We’ve been to both the Blue Lagoon and the Mývatn Nature Baths in Iceland. Both are fantastic and must visit attractions when in Iceland. But we also really wanted to take a relaxing bath in a natural geothermal spring; it just sounded so much more exotic! So we were really excited when we learned about Grjótagjá, a natural geothermal spring in a cave, from our guide on our Lake Mývatn tour with Saga Travel and couldn’t wait to return on our own.
Grjótagjá is a small lava cave and the thermal spring is inside. It was already dark when we arrived back at the cave. Tim put a headlamp on and we clambered down the snowy, icy entrance into the cave. A few of the rocks had snow on them, but mostly the steam kept the cave toasty warm. We quickly undressed and eased ourselves into the hot water. At 43°C or 109°F, it was easy to quickly forget that the wind was blowing and it was snowing outside.
After a few minutes of wondering if it was really a good idea to be inside a cave in a country with 130 volcanoes and New Year’s Eve predictions that a huge 2013 eruption is imminent when no one knew where we were, the steamy hot water did its job and eased my tensions away. Holding up our little head lamp, we took turns swimming off the ledge and exploring the cave a bit. It was actually quite large inside and we estimated that probably 100 people could fit comfortably inside.
After a while, the beam of headlights reflecting off the snowy entrance to the cave alerted us that we were about to have company. I thought for sure that we would have the cave to ourselves. But soon enough two Icelanders quickly descended into the cave and disrobed. It was immediately clear that they bathe at Grjótagjá regularly; their speed with getting down into the cave was impressive and they knew just were to wedge two torches into the cave ceiling. The routine seemed to be soak and chat, swim off behind your own rock, shampoo up, dunk to rinse, and then relax on the rocks.
Bathing in the cave dates back to the 18th century when the Icelandic outlaw Jón Markússon lived in the area and bathe there. Until the 1970s many Icelanders bathed at Grjótagjá, men in one cave and women in another. The Krafla eruptions from 1975 to 1984 caused the water in the cave to rise above 50°C. Water temperatures forced the “closing” of the cave. The water temperature did eventually return to a more suitable degree in the ’90s and bathing has resumed.
The locals like to keep Grjótagjá somewhat secret, though our guide encouraged us to give it a try since we were staying nearby at Vogafjós Guesthouse. But you won’t find a bath in Grjótagjá cave on any tour.
Know Before You Go
- It is a natural lava cave. You will need a headlamp, flashlight, or torch to illuminate the cave.
- Bring a towel to dry off.
- Icelanders bathe au naturel, so don’t be surprised if you have company in the cave.
Would you bath in a natural lava cave?