“Please turn off your personal flashlight and then close your eyes”, our tour guide, Soffía, said before turning off her super-powered lamp. “Now, open and listen.” Total darkness surrounded me, blinded without an ounce of light. Drip, drip, drip. Only the echoes of water splashing on my shoulder could be heard while everyone stood in silence on the uneven floor. To be able to indulge in one’s senses without hurry or distraction is an unusual, but pleasant feeling these days. And that’s exactly what my friend and I were able to experience recently on our journey to the center of the earth.
On a rainy Monday morning, my friend and I made our way from Reykjavík to Snæfellsnes peninsula where we were to participate on a snowmobile excursion with Summit Adventure Guides. Unsurprisingly, I got a call saying the tour was canceled due to inclement weather, however, we were welcome to make our way over to the Vatnshellir Cave Tour, which runs rain or shine. We obliged and rerouted our handy GPS to the entrance of Snæfellsjökull National Park where we would meet our guide and descend into a deep, dark, lava tube!
Only a couple of kilometers into the park, we found a tiny gravel parking lot on the right hand side with a modest sign. My first impression was it didn’t look like much, with only the lot and a tiny wood shed. And the mood was mysterious as the mist from the rain floated just above the ground. We were right on time and hoped to make the 11am tour and ran into the shed to get some information. We met a nice gentleman who checked us in and passed along a couple of hard helmets, flashlights. Then we quickly joined the group where Soffía had just begun her introduction to “Undirheimar”, or “Underworld”.
Created 8000 years ago, Vatnshellir cave has become one of the most visited caves in Iceland. It’s no shock that Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth” romanticized Snæfellsnes, with various inspiration on the peninsula. His readers will be pleasantly surprised by a reference in the middle of the cave tour as well! Though Vatnshellir was previously closed for preservation and research purposes, Summit Guide Adventures eventually became the only tour company given permission to take small groups into the cave with expert guides to discover this easily accessible cave.
Soffía brought us to the cave entrance, a cylindrical metal structure with a cone-shaped roof (think silo). There, she pointed to the detailed map of the 200 meters of tunnel carved and decorated by the hot lava flowing millennia ago. We would be walking over jagged, natural lava floor through three separate areas, going all the way down to 35m, so safety procedures were important! A few things to take note of: don’t touch anything, respect the natural habitat, and watch where you step. Wear warm layers as it’s cold and wet all year round while closed toe shoes, preferably hiking boots, are recommended as well.
Rather than ruin the tour with a detailed account of what we experienced, I’ll summarize my time instead: The first thing everyone realized was how dark it was. In fact, we only saw whatever was directly in front of the flashlight. It was also chilly and a bit humid with all of the water and condensation. And as we toured through the cave, Soffía showed us various malachite and stalactite, all nicknamed after various pop culture references, which I loved and found entertaining!
Interestingly, we passed by an almost complete skeleton of an arctic fox which was said to have made it into the cave but sadly, couldn’t find it’s way out. As we walked into the second room, we were greeted with a wall covered in deep red spots of iron named the “chocolate wall”. And finally, looking high above the 10m tall ceilings, the bacteria making Vatnshellir home shone bright and twinkled like a sky full of stars. What a sight!
The 45 minutes flew by since it was already time to ascend to reality. Off we went and backtracked up the spiral staircase, past all the malachite and stalactites. We went up the shallow stairwell and finally the last few flights highlighted by the sunlight above ground. My friend and I snapped one final photo in front of “Undirheimar” entrance before shutting the door behind us.
And that’s a wrap! We sincerely enjoyed our descent into Vatnshellir Cave on Snæfellsnes peninsula with Summit Adventure Guides, learning about the lava formation as well as enjoying the fun stories along the way. Soffía did a great job not only offering us insightful detail but also free time as we were able to really spend time looking around with our little flashlights. If you’re ready to put on your helmet- and you’re not too claustrophobic! – Get excited for a fun exploration on your very own journey to the center of earth. This tour is recommended for anyone with a sense of adventure.
Happy caving and happy camping!
To read more about Lea’s Happy Camper Adventures in Iceland check out these articles:Snorkeling in Silfra with Scuba IcelandReykjavík’s Best Ice Cream Shops According to Happy CampersThe Real VikingSushi Adventure