! Iceland is like this : you can plan whatever you want, the weather is always the boss!
Since I couldn’t reschedule my ice cave tour, I wanted to do something completely different from the usual highlights of the south coast of Iceland and I booked a tour to explore the lava tunnel of Raufarhólshellir, not far away from Reykjavik. I already heard about this lava tunnel. It's a huge tunnel that was once open to everyone and then had been closed for a while as tourists were visiting this cave and many problems occurred since they had no experience. The lava tunnel is now run by a company "The Lava Tunnel" that proposes two differents guided tours : the first one is the classic tour, lasting one hour and allows you to enter a part of the tunnel and another one, the extreme tour, that is a 3 to 4 hours tours, which leads you in the darkness of the tunnel and through all the branches. I obviously booked this extreme tour !! ;)
It was really different from what I experienced before. I already visited cave but it was only for few minutes or maximum one hour. This time, it was my first experience being in darkness for many hours. It’s this kind of tour you need to be prepared to as it’s more challenging than being on a marked path. As it is written on the description, you need to be no claustrophobic and not afraid of the dark. But above all, I would say that you need to have a good balance and used to hike in rocky terrains. The lava tunnel is mostly composed of small hills going up and down, of random rocks, mostly big, sharp and slippery. It’s not a really difficult terrain it’s just that you only have your headlight to see where you need to put your feet on :)
But if you feel like you’re enough adventurous for this trip, you should probably consider it! This trip can be booked all year long and it's a perfect activity to do around Reykjavik, especially if you have no car since the company can pick you up to your accomodation for free.
After a 45 minutes drive from the city, you quickly arrive to the entrance of the tunnel. There, your guide will give you your best friends for the tour : a helmet and a headlight :)
After you walk by the classic tour path, you just turn and enter the dark tunnel. Your guide will lead you through the tunnel and stop to the highlights. During your visit, you will witness so many different kind of things and be totally amazed as I was, especially if it’s your first time in a lava tunnel. Don’t expect to see real lava in there - otherwise you’ll probably get out in ash :)
The Raufarhólshellir lava tunnel is more than 5000 years old and what’s interesting is geology and all the crazy geological formations you will see. You won’t be disappointed ! The highlights of this tour are probably the lava waterfalls !
How to get to the tunnel if you don't take the transportation option :
Raufarhólshellir is located only 34 km away from Reykjavík city. From Reykjavík, take the route 1 to Vik for around 20 km and then turn right on route 39 (Þorlákshöfn) and drive for 10 km on that road. You will find the parking lot. To rent a car, check here.
My tips and what you need to know about this tour :
- Suit up in consequence : have proper hiking shoes (in the winter you could possibly wear crampons at the beginning of the tunnel) - the temperature inside the tunnel is always 5 degrees celsius - that means it is not (that) cold ! And remember that you will walk quite a few (3,5 km) so don’t dress up too much! There are a lot of drops coming from the roof so wearing a waterproof jacket is a good idea!
- Don’t try to take pictures all the way : first the complete darkness will make it difficult unless you have a tripod (and then it will slow down the groupe..). All the pictures from this article were taken with a smartphone. I also can assure you that you won’t have time to take long exposure pictures if you want to see the highlights of this tunnel. By the way, I'm pretty sure you will enjoy more this tour if you don't take millions of pictures (but it's up to you!)
- Respect the site and be careful to your belongings : as I said before, many tourists have left some trash in the tunnel - if you’re having snacks just remember to bring your trash with you. As a responsible tourist, "leave no trace" will be your leitmotiv. Respecting the site means also that you can't bring souvenirs but only pictures!
- Ask as many questions as you want to the guide if you want to know more about geology :)
Have a nice trip! Góða ferð!