Jokulsarlon, literally meaning glacial river lagoon, is a majestic glacial lake by the head of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, situated in the southeast part of Iceland, nicely tucked in the 13,900 km² large Vatnajökull National Park.
In the 1920’s, ice around the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier started to melt away, eventually forming a lagoon. The glacier continued to recede from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, and so the lagoon developed into a lake. As large blocks of thousand year old ice crumble from the Breiðamerkurjökull into the lagoon, the lake is continuously growing with each passing day. With a maximum depth of 260 metres, Jokulsarlon recently became the deepest of Iceland’s many lakes, and is estimated to be around 18 km2 in size.
The still, deep blue waters of this grand glacial lake is dotted with large chunks of ice and smaller icebergs. As the large blocks of ice drift towards the Atlantic sea, they land on the neighbouring volcanic beach, suitably named the Diamond Beach. Here you can find glistening ice chunks resting on the black rocks – a scene that makes for an impeccable photo opportunities. The icebergs take on various colours and an inumerable range of forms. Some are perceived to be white, bright blue or completely transparent.
Many seals congregate in large, noisy groups at the mouth of the lake, where they feed of the herring and capelan that drift in from the Atlantic Sea along with the tidal currents. If you are visiting during summertime, be caution of the piratical skuas – a large species of seagulls that are oftentimes viewed as “the hyenas of the Antarctic paraside”. They lay their speckled eggs in nests around the lake, and if they feel threatened, they can attack unaware tourists.
Jokulsarlon has a beloved place in popular culture, as its immense beauty has earned it features in numerous Hollywood blockbusters. It served as the setting in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, in which Angelina Jolie drove a vehicle straight into the lagoon (watch the scene here). In Batman Begins, the The Ninja Training scenes are filmed at Jokulsarlon (watch it here).
Jokulsarlon is located just along the ring road, and so is easily accessible by car. It is situated about 400 km from the capital Reykjavik, so you should be able to reach it within a five hour drive. Be aware of that car rentals in Iceland are relatively expensive (at least $150 per day) in comparison to the car rentals in the US. There are other transportation options available, such as day tours that make stops at the site. Unfortunately, Iceland’s public national transit system is not very developed, and many areas are poorly served by public buses (there is no rail based service at all). Most buses serve urban areas, but there are nationwide coach services that link together bigger towns.
Turn the journey into a road-trip, and you will witness several stunning sights along the way; including wondrous waterfalls such as Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, the black sand beach of Reynisfjara, and the glaciers in the distance.
If you wish to see more of the lagoon itself, tour operators offer boat tours, with boats leaving every 30-45 minutes. Hop on a vessel and take the chance to taste the 1000 year old ice. During the tour, you will be sailing amongst the grandiose icebergs, taking in the scenic views of this magnificent landscape. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a seal or two, as they gather at the mouth of the lake in search of fish.
Jökulsárlón at a Glance
|Best Time To Visit||Jokulsarlon tend to be most crowded during mid-day. The best time to visit the lagoon is in May-October, as there are more icebergs, and the best time to visit the Diamond Beach is in winter.|
|Get There||The ring road 1 provides easy access to Jokulsarlon. It’ is a 4 hour drive non-stop from Reykjavik. There are also arranged day-tours that will take you to the site. There are nationwide coach and bus services which link the major towns.|
|What To Do||Take in the sights, photograph, embark on a boat tour, visit the nearby Diamond Beach.|
|Photography Tips||Photograph during sunrise for impressive lightning (sunset tends to be more crowded). Bring a sturdy tripod with tripod spikes (otherwise you risk having your tripod sink into the sand). As icebergs constantly move, make sure to eliminate any motion blur by raising the shutter speed. Wear some tall, waterproof boots or waders so that you can stand in the frothing waves without getting wet.|
Have you ever been to Iceland? What was your favourite spot? If you haven’t been, would you ever consider visiting? Please feel free to let us know in the comments below!