Katla Ice Cave – Ultimate Guide

A man exploring an ice cave in Iceland

Located on the south coast of Iceland, next to an active volcano, Katla ice cave is a huge and ancient natural-carved wonder. You won’t want to miss the chance to check it out on your trip to Iceland.

Book an Iceland ice cave package to explore it and see the country’s glaciers, mountains, and volcanoes up close.

Or, if you’re touring around the south of Iceland, set aside a day for exploring the ice cave by the Katla volcano. You won’t regret taking the time to wander inside this frozen spectacle!

Below you’ll find local tips and answers to frequently asked questions to plan your visit.

Where is the Katla ice cave located?

You can best access Katla from the Icelandic town of Vík, which is a 2.5-hour’s drive from the capital Reykjavík, or 187 km (116 mi). You can hire a car as part of a winter self-drive tour, or guided trips are available.

Many ice caving tours have their meeting point in Vík, ready to take you onward to the glacier and the volcano. From Vík, you can explore other sights of South Iceland, such as the famous ‘Diamond Beach’, a black sand beach dotted with icebergs.

inside-ice-cave-iceland.jpg.webp

Katla is actually the name of the volcano under the Kötlujökull glacier, where the Katla ice cave is located. Kötlujökull is an offshoot of the larger Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which is Iceland’s 4th largest glacier. 

The ice cave is underground and requires a hike and descent into it, but with a good glacier guide, you’ll have no problem exploring.

Is the Katla ice cave natural?

The Katla ice cave is a completely natural structure, despite its otherworldly appearance. 

Approaching the Kötlujökull glacier, you’ll notice the ice is black due to layers of volcanic ash. Once you enter the Katla ice cave, you can see the black ash encased in ice from hundreds of years of eruptions.

As you move through the ice cave, you can see the older blue ice layers, along with trapped air bubbles. The volcanic ash helps to date the glacier as well as create the amazing black ice striped with layers of sediment. 

The formations in the caves have long been called ‘dragon glass’. The black ash ice looks very much like the black stone obsidian, so you can see the resemblance and how the ice formations got their nickname. 

Some steps have been carved into the glacier ice to help tour groups access it more easily and safely. Apart from that, the ice cave is completely natural. 

Is the Katla volcano active? 

Katla, the volcano which is covered by the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, is indeed an active volcano. However, there’s no need to worry about this on an ice cave tour.

It last erupted in 1918, and since the year 920 AD, only 20 eruptions have been recorded. It’s very safe for day tours to attend with an experienced glacier guide on hand.

glacier in the mist with blurry reflection in the water

How long do I need for the Katla ice cave tour?

A typical ice cave tour here takes around 3 hours. You need to take into consideration time for the following:

  • Driving from the meeting point in Vík to the drop-off point (typically around 45 minutes)
  • Equipping yourself with the right gear (hiking boots and glacier crampons, additional layers of warm clothing, torches)
  • A short hike across the glacier and up to the entrance of the ice cave
  • Time to explore the ice cave!

Inside, you can explore the oldest part of the ice cave, which is the clear blue ice, as well as the dragon glass caves and tunnels. Some glacier tours offer the chance to sample the Icelandic national spirit brennivín with ice from the cave itself. 

Surrounding the Katla ice cave are other smaller ice caves in the glacier. You might be able to explore these if it’s the right season and the guides can advise if they are safe.

If you want to visit the Katla ice cave from Reykjavík, you’ll need to allow additional travel time of around 2.5 to 3 hours. 

Person exploring glacier ice cave in Iceland

Can I go to Katla ice cave alone?

It is not recommended that you go to the Katla ice cave alone. There are many changing factors including:

  • Stability of the ice
  • Temperature
  • Weather
  • Daylight available
  • Volcanic activity

Only experienced glacier guides will be able to know the safety of the cave on a day-to-day basis.

You also need to be properly equipped with caving equipment and a suitable vehicle to reach the cave. Proper hiking shoes, waterproof and warm clothing, crampons, and more are all needed to explore safely and comfortably.

There are many guided tours of the glacier and ice cave available, so you’ll be sure to find one that suits the level of adventure you’re after. 

Can you drive to Katla ice cave?

Driving to Katla ice cave is only safe in a special all-terrain 4×4 vehicle. These super jeeps are equipped with rugged tires and tough suspension and can be driven over sand, ice, and rock. 

Super jeeps are not typically available for private rental and are used by licensed tour guides.

When booking a day tour to Katla with a glacier guide, you will usually be collected from a meeting point in a super jeep. The drive to Katla takes around 45 minutes and crosses sandy volcanic ash plains, as well as wet and icy conditions. 

Normal rental cars are not designed to handle this kind of terrain. We highly recommend always choosing an ice caving tour to explore Katla safely with the expertise of local guides. 

If you are vacationing in Iceland as part of a self-drive tour or private guided tour, you could stop in Vík. This is the most common meeting point for ice cave tours. You can leave your rental car at the hotel and hop into a super jeep for the day.

The edge of the Vatnajökull glacier

When is the best time to visit Katla?

You can visit Katla anytime throughout the year. That said, because it is an ice cave, you’re best off visiting in the winter. This way your guides will be able to show you the magic of Iceland at this time of year! 

You’ll also be able to explore more of the cave if you visit between October and March. You could also have the chance to see other natural ice caves that only form in the colder season. Guides will be able to advise on which caves are best to visit.

Is the Katla ice cave worth it?

Exploring the glacier tunnels of Katla ice cave is an incredible experience. You’ll be able to see the ice sparkling and glittering and spot ancient ask trapped in. From the black dragon glass to the ancient blue ice, the glacier is full of wonders.

You’re sure to have a memorable experience standing in the heart of the Kötlujökull glacier, on top of an active volcano. A glacier hike through the cave gives you the chance to get up close and personal with the forces of nature that shape and define Iceland. 

Even the drive over in the super jeep gives you amazing views of the volcanic landscape that surrounds the glacier!

If you want an adventure and are keen to try something a little challenging and different, the Katla ice cave is definitely worth it. Book your trip with Iceland Tours today with as little as a 5% deposit.

ITo Author Bio Camila Transparent BG.png

About the author

Camila first travelled to Iceland in 2018 and it didn’t take long for her to fall in love with its culture, food and scenery. Throughout her life, she’s had the pleasure to live in different cultures and languages and absorb as much as possible from all her travels. You’re most likely to find her reading a good book in a local café or writing about the best spots to visit for top travel agencies.

View more posts by Camila

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