Winter tourism – Iceland’s magical ice-caves

Winter tourism in Iceland, like most parts of the High North, continues its steady growth. The total number of foreign visitors to the country was around 2.3 million in 2018, a 5.4% increase from 2017. Although the overall increase no longer reaches two figure percentages between years as has been the case for almost a decade, there is still a growth and more growth in winter tourism than that of other seasons. One iconic winter experience for travellers is visiting Iceland’s magical glacier caves – and that season has now begun. 

Despite Iceland’s record glacier melt, glacier caves still form and are accessible, some fairly easily and others requiring a certain amount of trekking and hiking over glacier terrain. In either case, the caves should not be visited without expertise guidance and proper safety measures. 

Arctic nature is one of constant changes and the formation of ice-caves can differ greatly from one year to the other. Both in terms of where they form and how they form. Due to thinning and retreating glaciers because of climate change, ice caves that are safe to enter are becoming fewer and the period to safely visit them shortens every year. 

The most basic explanation of an ice-cave is that it is a labyrinth or dome of ice forming inside a glacier, over a stream of melting glacier water in summer, accessible through an opening where the water finds its way from under the glacier. 

When these streams then freeze in winter and the dome remains, the ice cave is formed. Once frost has lessened the dangers of ice breaking from the ceiling, that is the time when the ice caves, those surreal and magical wonders can be visited. 

“Masterpieces of Mother Nature – The Glacier Caves of Iceland” – read the photo story on Iceland’s ice caves here

Photograph: JONAA©Agust Runarsson