I have a lot of passions, but natural spectacles have to be at the top of my list. More specifically, volcanos. So, when I saw a new eruption in Iceland that started on August 4, I had to go.
While the Fagradalsfjall volcano received much attention in 2021 for its first eruption in 815 years (which I also booked a trip to see), this summer’s activity was even more alluring as you could see into the crater where the lava was shooting up into the air. Yes, from a very close but safe distance, you could watch hot magma bubbling up in a way usually reserved for National Geographic’s scientific drones.
So, as a self-proclaimed lava hunter, I knew I had to see it for myself. And on August 12—-just eight days after news of the eruption—-I was on the edge of the hill peering into that bright orange cater. Want to do the same? Well, here are five things you should know before booking a trip to see Iceland’s new erupting volcano.
Hire A Private Guide
Getting a taxi or renting a car and driving to the volcano for a self-guided hike is possible. There were dozens of people doing it. Tour groups also advertise a guide taking you on the route. But, I think it’s best to hire a private guide for several reasons.
First, it’s essential to know that there have been numerous rescues since the volcano started erupting on August 4. That’s because the hike is a relatively treacherous nine-mile round-trip excursion that’s only partially marked. So, people have set out not knowing the physical demands, and some are tripping on miles of rocks you must walk over to reach the main viewing point.
Secondly, those cheaper group tours are filled with dozens of people with capability levels and only one guide to lead them all. When I was hiking back from the volcano, I saw a guide easily a mile ahead of several people from his tour. How would he have ever known something went wrong? How is that fun for the participants?
Lastly, using a specialized touring company- I went with Hidden Iceland, which only does private bespoke tours- ensures you will be safe (they have emergency radios and gas level monitors) and optimize your time. For instance, my guide Joe tracked the weather in the days leading up to it and suggested he pick me straight up from the airport at 7 am to capitalize on a clear weather window. It gave me the best experience knowing someone else was in charge. Then, all I had to do was hike and enjoy myself.
Have Proper Footwear
I was amazed by the shoe choice of many people on this hike. As I mentioned, it was a long, unpaved trek to reach the viewing area. The journey started with a steep ascent on loose dirt and was only followed by miles of walking over various-sized rocks. Some fellow hikers had sneakers and casual footwear, and my guide even said someone hurt themselves recently trying to do the hike in dress shoes. It’s important to invest in a pair of good hiking boots—-I have the Merrell Moab boots—-and socks to ensure ankle stability on the uneven terrain and protection from the elements.
As you can imagine, word has gotten out about this rare spectacle. So, hordes of people are now interested in doing the same thing I did. But that means many people will also be hiking on the same trail. So going as early as possible—-I was there before 8 am—-will help avoid those larger crowds that started to form on my hike back to the car. After all, the last thing you want is a bunch of selfie sticks blocking your view of lava spewing into the air.
But, with that said, visiting the volcano is also very weather dependent. It could be pouring and foggy in the morning, meaning it would be better to go later in the day. Luckily, it’s light out until around 10 pm in the summer. So, monitor the weather and go as soon as you have a clear window. That is unless you want to see the volcano at night, a time with much fewer people and potentially a brighter lava glow.
Buy Tickets For A Lagoon
Even if you’re physically fit and a regular hiker, you will at least be sore and tired from the hike. It can easily take six hours round trip, and the rocky terrain means those stabilizing muscles are firing for hours. Thankfully, Iceland is also known for its incredible hot springs like the Blue Lagoon and Sky Lagoon (the one I opted for). Both are within minutes of the volcano and are the perfect place to soothe your muscles after the long hike.
Book tickets if you can, as the spots fill up fast. But, make sure to leave some buffer time between when you think the hike will be done. That’s another good reason to start the trek early; that way, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have the late afternoon and evening to enjoy a soothing dip.
Pack Your Bag Wisely
This is not your average hike. Again, it’s long, barren, and filled with miles of extremely rocky terrain. That’s why you want the essentials on hand to make it as comfortable as possible but not too much because the weight can quickly become uncomfortable. So, what should you bring?
Since you’re likely to be out for about six hours, bring protein bars or some sandwiches for a bite to eat to maintain your energy. Of course, a large bottle of water is key for staying hydrated. Just be warned there are no hidden “bathroom” stops along the way. So, don’t drink too much.
Next, pack an additional coat and hat, and gloves if you don’t plan to wear them. The weather changes quickly at the volcano, and the winds can make the temperatures plummet. And, unless you’re a professional photographer, bring the lightest camera possible. You don’t want to load yourself up with heavy equipment while tackling the steep ascent and rocky trail. It will only leave you tired and with a sore back.