Let’s Go Exploring! Iceland: Fire and Ice and Surprisingly Nice Part 2

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FIRECracker is Canada's youngest retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, CNBC, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
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In my last Iceland post, I talked about my first day in Iceland being just an appetizer of what this amazing country has to offer.

Are you ready for the main course?

Here we go.

The Blue Lagoon

Ethereal. Exclusive. Expensive

Before coming to Iceland, I struggled with spending 8900ISKs or $85 USD each on what (I thought) was the biggest tourist trap of all.

But this was The Blue Lagoon! How could we go to Iceland and skip the most well-known attraction of all?

Dubbed as “the most impressive wonder of the world” by National Geographic and featured in the Amazing Race and Britain’s Next Top Model, it’s no wonder this world-famous spa has almost a million visitors last year.

But I’m willing to bet most of these visitors don’t know that the Blue Lagoon isn’t a natural wonder at all.

And the reason why it’s such a beautiful, ethereal shade of blue?

It all started when the locals noticed the waste water runoff from a local geothermal power plant had this incredible shade of blue.

Source: Photo YourSpace @ Flickr

So, what do you do after noticing weird-colored waste water leaking out from a power plant?

Bathe in it of course!

That’s what the locals started to do in 1981.

As it turns out the reason why it’s blue is because of the minerals in the water—like silica and sulfur—as a result of being underground in the Earth’s geological layers. After it’s pumped out and used by the plant, the water can’t be recycled and has to be disposed of.

And that’s where us tourists come in!

I got to hand it to these ridiculously clever Icelanders. They found a way to make $85-100 USD dollars off each person for the privilege of swimming around in their industrial waste water! Good for the environment AND good for their pocket books.

So, there you have it. The Blue Lagoon is man-made and full of power plant run-off water. And for the chance to bath in it, you’ll have to book weeks in advance for a special time slot.

When we went, the lineup was long enough to stretch out the door. And that’s for people who had already bought online. If you’re just show up and expect to get in. Forget it.

For those who booked ahead, you’re given a towel and a bracelet to open your locker or charge any food/drink purchases. After that you’re required to shower without a bathing suit on (you know, so that you don’t dirty up their waste water), and then head to the main pool area.

Included in your basic entry ticket (the one we choose) is a free drink and a silica facial mask.

After that, you just relax, swim around, and take pictures.

There are also a few sauna rooms (two dry, one wet), a hot waterfall, and rock-walled cave that you can swim through.

Overall, I’d say my experience with the Blue Lagoon was pretty good but not out of this world. It did have the luxurious, high-end spa feel to it, but to me there were just too many people.

Can you find me in this crowd?

That being said, because of its massive size, you do have the option of finding your own spot of tranquility if you swim out farther (though the water isn’t as warm near the edges of the pool).

We spent 2.5 hours there from 7pm to 9:30pm, I felt that was more than enough.

One of the things I noticed after bathing in the lagoon was that my hair was super rough for a couple of days afterwards. Apparently, the silica is sticky, and if you want to get rid of it afterwards, you’ll have to get clarifying shampoo that doesn’t have protein in it (I used some charcoal shampoo and that seemed to do the trick). Otherwise, it’ll feel like rough, tangled horse hair for weeks.

So, I don’t regret going to the Blue Lagoon, but I don’t think I would’ve been heartbroken if I’d skipped it. It’s more about the cool pictures than the experience.

If it’s your first time in Iceland, you may want to check it out (or at least go there and take some pictures of the blue water from the outside), but there are other better, cheaper options.

Like my favourite attraction in Iceland:

Reykjadalur Valley

I fell in love with the natural hot spring rivers in Costa Rica so when I read about similar things existing in Iceland I was beyond excited.

And as it turns out, Reykjadalur Valley was just a short 45 min drive from Reykjavik.

Once there, you can park near a small restaurant called “Dalakaffi” which has snacks and a free toilet you can use before you start your hike. I would definitely recommend going to the bathroom here because we didn’t see any public bathrooms on our way up the mountain.

We saw at least 80 cars parked there and initially, I was worried about the crowds, but as it turns out, this valley can still be considered a hidden gem because there was so much space for everyone, we always felt like we had our own little spot to ourselves.

The hike is 3 km up hill and takes around 45-50mins, but it’s worth it! You can see lots of valleys, mountains, and rivers on the way, and we stopped every 10 mins to take pictures.

We even saw cute little lambs running around, and I decided that my relationship with them is much better when I’m just watching them from a distance rather than having their flesh sneaked unsuspectingly into my hotdog.

For those of you afraid of heights, rest assured that the hike was pretty tame, save for one little spot where there’s a narrow path where you get an expansive view of the valley beneath you. Just walk slowly, look ahead of you, and you should be fine. (It’s nothing like the terrifying, slippery “Path of Doom” with a sheer drop on one side from our Tenerife hike). Other than that, the rest of the hike is easy and carefree.

When you finally get close to the hot river, you’ll see little boiling pools everywhere, throwing off tons of steam.

There are warning signs that mention these pools are 100-degrees C or more, so don’t get too close.

Since we had been hiking up hill and getting an intense work out, it was super rewarding to see the river up ahead and anticipate the tension just melt away from your legs. There aren’t any changing rooms (just a few wooden stalls open to the outdoors) so don’t expect fancy facilities, but what it lacks in amenities, it makes up for in unadulterated, breathtaking nature:

Luckily, we were wearing bathing suits under our clothes, so we just stripped off our outer layers and waded into the river.

The crisp air coupled with the soothing, hot water was a perfect combination and I immediately felt the tension melt away from my muscles.

One of the things I love about natural hot rivers is the different pools you can experience just by moving up and down stream. The water starts off super hot, but as it flows down the mountain it cools naturally.

Upstream is for those who like it super-hot and don’t mind coming out looking like a freshly boiled lobster. Midstream are for people like me, who like it sufficiently scalding without turning red. And downstream is for those who just want to be warm without feeling the burn.

The water pouring downstream made for the perfect natural jets and sitting in the pulsating water, you can massage out those kinks in your shoulders and back.

Surrounded by steam, staring up at the mountains and admiring the mossy green grass, I felt like I was on top of the world! Even though it started raining (which it does a lot in Iceland), we didn’t care because the river kept us warm and toasty.

We loved it so much we stayed there for hours, and only left when our stomachs started growling.

So, if you decide to go to the hot river, remember to bring lots of water and food (buy it from the “Bonus” grocery store) because otherwise you’ll be at least 45 mins away from a restaurant.

Just remember to responsibly take any trash with you afterwards to keep it beautiful for the locals and your fellow travellers.

So that’s it for our main course. Of all the places we visited in Iceland, I loved the Reykjadalur Valley the most because not only was it convenient to get to, it had so much variety (from hiking, to photo-ops, to different temperature pools in the hot river, to mountains, to ravines) you never get bored. And there’s nothing better than being rewarded with mother nature’s hot tub after a long, rewarding climb.

As satisfying as the main course was, I didn’t know that dessert was going to blow me away even more.

Which is coming up in my next post about the crème-de-la crème of Iceland:

The Glacial Lagoon (Jökulsárlón).

To give you an idea of how much we spent in Iceland, it ended up costing us around $1600 CAD or $1230 USD for the 2 of us for 6 days, or $205 USD/couple per day.

I’ll tally everything up and break down the costs for you in my upcoming final post.

What do you think about the Blue Lagoon? Have you gone before? And if you haven’t would you go?

 



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30 thoughts on “Let’s Go Exploring! Iceland: Fire and Ice and Surprisingly Nice Part 2”

  1. Natural hot springs are absolutely fantastic! We attended a fancy destination wedding in southern Wyoming a few years ago and the little town where we stayed was riddled with ’em — absolute bliss. How did you get tipped off to Reykjadalur?

    1. Nice! Good to know if I’m ever in Wyoming.

      As for Reykjadalur, I basically just googled “hot springs near Reykjavik” and then dug around until I found a travel blogger talking about it. It’s not super easy to find but glad I came across it.

  2. Awesome! Definitely on our list. I’m currently looking into how we can take advantage of the hot springs here in Taiwan. I hope they are as nice as those.

    1. Ooh Taiwan! That’s definitely on our list. My mom recently got back from there and she loved it (and she hates most things, so that says a lot :P) I didn’t know there was hot springs in Taiwan though–I was just going to go there for the fabulous food and night markets. Where are the hot springs?

    1. The good news is that even though Iceland is expensive, there are a lot of free outdoorsy things to do. So I’d imagine if you were retired and living there, the cost per day would go down since it’s spread out over the long term.

  3. Power plant runoff eh? I love the raw honesty!

    You and I are in agreement too — hot springs are a great way to relax. Reminds me of all the onsen in Japan, but overall I think Iceland is a bit more expensive than Japan.

    Thanks for sharing your journey!

    1. Oh Iceland is definitely more expensive than Japan. Food and transportation costs especially. But they’re both great and different in their own unique ways.

  4. Reykjadalur sounds awesome! We want to make our way up to Iceland in the coming years, but now that we’re down in Mexico it’s an even longer flight to get there. As for a clarifying shampoo, baking soda and an apple cider vinegar rinse works wonders!

    1. Huh, I had no idea about baking soda and apple cider vinegar! Good to know, the next time I’m in need of clarifying shampoo.

  5. I like the Blue Lagoon but it was definitely expensive and I liked other parts of Iceland much more. Did you guys go to the Westfjords? So gorgeous and way fewer people. A huge highlight overall for me was snorkeling Silfra – the fissure between the two continents. One of my most memorable travel experiences ever!

    1. Didn’t get a chance to go to Westfjords but will probably do it the next time we visit.

      Yeah, I heard a lot of good reviews of snorkeling in Silfra–the only thing is I’m a wimp and can’t stand the freezing water. Looks like you’re a much braver Canuck than me 🙂

  6. Loved blue lagoon! My hair and skin were awesome afterwards, my hair is not coarse so maybe why? The silica was free in containers when I was there as a free facial 😊

    1. Do you have long hair? I find that people with short hair tend to be find, but people with long hair end up with lots of tangles. Glad it worked out for you!

  7. We were at the Blue Lagoon on a chilly morning last November when it was ~0 degrees C and had a good time! One of my fave funny memories was putting on the mud mask and then immediately regretting it because it made our faces absolutely freeze!!! I agree with the rough hair. I ended up conditioning the crap out of my hair afterwards to get it back to normal. Iceland has my heart! Glad you guys got to experience the amazingness of the island.

    1. Oh I didn’t know the mask would make your face freeze! We went in the summer so it was warm enough that it didn’t happen (though still chilly by my standards). I suspect the rough hair thing happens only to people with long hair. Wanderer and my friends with short hair didn’t seem to notice.

  8. Back in 2013 I cycle toured in Iceland with my now wife for 7 weeks (+7 more weeks in the UK). There are loads of magnificent free hotsprings all over the island. Some are even built up as swimming pools on the side of mountains/canyons. If you are interested I can share the locations privately (some I do not want to spray across the internet).

    P.S. Cycle touring and wildcamping are amazing ways to cut living costs and have amazing travel experiences. We avoid hotels/hostels/B&Bs like the plague and give preference to car camping/wildcamping and staying with contacts around the world. House sitting is also a great way to sometimes even get paid for accommodation.

    Our daily living expenses while cycle touring are generally between $15-$30 USD a day as a couple, depending on region and duration. The longer the tour, the cheaper our costs. Iceland & the UK tended towards $30+ USD a day, but I like pubs and Iceland included renting a car for two days at $200 USD a day. We were under $15 USD a day in Chile, trending towards $10 USD a day. Unfortunately we had to end our South America cycle tour after only one month (Harper out, Trudeau in, 19 month wait time to process immigration papers magically turned into 8 months, or, alternatively, 1 month after the election…). Our planned budget for a year of cycle touring in South America was $6000 USD for daily expenses with reserves for eventual return airfare, which we based on previous cycle touring expenses and my previous spending during 6 months in South America (Peru-Bolivia-Chile-Argentina-Chile-Argentina).

    That cost does not include air travel or buying touring bikes. Those are highly variable one time(ish) costs dependent on personal preference.

    It does include high quality groceries (3 L boxed wine, fresh meat/veggies/fruit/seafood), eating out (5%-20% of meals depending on region), occasional paid accommodations (5%-30% of nights depending on region), land transportation costs with bikes, bicycle maintenance, local SIM card for phone with loads of data, inReach satellite communicator in remote regions, and some fun (frugal) shopping at local Bazaars.

    The Iceland & the UK can eat money very quickly if you are travelling conventionally. I saw a New York cyclist pay $800 USD to sleep in a storage room/staff quarters of a hotel in the East Fjords once, while we were camping for free beside the ocean near a hotspring 4 km out of town. Guess he was tired of 40-120 km/h winds, daily rain/snow and aggressive breeding seabirds…..

    Say, you should write up a profile of living costs for different travel/lifestyles. How much to live (& work) in Toronto, how much to live in Istanbul, how much to travel in style in Iceland, how much to live like a couple of dirtbag cycle tourists in South America, etc. 😉

    1. Nice work cutting costs with the camping and cycling! Great for staying fit too. I’m too pampered and need my internet and indoor heating, but the next time we go back, we could probably try the camper van option or camping option.

      Did you bring equipment with you on the flight? Or rent it when you get to your destination?

      And yes, I agree, different lifestyle and costs would be interesting to write about. Thanks for the suggestion. Will have to pick your brain about the camping lifestyle if I do end up doing that.

      1. Good on you Jesse for all the cycle tours!! If you’re looking to camp in Iceland, bring your own camping gear (spend money on quality gear!), rent a camper van (if you’re saying above that you’re pampered) or rent a car and camp outside. TONS of free camping spots if you circle around ring road in Iceland. Pretty much anywhere outside of a town. We were budgeting $20/night for a campsite but after circling the country the actual aamount spent on accommodations was $0.

      2. We brought all of our own equipment, though I had gear stashed on four continents and a couple islands for awhile, most of which has now been repatriated to Canada.

        Renting is a great way to try it out for short trips (a few days or weeks).

        Buying your own gear is cheaper for long term touring. The more time you have to prepare, the cheaper it is as you can borrow/steal from friends, buy secondhand or find major discounts on last years gear. Plus you have more time to play around with that gear to figure out what you actually need to carry and how to use it properly.

        If suffering is not your thing, choose your destinations to match. We bailed from Iceland because atrocious weather (I personally love suffering!) and headed to the UK because they were having an amazing summer. The UK is the most pleasant and civilized place I have cycle toured to date. Wildcamping, even in cities, was surprisingly easy and pleasant, plus people seem to love inviting you to pitch a tent in their yard and give you food and beer (a mostly global phenomenon while cycle touring…). Wildcamping in Iceland or anywhere in Scandinavia is a bit more of a challenge. They have right to roam laws, but the Scandinavian interpretation of those laws is seemingly opaque to foreigners and the locals are a bit abrasive about it. See Red Bull’s “Halo Effect”, a movie about a kayaking expedition in Iceland, to see how Icelanders treat foreigners interpretation of right to roam.

        (https://www.redbull.com/int-en/tv/video/AP-1M1HX3WS52111/halo-effect)

        We ran into that issue a couple of times.

        Burly Viking “You cannot camp here, it is private farm land”,

        Skinny Cycle Tourist “What about right to roam? There are no crops/animals/buildings here, just a glacier puking over volcanic rock”

        Burly Viking summons his Mjölnir and lightning……

        Most airlines a fairly accommodating for sports equipment these days, though it used to be a pain in the butt and expensive. Buying gear locally avoid the airfare for your bike/gear can be a major pain and time consuming, and often not really saving you money. But you can Math-That-Shit-Up as it does work sometimes 🙂

        For Iceland I tried to find used bicycles that could be used for touring while staying in Romania, but the selection of used bikes where expensive, totally the wrong size and either ancient rusty tetanus factories or off the shelf mountain bikes that were totally inappropriate for carrying lots of weight. Ended up buying new touring bikes in the UK en route to Iceland. Sooo very stupidly expensive (DAMN YOU VAT TAX AND IMPORT TARIFFS!). Outdoor gear is/was cheaper in North America, though the last two years has given me sticker shock and I pretty much stick to used/last years gear now. I have been acquiring a collection of tour worthy bicycles in Canada for $0-$100 CAD a bike. God bless Alberta throw-away consumerism 😀

        Pro-Tip: North America, and especially wealthy parts like Alberta (Calgary!), are amazing places to pick up used gear cheap before embarking on long trips. I found so many poorer regions charge significantly more for used goods, like my $250 USD bicycle in Argentina that would have been $0-$30 CAD in Alberta. In fact, a tradition of many foreign climbers/adventurers to Argentina is to bring brand new gear, bash the living crap out of it for 3-6 months on expedition and then sell it to locals for more than they paid for it because of Argentina’s crazy import restrictions. Many outdoor shops smuggle all of the product they need for the year at remote border crossings in the Andes (circa 2012/2013).

        Tom Allen (very experienced, made his own documentary “Janapar: Love on a bike”) managed to cycle from Land’s End to Edinburgh on an insane budget (£0.25), with a used bike and gear that cost £25.17.

        (https://tomsbiketrip.com/how-to-go-cycle-touring-for-the-price-of-a-round-of-drinks-part-1/)

        There are a few good books about cycle touring out there. I highly recommend “Land of Lost Borders” by Kate Harris. Alastair Humphreys books on cycle touring are also a good (solo male) perspective.

        Here is a good resource for solo female riders:

        (http://www.skalatitude.com/p/wow-women-on-wheels.html)

        Cycle touring is the ultimate Geographic Arbitrage 😀

  9. We loved the Blue Lagoon. We have been a couple of times and went before it became super popular. However, I still love it because the mud in the water does wonders for your skin and even though it is expensive we had a a great time!! We would live in Iceland if we could.

    1. I think it’s getting more and more popular overtime. Eventually it’s just going to be all people and very little lagoon. Glad you guys got the chance to go when it wasn’t as crowded!

  10. We purposely avoided the one tourist trap (Blue Lagoon) while we were in Iceland for 3 weeks knowing that there were so many other beautiful, natural, free places to explore and discover and so glad we did skip it. Everyone we know who has gone has had the same reaction as you – cool but crowded and expensive. (PS they also sell cans of “pure Icelandic air” for $10 so I guess there are two tourist traps ha.) There are SO many beautiful spots to hit up, including so many free hidden hot springs and Sundlaugs in small towns (which cost $3-4 USD and it’s the same idea as the Blue Lagoon – it’s fresh thermal runoff so you need to shower nakey before entering – just smaller, not as spa like, and more relaxing). Looking forward to the next post though Jokulsarlon Lagoon was my oneof my favourite spots too 🙂 I put a link to my blog post on how we managed to only spend $46/person/day on a 25 day trip in Iceland and Norway (I think you click on my name to view it?)

  11. We enjoyed our visit to Iceland and the Blue Lagoon. Our entrance fee was part of our transportation from our hotel to the airport and don’t recall the price. A visit to the hot waters before a late afternoon flight to Toronto was perfect. Other highlights include the waterfalls, geysers and the black sand beaches of Vik including the basalt formations like the Giant’s causeway in Northern Ireland.

    Go, explore and enjoy.

  12. That looks like ice cold water they’re swimming in like the Russian polar bears do at Coney Island every year. Is that water ice cold or is it heated?

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