Katla Volcano Ice Cave Tour Review--South Coast of Iceland--the ONLY summer ice cave
Updated: Jun 19
I mean, an ice cave is magical.
What I learned is that every tour is different, even with the same outfitter, because the caves themselves are changing ALL the time. Especially in summer, rain and melting alters the configuration of the cave daily! So much so, that every morning, our tour operator has a crew that gets to the cave before the first tour begins. This crew assesses the changes from the last day then sets about, repairing bridges, recutting stairs, reinstalling the bolts that hold the safety ropes and so on, so that guests are safe. We got there to see them still working as we were the first tour of the day.
The Katla Ice Cave is the only cave you can tour in the summer. Normally, ice caves are only safe in the winter when they are frozen and changes are not happening.
For our tour, the cave had rushing water far below, so we traversed the interior of the cave via a series of little wooden bridges, criss-crossing the water flow. The bridges all had rope handles on one side and some had wooden rails on one side.
We were required to wear helmets and crampons both provided by the expedition company.
The tour began in the town of Vik, where we were loaded into a variety of 4x4 vehicles for the trek to the Katla glacier, which took about 30 mins to drive. A short portion of the drive was on the paved Road 1, then we jumped on to rugged gravel track. THAT was an e-ticket ride that was fun all by itself. I was in the 4th row of a van and was shaken about like a yahtzee dice shaker. At one point, my daughter jokingly grabbed her helmet, pretending to put it on, because we felt like we might hit the roof of the van! We laughed our way through the jiggles.
Our guide was Bjorn. He is a geologist by profession, who studies glaciers, and he freelances with our tour company. This made him the perfect person to answer our questions about the imminent eruption of the Katla volcano. Katla erupts routinely every 50-60 years. The last time she erupted was 1918...over 100 years ago. This is no ordinary "the volcano is due to erupt some year soon" scenario though. They fully anticipate that Katla will erupt in days or weeks from now.
Apparently, Katla is giving rumblings and as recently as last week they canceled all tours entering the glacier are because signs showed the volcano was getting ready. To say the least, we had some questions. He assured us the scientists are monitoring the sulfur and CO2 levels, seismic activity etc. The warming system for Vik is that EVERY single cell phone in the vicinity of an erupting volcano will be pinged...even the cell phones of tourists. There are elaborate evacuation plans in place, so we learned that we would meet at the Vik Church in such a situation as it is the highest point in town.
We made it out safely though and back to our vacation rental by the afternoon, so we are good.
When I decided to book the ice cave tour, I read reviews for all the area expedition companies. I was on the verge of booking with another, when I went back to rethink it, and booked with Troll Expeditions. I'm super glad I did. While I cannot compare to the brilliance of the other tour operators, what I found with Troll is that they were professional, on time, valued our safety and our guide was a riot! His confidence and knowledge made us feel safe, and he was clear about what we could safely do or not on the tour, and he held us to it.
This made it all the more shocking to see guests with other tour operators who were walking and taking video, a highly dangerous act that could easily toss you slipping into the crevasse to meet the water below. Made us nervous to watch. And we wondering where their guide was to stop them.
The day we went was uncharacteristic warm and sunny (just my luck!) Just the day before it was tremendously windy, pouring rain and cold. Bjorn told us that tour ended short because the guests were all rushing to get back to the van!
Cost: $170 USD per person
When I booked, I was feeling it was expensive. Truth be told, it was commensurate with the cost from all the other operators, and frankly, we found, everything in Iceland is quite expensive. We think it's because in this icy place, locals need to make all their money for the entire year, just during the short tourist season of summer.
My family deemed the expense worth it. Wearing crampons and exploring an ice cave is something adventurous that we would not meet in our daily lives. Those are the kinds of things that make travel memorable.