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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.
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.
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:
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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