Iceland is a country of many contrasts, with attractions ranging from cold, majestic glaciers to conical volcanoes spewing fiery lava. It’s little wonder then that the country is popularly referred to as the “land of fire and ice.”
Being home to more than 130 active and dormant volcanoes makes Iceland one of the most fascinating destinations for adventure seekers. The country’s beautiful landscape and features owe their existence to eruptions.
In recent years, Iceland has experienced an influx of tourists, all too eager to have a closer look as lava flows from its mountains. This has elicited mixed reactions, with some critics questioning the safety of the practice.
What are the Dangers of a Volcanic Eruption?
Keeping safe while visiting eruption sites depends on understanding a volcanic eruption. Below the earth, high temperatures cause rocks to melt into magma. Magma finds its way to the surface through a fissure in a release that can either be explosive or non-explosive.
This type of eruption releases gases and magma violently. The magma splits into rocks of various sizes, some as big as a vehicle, and can be thrown hundreds of kilometers away.
Other hazards that make explosive volcanoes a no-go zone include:
Heavy ash deposits: Ash can be deposited hundreds of kilometers away, leading to air pollution. It can also reduce visibility, interrupting air traffic and travel.
Lava fragments: Solid lava fragments known as tephra can pollute water catchment areas, hit people or animals, and cause respiratory problems.
Hot lava: Slow-moving lava is usually not dangerous as people can move away in time. However, fast-flowing lava is dangerous, and there is absolutely no reason to be near.
Earthquakes: As magma moves about below the surface, it can create earthquakes that vary in intensity.
In this type of eruption, the lava flows slowly to form lava fields, and observers can catch the action safely from a distance.
Tips to Stay Safe When Touring Active Volcano Sites
An Icelandic volcano tour is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it can be dangerous if you don’t know what to expect.
To make sure your visit is as safe as possible, here are our expert tips for having the best time ever on an Iceland volcanic tour:
You have to abide by the rules for your safety. Whether you are going alone or traveling as a group, it helps to stick to designated paths, like hills, and listen to your tour guide’s instructions. If you walk on valleys during an eruption, you might get trapped by the lava.
Be Physically Prepared
A lot goes into touring an eruption site, and you need to be sure that your body can handle it. For example, if you’re pregnant or asthmatic, you will be putting yourself under unnecessary strain and could expose yourself to dangerous fumes.
An eruption is unpredictable, and there is no telling when the next one will occur. The only way to avoid being caught unawares is by keeping up with the current affairs through broadcast media.
The weather can deal you some unpleasant surprises. Protect yourself with clothes that are warm, breathable, waterproof, and wind-resistant, and always expect the journey to take longer than predicted.
Pack a Bag for Emergencies
Packing an emergency kit, including first aid equipment and a flare gun if the area becomes inaccessible, is an excellent way to prepare for an accident. You will be able to administer emergency care if anyone in your group needs it.
Even in the land of ice, you still need water, and lots of it, to stay hydrated during your hike. You never know if you’ll be delayed, and you don’t want to be stuck on the rocks without drinking water.
Wear Comfortable Shoes
Hiking boots are perfect for the job. Make sure they fit well so that your feet don’t get sore during your hike. Soles should be sturdy and in good condition since the ground below might still be hot.
Carry some protein bars, sandwiches, sweets, and energy bars with you. Some activities will take hours, and you’re bound to get hungry at some point. Be sure to keep a keen eye on your travel companions if they get overwhelmed and need help.
Pack a Headlamp
Whether it’s for reading or navigating at night, having an additional light source on hand will come in handy. In case your hike takes longer than anticipated, you will still be able to find your way around.
Iceland Volcano Tours
Iceland is dedicated to volcano research and monitoring, making it one of the safest countries for witnessing an eruption. For instance, Thor Thordarson, one of Iceland’s volcanology professors, has studied volcanic activity for over four decades.
Expert tour companies know the ins and outs of active volcanic areas and provide rules to help tourists stay safe. If you’re planning on a volcano tour, consider these awe-inspiring sites:
Mount Fagradalsfjall Tour
Mount Fagradalsfjall erupted in 1755, and has been dormant for 452 years. After sitting on the sidelines for hundreds of years, it reappeared in March 2021 with an eruption that created Iceland’s newest volcanic mountain, the Geldingadalir.
This is great news because there are now three active volcanoes around Geldingadalir valley and Reykjanes peninsula. More volcanoes means more to explore, but it also means greater risk due to increased seismic activity from nearby areas like Katla and Hekla.
It takes around one hour by road to reach Fagradalsfjall from Reykjavík. After that, you’ve got 3-4 hours of hiking before reaching this volcano. You need to be fit enough to hike, otherwise you can opt for a helicopter tour instead.
Always stay away from cordoned-off areas to avoid exposing yourself to danger.
Volcano Chamber Tour
One of the most unique tours you can take is one descending into a dormant volcano. It’s only in Iceland that this opportunity exists, and it may be your best chance to see what life looks like inside a volcano.
You’ll be picked up by a tour guide who will take you to the foothills of Bláfjöll. It’s very important to listen to them during this tour to avoid slips and falls. The site is 3 miles from Reykjavik and an hour’s hike uphill before reaching your destination: Þríhnúkagígur volcano.
The descent into the crater is a breathtaking and life-changing experience. The slow pace allows you to take in all of nature’s majesty, from its beauty to its brutality. There are yellows, blues, reds, and violets, and you can’t help but stare at this underground masterpiece.
Krafla is a large volcanic caldera in Iceland, with a diameter of 10 kilometers, depths that reach 2 kilometers, and a 90-kilometre long fissure zone.
The area around Krafla features lava fields, fumaroles, geysers, and hot springs, creating an otherworldly landscape for exploration.
Between 1977 and 1984, a long-lasting eruption happened, called the “Krafla Fires.” Molten rock was spewed into the air at a rate of up to 300 million cubic meters per day, making it one of the most prolific Icelandic volcano eruptions.
About a 20 minute hike from the bustling parking lot, you’ll reach the edge of the volcano where there are still hot sulphur vents. These are a great relief to cold hands.
Hverfjall Crater, North Iceland
The Hverfjall crater is one of the most spectacular volcanic craters in all of Iceland. It was formed nearly 2,500 years ago. A landslide that occurred during its formation dented its symmetry, but it’s still breathtaking to see such an immense structure.
At 200 meters high, with a 1 km diameter, this volcano stands strong as you make your way around, exploring everything there is to do inside or outside these walls. You can walk around its rim, an activity that can take up to an hour.
The views from this vantage point are not only breathtaking but also offer excellent photo opportunities. Lake Myvatn and its surroundings are visible from here as if they were an intricate painting that reveals something new with each viewing angle.
Experience Iceland’s Lava Flows First-Hand
Don’t miss out on the action because you are worried about being near an eruption. These tours will not put you at risk and will still give you the incredible experience of seeing one of these natural wonders up close.
It may be cold in winter, but it’s not as frigid as one would expect with a lattitude just below the Arctic Circle. There are plenty of natural wonders to enjoy here that can’t be compared to anything else in this world.