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Descend into Vatnshellir Cave, an 8, 000-year-old Lava Tube in West Iceland

It’s not every day that you get to explore an 8, 000-year-old lava tube. Located within Snaefellsjokull National Park, the Vatnshellir Cave goes 35 metres below the Earth’s surface. The cave was created by a volcanic eruption of the nearby Purkholar crater. Lava tubes are formed when lava is emptied from a channel of molten lava that flowed from the crater or a fissure, creating a tunnel-shaped cube.

The cave isn’t open to the public but can be explored as part of a tour group. The tour company will also provide you with the necessary equipment, such as a helmet and headlight.

Here’s a rough cross-section of the cave, of which visitors are only permitted to explore a 200-metre long stretch.

You’d have to be relatively fit and unafraid of heights for this tour, as the journey consists of a series of winding metal staircases and bridges. It can also get a little chilly in the cave, so do remember to bring a jacket along.

You’ll mostly proceed in single file, only congregating as a group at larger spaces. At such moments, the guide will regale you with plenty of stories and point out interesting formations, such as stalactites that are thousands of years old!

Feast your eyes on unique lava formations that come in all shapes and sizes.

At the deepest point of the cave, our guide instructed us to turn off our headlights to experience the all-consuming darkness of the cave. Time seemed to come to a startling still as we were enveloped by sheer darkness and silence. After a few moments, our guide began to sing an Icelandic folk song in a deep lilting voice. The thought of that moment still sends shivers down my spine till this very day!

Vatnshellir Cave is also known as the ‘Water Cave’, as water was fetched in the cave for the cows at the nearby Malarrif. If you’d like, you can also have a taste of this pure cave water!

In Jules Verne’s 1864 novel, ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’, a professor Otto Lidenbrock, his nephew Alex, and their guide Hans descended into the Snaefellsjokull volcano. The trio had many adventures in the volcano, eventually surfacing again at Stromboli in Italy. 

The cave pays tribute to this piece of science fiction by displaying an arrow showing the number of miles to Stromboli – 3, 597 miles in total! – which was a really cute touch.

The cave is located within Snaefellsjokull National Park in West Iceland, which is home to the iconic Snaefellsjokull glacier. The cave can then be entered through this inconspicuous opening in the rock.

Read: A 2-Day West Iceland Itinerary

A Vatnshellir Cave tour lasts for 45 minutes and costs approximately ISK3, 750 (~SGD36).

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