Written by Hlín. Edited by Alondra Silva Munoz.
Jökulsárlón, the Glacier Lagoon, or the Crown Jewel of the South, is one of the world’s most stunning and unique places in Iceland for many reasons. In this article, we’ll explain all you need to know about the famous Jökulsárlón.
Jökulsárlón, the Glacial Lagoon Where Time Melts
As the different elements of nature meet in an exceptionally dynamic way, the history of geology is being revealed right in front of our eyes. Here, the viscous and slowly moving ice emanating from Europe’s biggest glacier meets the relatively warm costal climate and the Atlantic Ocean. Every now and then, the retreating glacier delivers old fossilized vegetation, proving that there were periods of very different climate thousands of years ago. It’s as though not just the glacier, but time itself is melting, unfolding its hidden past. In this article, we’ll explain all you need to know about the famous Jökulsárlón.
Featured as a must-see on Lonely Planet’s travel list, Jökulsárlón has appeared in blockbusters such Lara Croft, Tom Raider, Batman Begins, A view to kill and Die Another Day. A popular setting for music videos, from Bollywood‘s Gerua to Justin Bieber‘s “I‘ll Show You”. The Glacial Lagoon is also frequently seen on TV, in shows such as The Amazing Race.
The formation of Jökulsárlón and Its “Monsters”
Another unique thing about Jökulsárlón is that despite being less than a century old, it has already become the lowest point in Iceland, 260 m (853 ft.) deep. When temperatures began to rise in the 1920s, the glacier retreated, and the lagoon began to form. It is now 25% deeper than Loch Ness in Scotland, though only one third of its size.
There is abundancy of space for monsters and you see them all the time, rising up from the water surface in the form of frozen water, rolling over every now and then and moving slowly towards the ocean where they meet their fate in the relatively warm waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Some of the monsters end their lives like diamonds in the sun on the black sandy beach, hence its name: Diamond Beach.
Where is Jökulsárlón and how to get to there?
Now that you are beyond intrigued, here is some practical information to help you get there. Jökulsárlón is conveniently located on the Ring Road, right between Höfn and Skaftafell, at the retreating edge of Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, a tongue of Europe’s largest glacier: Vatnajökull.
To get there from Reykjavík, simply follow Highway 1 along the south coast for 380 km for approximately 5 hours. Alternatively, take bus number 51 from Mjódd bus station and you should be at the lagoon in about 6 hours. Another option would be joining a tour. Tröllaferðir’s 12 hour minibus tour stops at the lagoon. See here for more information: https://troll.is/tour/jokulsarlon-diamond-beach-and-south-coast/ Should you fancy a longer journey, you can join one of our two- and three day tours instead. Find out more here: https://troll.is/?s=j%C3%B6kuls%C3%A1rl%C3%B3n
The Fauna of Jökulsárlón: Seals and Birds
The Glacier lagoon is brimming over with life. Its bounty of fish, including: herring, trout, salmon and krill, attract sea birds who gather here to feast. The most prominent of these is the Arctic tern, who travels about 2.4 million km (the equivalent of three roundtrips from Earth to Moon) over the course of its lifetime of about 30 years.
In wintertime, visitors may also catch a glimpse of seals gathering in large numbers at the mouth of the lake, going for a swim in the lagoon or resting on the icebergs. Their human-like eyes have inspired countless Icelandic folk tales of seals that, upon falling in love with a person, would shape-shift into human form, and later, overcome with homesickness for the ocean, transform back into their old seal shape. As the seals swim amidst the sparkling iceberg, the onlooker gets a rare opportunity to simultaneously experience extreme cuteness and majestic beauty.
Much like seabirds and seals, photographers, cinematographers and artists of all kinds flock to the lagoon. Yet despite so many attempts to capture it, the core of its beauty remains beyond the grasp of the camera lenses. Come here and experience that this birthplace of great ideas will feed your imagination and creativity just as surely as its water feeds the seals and the seabirds.
Why Does the Ice in Jökulsárlón Have Different Colors?
The interplay between the light and the ice crystals causes the ice to take on different shades. While a raindrop will appear transparent, the same droplet will appear blue once absorbed by a large body of water. Just like lakes, a large piece of compressed ice will appear blue. When falling snow is compressed and unites with a glacier, air bubbles are squeezed out and ice crystals are enlarged, thus creating the appearance of blueness. The gray streaks seen in many of the icebergs are ash residues from volcanic eruptions and remnants of soil trapped within the ice.
In a time in which we have begun to mourn the disappearance of glaciers, the beauty of the lagoon created by a glacier’s retreat provides some comfort. As we contemplate the journey of icebergs towards the shore, we are reminded of nature’s fragility. Watching the ice scattered on black Diamond beach, shimmering like glimmers of hope against a background dark like the reality we now face, we are reminded, in the most beautiful way, of our duties towards Earth.
Summer or Winter – When to Visit?
To sit at the shores of the lagoon, watching the icebergs float towards the warm Atlantic Ocean, is a meditation adventure. Some of the icebergs hit the bottom and may be stationary for minutes, hours or days, but sooner or later they become small enough to float all the way to the sea.
In the summertime, riding on a boat towards the edge of the glacier feels as though one is moving within minutes from the climate of the warm sea into the mysterious kingdom of the ice. Every now and then, big icebergs break away from the steep cliffs that form the edge of the glacier, creating waves as they fall. Jökulsárlón is no less spectacular in winter than in summer.
Parts of the lagoon may freeze and the surface of the ice may be smooth enough to go ice skating in between the huge icebergs rising like big buildings into the sky. On such a moment one remembers that nine tenths of the iceberg are below the surface of the water and you are skating or walking along one of the top.
Where to Go from Jökulsárlón?
Since Jökulsárlón is right at the edge of Vatnajökull National Park, there is much yet to be discovered. In the wintertime, you can try the Crystal Blue Ice Cave and Super Jeep tour, to explore the area further with an expert glacier guide and see the famous and magnificent crystal blue ice caves in Breiðamerkurjökull.
One must-visit in the Vatnajökull area though is Skaftafell Nature Reserve. At Tröll Expeditions we are experts in adventure travel in Iceland and we have several daily departures for glacier hiking tours from Skaftafell. Our favorite during the summer time is our Skaftafell Blue Ice Winter Wonderland | 5-Hour Hike which is the perfect opportunity for those who want to experience a long hiking adventure on Falljökull, “The Falling Glacier,” an outlet glacier of Vatnajökull.
Whatever your plans in Iceland are, make sure you visit the Crown Jewel of the South.