I have written many a travel-blog on the magical Snæfellsnes peninsula in West-Iceland with its myriad of beautiful sights. Now I can add one more magical place to visit on the peninsula - the extraordinary subterranean lava world in Vatnshellir cave.
I had been meaning to visit this cave for years as I had seen that it was easily accessible with guidance. But it wasn't until the summer of 2016 that I finally climbed down the winding staircase into this beautiful cave.
Vatnshellir cave is located almost by the road. I love the entrance to the cave, it looks like you are going into a time machine. A guide will then take you down into the cave through a winding staircase.
And for sure it is another magical world down in this beautiful lava cave where you will see amazing lava colours and beautiful lava formations.
Before we entered the cave our guide, Guðmundur, showed us a map of the lava tubes and explained to us where we would be going. Vatnshellir cave is said to be one of the most accessible caves in Iceland, and for sure the winding staircases help.
With time other beautiful lava caves have become easily accessible. See also my visits to two other accessible lava caves:
One has to be relatively fit to visit this cave, I am not in great shape myself but found it easy, although I got a bit out of breath when I was walking up the winding stairs. The gentleman right behind me was kind of running so I had to be fast as to not seem too out of shape ;)
The age limit for children is 3-years-old. It can get cold down in the cave, so a parka is needed - the temperature is a little bit above the freezing point. Hiking shoes are the best shoes to wear because of the uneven surface. It is advisable to wear gloves as it will prevent you from abrading your hands on the harsh lava.
We were given helmets and a flashlight, which we could put around our neck so that our hands would be free. We followed the guide through the 200 meters long lava tube in the path of the lava flow. The caves reach down 35 meters below the surface!
I am such a scaredy-cat that I asked my husband to walk in front of me and be by my side the whole time in the cave. And what do you know; as soon as we were down the steps of the winding staircase he disappeared into the darkness! We were walking in a row and as it is dark down in these caves there was a rope to hold onto.
The group was split into two groups with one guide for each group and we explored different caves. Only once did we meet the other group way down in the caves. The guide showed us the underworld cave with such extraordinary lava formations and colours that I had quite a few "WOW" moments!
I so wanted to take good photos of the lava formation and amazing colours. But there was so much darkness that it was impossible to take photos; until I realised that the lens-cap was on ;) In my defence then it was really dark and I was concentrating on following the path and the guide, and holding my flashlight.
Once the lens-cap came off I was taking photos left and right when the guide lit up different parts of the cave. I used flash and when I finally found my husband somewhere down in the caves he started taking my photos - with flash - and totally blinded me in the darkness!
The colours in the cave are out of this world! I have seen such colours in Icelandic cave books, but this was the first time I saw them with my own eyes. Lava can be so diverse and I don't even know the names of all of the different lava formations in Vatnshellir cave.
The guide was showing us such amazing lava formations that I lost track of all the names for them, as I was in my own world admiring the beauty in the caves and taking photos.
Vatnshellir cave is located in the 8-thousand-year-old Purkhólahraun lava field which erupted from the Purkhólar crater family. There seem to be myriads of caves in this area, 4 of which belong to Vatnshellir cave. Above this area hovers Snæfellsjökull glacier.
Vatnshellir cave is a lava tube which formed...: "As the lava rushed down the hill in a lava river it began to cool on the surface, creating a crust on top of the lava river. As the eruption stopped, all the lava from underneath this crust continued to drain out. That eventually left behind an empty tube with a roof on top that gradually cooled down"
(I quote the website of the tour company in charge of the guidance into the caves, the Summit Adventure Guides, as I think they explain it to perfection).
In the area around Snæfellsjökull glacier, you will find hundreds of lava tubes. It is amazing really what lies below ground and we don't know about.
The name, Vatnshellir cave - or Water Cave - stems from water being fetched in this cave for the cows at Malarrif in the vicinity.
The 4 caves in Vatnshellir cave are called: Vatnshellir, Bárðarstofa, Vættargangur and Iður - together they are called Undirheimar or the Nether Regions.
There was one beautiful lava formation which we stopped by and the guide told us that it was called Þumallinn or the Thumb, even though somebody thought it looked like something else ;)
I usually take notes and write down what the guides say, but it was not possible doing so in the cave. But he showed us stalagmites and stalactites and explained to us what the different lava formations were called.
At one point the guide asked us to turn our flashlights off and close our eyes and then open them - he had turned off his flashlight and we were experiencing total pitch black darkness! It was kind of eerie experiencing this total darkness way down inside the earth and the darkness became almost velvety while we listened to drops of water falling down.
In some places, the lava had such a bright red colour that it looked almost scary. I didn't realize this until I saw my photos - what awesome colours of nature!
Everywhere you look there are different lava formations which the guide pointed out to us. There were even some glittering stars in the lava in the ceiling of the cave in one place! Unfortunately, my photo of the lava stars came out all blurry, but it was a beautiful sight.
I noticed a sign pointing down into the earth - with Stromboli 3.597 km written on it. This is a funny referral to the science fiction "Journey to the Centre of the Earth" by Jules Verne when they travelled through Snæfellsjökull glacier and exited on the other side of the earth in Stromboli.
One of the caves is called Bárðarstofa or the Living room of Bárður Snæfellsás, but Bárður, who is half a man and half a troll, is the protector of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. I have written about Bárður in another travel-blog as there are many interesting stories about him. In the living room of Bárður, you can see his giant chair and desk in the cave.
In one part of his cave, you will also find a cairn! Which is funny really as cairns were erected in Iceland to show travellers the way. The tour guide then showed us how hollow the walls are in some parts of the cave, indicating that there are more undiscovered caves all around it!
The guided tour Into the Underworld - Vatnshellir caving tour lasted for 45 minutes and the experienced cave guides were from the travel company Summit Adventure Guides.
The cave was closed in 2010 for a protective purpose, but the Summit Adventure Guides have been guiding in the cave since then. They are the only tour operator which has permission from the National Park of Snæfellsnes to take people down into Vatnshellir cave.
There are guided tours to Vatnshellir cave all year round - in the winter time there are 3 tours and in the summertime, there are 9 tours on the hour into the cave. It is best to be at the starting point 10 minutes before departure into the cave.
You will find Vatnshellir cave by road 574 in between Lóndrangar cliffs and Djúpalónssandur beach. You can read more about Snæfellsnes peninsula and the area in the vicinity of the cave in my 5-series travel-blogs on Snæfellsnes peninsula.
To visit this area you can rent a car in Reykjavík and drive up here in a couple of hours.
Also, check out:
Have a lovely time visiting the beautiful Snæfellsnes peninsula and Vatnshellir cave :)