Blue Lagoon Options Demystified

One of the many walking paths around the Blue Lagoon, in areas where there is no swimming.

My husband is not a spa guy. But I dragged him along for a five-hour experience at the Retreat Spa at the Blue Lagoon. It is the last full day of our trip to Iceland, and I thought it would be fitting to unwind and relax. Turned out it was a good choice.

We are spending our last night in one of the Blue Lagoon’s two hotels.  The Retreat Hotel had a two-night minimum for the weekend (and it’s a Saturday), so we are at the sister property Silica Hotel. As I sit typing this, I have a full view of one of the Lagoon’s milky-blue tentacles against the black lava. It’s beautiful.

The view from our room.

Iceland’s most famous geothermal spa is not a natural site, but man-made in the 1980s with water supplied by the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power station; basically, it’s the wastewater by-product from the plant. Someone was a marketing genius. Open year-round, the Lagoon is located in a lava field about 45 minutes from Reykavik and about 20 from Keflavik airport. Its 100-degree warm waters welcome an average of 3,000 people a day in the public area.

The geothermal plant dominates the landscape near the Blue Lagoon.

The water is naturally renewed every 40 hours and due to its rich mineral content is reported to have restorative powers. It’s comfortable for adults to move around because the depth varies between waist and chest height. Both hotels have private lagoons and include entry to the world-famous Blue Lagoon. You don’t actually have to stay at one of the hotels to make a reservation at the Retreat Spa.

Staying at either hotel, or visiting the Spa, gets you direct access to the big lagoon, and each hotel has its own private lagoon as well. I think the private lagoon at the Silica Hotel is prettier, but both provide a much more private experience.  

The private lagoon at the Silica Hotel. In both hotels, you enter these private areas from an indoor pool.

The five-hour Retreat experience includes a private changing/shower room and three full body skin treatments you apply yourself with the guidance of the friendly, helpful staff: salt, silica, and algae. You can also spend time in the relaxation areas, which include a lava room with water features, hanging nest baskets, sauna, steam, cold plunge pool (no way), the private lagoon, and my favorite, the fire lounge. In this room, comfy seating and platform bedding are placed around a fire pit with, what else, lava rocks. No cell phones or photos are allowed in the Spa (sorry). During our visit on a Saturday in June, it was never too crowded, sometimes we were the only ones in an area. You enter the big public lagoon through a secret door that leads out of the spa from an indoor pool (note, you cannot access the public lagoon from within Silica).

The bar scene at the Blue Lagoon. The Lagoon is huge and meanders in many directions.

At first, I thought 5 hours might be too long, but it really does take that amount of time to get through the various stages, experience all the specialty areas, and see the lagoons. You start with a shower (which is why it’s nice to have a private area), and they recommend you put conditioner in your hair to protect it from drying out. You keep showering after every stage but are in your swimsuit after the first. Before you know it, it’s time to go, and you are well set up to shower privately a final time before leaving. Your changing room is equipped with a huge walk-in double shower, lots of towels, bathrobes, flip flops, dryer, flat iron, bath gel, shampoo, conditioner, and body lotions. Warning, the bag they give you for wet swimwear is not very thick – bring your own, I was glad I did.  

We enjoyed a really nice lunch in the spa restaurant, and there are ample opportunities and encouragement to stay hydrated. Everyone who goes into the Blue Lagoon is provided a towel and silica mud mask as well as a complimentary drink. The hotels have the same drink benefit, but you can choose to have your drink in the hotel bar, which is what we did. The Spa also offers various treatments, but we passed on those. Hotel and Spa guests are given plastic wristbands that serve as electronic room keys and access to all private areas.

There are two nice restaurants for dinner – Lava and Moss. Moss is the fancier, but Lava was lovely. You can access Lava from the Blue Lagoon or from the Retreat Hotel. The hotels can shuttle you between the locations, or you can take a long walk.

The Lava Restaurant.

Keep in mind, no matter your choice of visiting the Blue Lagoon directly, staying at a hotel, or going to the Spa, you should make advance reservations. In every case, you will have to take an au natural shower before you enter the water.

I can see why many, including those in their teens, 20s, and 30s, would prefer the more festive environment in the public portion of the Blue Lagoon. But for my money and relaxation, it was fun to experience it for a bit and then move back to a more private setting.

It was a lovely way to finish off two busy weeks in the land of fire and ice.

It was super breezy and I was trying to keep my hair out of my face to sign off from this series of posts. Soon, I will do a wrap-up with travel tips for Iceland and driving the Ring Road.

Iceland: Driving the South Coast

After a hard rain all night we woke up to a beautiful rainbow – but clouds and rain hung around for much of the day. Our drive along the south coast was a mixed bag – mostly rain – but occasional flashes of bright sunshine. Along the route, we managed to get to all our intended sights.

We stopped back by the Glacier Lagoon to see how the icebergs had moved. The sky was dark with the wind whipping, and we could see the bergs floating and the blue ice seemed brighter than ever. Seals and birds were active.

We drove through the 218 sq mile Eldhraun Lava Field, a result of an eruption in 1783-84 that wiped out crops, and half the region’s livestock, resulting in the starvation of 25% of the population. There were fields of lupine (now considered a harmful invasive species here) and beautiful Icelandic horses. We had a nice lunch in the southernmost town of Vik before heading out to Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, the last of my Game of Thrones sites on this trip. It was the site of Season 7’s Eastwatch-by-the-Sea.

Signs everywhere warn of danger, the “sneaker waves” can appear without warning and have claimed victims.  Most people heeded the warnings since it was a particularly nasty part of the day and the Atlantic looked fierce. The wind was so strong I thought it was going to blow the phone out of my hand. You could see the basalt columns, cave, and enough coastline to get the idea. We didn’t stay long.

Suddenly the weather was better and well timed for our visit to 180’ high Skogafoss Falls and the slightly taller 210’ Seljalandsfoss Falls. Seljalandfoss is famous because you can walk behind it. If you do, you get soaked and it’s slippery, not something I needed to do.  

We ended the day at the lovely Umi Hotel, sitting off by itself with a distant view of the sea. Here is a sample of a few more scenes along the way.

This post is late and out of order . . . I don’t even know where to start – we saw so much during a very long day spent driving around the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. They say you can see all of Iceland’s various typographies with a visit here, and while I can’t make that claim, I can say we had a real variety of experiences.

The landscape en route from Reykjavik was quite varied, and we experienced a misty intermittent rain.  Colors changed from brown to a soft yellow and you can see every shade of green painting the surrounding mountain slopes.

Water is everywhere, snow caps, the peaks, and fills the crevices. I can’t even begin to guess how many waterfalls there are. The two-lane road is outlined with yellow (snow) markers on both sides and provides a good visual, particularly when there is no other traffic.

Rauofeldsgja Gorge

We passed Borganes and continued to our first stop at Ytri-Tunga beach where seals are known to hang out. It was cold and windy. There were a few seals way off in the distance. Sightseers several decades younger than us were headed out on the slippery rocks to get a closer view. We stayed beach-side and just took in the whole scene. The skeletal remains of a whale (or very large seal) was laid out like a work of art.

I had to snap a pic at Budir of their famous black church. Nothing else is there except a hotel and the church – but it has become one of Iceland’s iconic visuals. We grabbed lunch at Arnarstapi and saw some basalt formations and nesting terns. The more hardy would hike along the coast towards Hollmar for even better views of the seaside rock formations.

Snaefellsjokull National Park is known for its imposing glacier, which dominates the entire center of the park. On this day the cloud-covered peak must’ve made tough conditions for the glacier hikers. At the entrance to the park, the Malarrif Lighthouse serves as a visitor Information Center with maps and displays. We did not plan to visit Vatnshellir Cave which goes 115’ slippery feet underground (only with a guide). It was enough for me to know it inspired Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth.”

The glacier-in-hiding.

Coming around the western tip of the peninsula we saw the tallest structure in Iceland, a communications tower key to offshore shipping and quaint fishing villages. All a lead-up to a highlight of the day, Kirkufell and Kirkjufellsfoss.

Kirkufell and Kirkjufellsfoss.

Kirkufell is the famous arrowhead-shaped mountain seen in almost every photo display of Iceland. It graces the cover of tour books and website home pages. One of the most famous shots shows the waterfall with the mountain in the background. My attempt is not quite as dramatic, but you get the idea, and may even recognize the pic. The mountain, with a cover of snow, is also famous for its starring role in The Game of Thrones. Although seen in season 6, it is center stage in season 7, when Jon Snow and his army are looking for the Army of the Dead north of The Wall. Since photos don’t do any of these sites justice, readers should watch (or re-watch) Game of Thrones to at least see the spectacular scenery.

Continuing east, the coastal drive was beautiful, with passage through the Berserkjahraum Lava Fields and a swing through the colorful Stykkisholmur fishing village before we headed to Husafell for some much-deserved sleep.

Ytri-Tunga beach

Iceland’s Jewels

We are now on the south coast of Iceland, the most visited and crowded portion of the island.

We are staying in a hotel outside the town of Hofn, where we can see two glacier tongues, grazing horses and blooming liriope set off against the dramatic mountain landscape.  It’s easy to want to just sit here and stare out the windows.

It was a glorious, sunny morning as we drove through beautiful green pastures with grazing horses and sheep, all post-card (or now I guess we say Instagram) perfect. It’s a breathtaking moment to come around a bend in the road and see the stunning sight of the glacial lake and floating icebergs.

But the Diamond Beach was calling. Just over the bridge from Jokulsarlon, the famous iceberg-filled glacial lake, a very short gravel road leads to a black beach on the Atlantic. Bits and pieces of the icebergs wash up here and after getting tossed in the surf, sparkle on the beach like diamonds. Of course, you need sun and ice to make this work and we hit it right this day. I’ve read that often in the summer no ice can be found on the beach. It was very windy and cold, but seeing the ice glinting along the shore warmed us up fast. Even the fine black sand was sparkly in the bright sunlight.

We returned to the Glacier Lagoon where we had a reservation for a Zodiac ride. Where do I start . . .  first of all, just getting hiking boots off in order to struggle into the waterproof jumpsuits you put on over your other clothing was exhausting – lol. And then, there were confusing and difficult life jackets to add. Seven other travelers joined us as we trudged on a rocky path about 1/3 of a mile to board. I drew the straw for the last seat in the back and we took off, fast. For the next hour I held on for dear life using all glute muscles and core control I had to not slip off (thanks, Mariana).

The burg had flipped over a couple of hours prior and in another few hours in the sun will be completely white.

I chose the Zodiac tour because it would get us close to the glacial wall and it did. We slowed down to see a small chunk calve and did get very close to lots of the icebergs and recently revealed islands hosting sleepy harbor seals. Our guide shared how fast the glacier was retreating during the five years he had worked there. He estimated in 40 years the glacier will be gone and a fjord in its place. Then we did the entire thing in reverse, holding on for our lives, walking back on the rocks, and getting out of all the gear. Whew.

In retrospect, the normal boat tour would’ve been just fine.

During our boat experience, the wind had picked up even stronger and clouds had begun to roll in. Even so, we did go check out the smaller glacial lake at Fjallsarion, which looked very silty and wasn’t very enticing at that point, probably due to the weather.

As we headed back to our hotel, across the brown, barren landscape that’s near the glacier and back across lush green fields, the sun began to shine again (for real). For dinner we headed into the tidy, modern-looking harbor town of Hofn, and enjoyed a fabulous dinner at Pakkhus, trying out the local specialty, langoustine (humar). Simply delicious.

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