Glacier Lagoon Zodiac Boat Tour: Jökulsárlón, Iceland

by joeheg

During our trip to Iceland, we didn’t make any advance plans for activities. We had a general idea of what we wanted to visit each day and specific times that places were open, but the only set time was when we had to be at our hotels for dinner at the end of the day.

Having an open schedule meant we could spend as much, or as little time at each location as we wanted. The one downside was that we had the chance of missing out on something we wanted to do if it was booked up.

We wanted to try one activity because so many people recommended it to us. This was the zodiac boat tour on the glacier lagoon. We knew where the boats left from and it was on the way to our hotel. We arrived at the parking lot later than I intended because we spent more time than planned walking to a waterfall earlier in the day. I wasn’t sure if we’d make it in time to get on the boats but it was worth a try.

We pulled up the parking lot and I realized that I didn’t even look up who does the tours. There were several trailers around the lot so I did a quick check on TripAdvisor and found that the Glacier Lagoon boats got good marks from guests. They offer both a larger amphibian boat and the smaller zodiac boats that get right up to the glacier.

We opted for the zodiac tour which still had space on a tour leaving in less than 1 hour. The cost of the tour was 10,500 ISK which was about $85. It’s also a good idea to have some money put away to tip the captain and crew at the end of the trip.

We headed to check out the nearby Diamond Beach. While there, the weather took a turn. What had been a sunny afternoon quickly turned rainy and windy (Note from Sharon: Welcome to Iceland!).

By the time we headed to the trailer to put on our floatation suits and life jackets, a mist had settled in over the lagoon. We did have some trouble finding flotation suits that fit correctly. I either had one that was about 1/2 inch too short or 3 inches too tall. That’s nothing compared to the back and forth trying to find one that would fit Sharon correctly (Note from Sharon: I’m the height of a 9-year-old but have “middle age spread.” After the third try, we got a Medium suit to fit me. But since size Medium is usually for people who are at least foot taller than me, well, I looked sort of liked Randy in “A Christmas Story,” when he has his winter coat on).

a person in a rain suit standing on a deck

I can’t put my arms down!!!

The crew was amazingly nice and spent as much time as needed getting us ready.

After we were all outfitted and had our safety briefing, it was a bit of a walk down a gravel road to the boats. The walk felt longer when wearing a heavy suit.

a group of people on a dirt road

Our group was split into two and we boarded the small inflatable boats, where we all were given spaces to sit along the sides.

a group of people on a dock

Our captain then pulled out into the lagoon and hit the throttle. These little boats go fast. The misty rain combined with the wind and speed of the boat meant that looking forward felt like getting hit in the face by a hose full of ice water.

After what felt like a long time, we started to see larger icebergs in the lagoon.

a person in a yellow jacket looking at an iceberg in the water

We stayed in the area and were told about how the ice blocks fall from the glacier and float in the lagoon for a while before eventually reaching the end where they are carried out to sea by the current.

Everyone on the boat got their fill of pictures and we were off again. This time we were going to the glacier.

a large icebergs in the water

I wasn’t prepared for was how massive it is. The glacier front looks like a huge cliff of ice that spreads your entire field of vision. We didn’t get too close because parts break off all the time and it’s not safe being in a little boat with a huge wave approaching.

The captain took pictures of everyone onboard, positioning the boat for each group to have a nice background. Sharon and I looked like two frozen and drowned rats by this point so our picture will only be for us to see.

Personally, I liked the times when the boat stopped because it gave me time to get the feeling back into my fingers. Eventually, we started up again and began our trip back to the dock.

On the way, we headed towards a series of boulders in the lagoon.

an inflatable raft in the water with icebergs in the background

The reason for our stop was because the rocks recently became a resting spot for a group of seals. While we couldn’t get close to the glacier, we could get close to them. They didn’t seem to mind we were there.

a seal in the water

On the way back, we did pass some other large ice pieces. This particular one was blue but also contained a bunch of sediment from moving along the ground for centuries.

icebergs in the water

We asked why some of them have a blue color and were told that the ice that’s compressed for years reflects light differently.

The more scientific reason is:

Blue icebergs develop from older, deep glaciers which have undergone tremendous pressure experienced for hundreds of years. … When long wavelength light (i.e. red) from the sun hits the iceberg, it is absorbed, rather than reflected. The light transmitted or refracted through the ice returns as blue or blue-green.

The blue color only lasts for a while and when the ice starts to melt it turns white or clear. We were told that the blue icebergs recently have flipped (a usual occurrence when the melting makes the balance unstable.)

We didn’t stop as much on the way back, which was fine for us. We wanted to get back to land and into the car where we could turn on the heat and dry off.

Final Thoughts

We probably wouldn’t have booked the tour if we had known the weather would take such a sudden turn for the worse. That’s not the operator’s fault, and Icelandic weather is unpredictable. We would have had the same problem if we booked the tour in advance.

However, being cold and miserable for most of the trip did take away some of the fun. The icebergs were amazing to look at up close and getting as close as we did to the glacier shows just how big they are. I just feel that we could have had a much better time if the elements had cooperated a bit more.

If you’re not into holding onto an inflatable boat for your life while your hands feel like they’re going to freeze, the amphibian boat may be a better option. You don’t get as close to the glacier but you do get to see the icebergs floating in the lagoon.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

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