A little over a year ago, I went on a trip to Iceland that is among the most awe-inspiring adventures of my entire life. It’s not every day you get to see a volcano erupt—up close—and come away unscathed. Oh, and climb a glacier and view icebergs on a glittering beach a few days later. My four-day tour with Hidden Iceland guide Ryan Connolly not only left me (very) humbled by nature, but also gave me a greater appreciation of Iceland—its diverse topography, its spirited people, and how quickly the Earth can change, literally ripping apart and putting itself back together before our eyes.
When another volcano started erupting in Iceland last week, Ryan checked in with the latest details. In short: Yes, you can visit and view the lava, but the hike is steep and everything may change next week.
LDR: Is this the same eruption site as in 2021? If not, how far is it from there?
RC: This new eruption, starting on August 3, 2022, is coming from the same general site as the Geldingadalur volcanic eruption, also known as Fagradalsfjall [which erupted March–September 2021]. However, the big difference is that the lava is flowing from a new 300-meter fissure that opened up on the northeast side of the original craters in a valley called Meradalur. New craters are forming already and the flow of lava is quite massive. This suggests that the lava/magma is from the same magma chamber but is simply being released from a different spot.
The enchanting thing about this new fissure is that to get to it, you effectively need to follow along the edges of the cooled lava field from the 2021 eruption, passing the two main craters that were created last year.
This means that the hike to the new volcanic eruption is beautiful but also quite long in comparison to the 2021 eruption site. The hike to the new fissure is around 14 km/9 miles and has sections of rough terrain, loose rocks, and a few steep sections. I would estimate the hike (each way) is around 2 to 2.5 hours for the average traveler. The local authorities are working hard to make the paths more accessible and have even started putting in reflectors to show people the way. I have no doubt the path and infrastructure will improve as the days go on, but for now I would say that this hike is really only for avid hikers with a strong fitness level.
The 2021 eruption drew thousands of locals and international travelers as onlookers. Is there such a thing as a volcanic eruption that’s safe (or safer) to view?
No volcano will ever be truly safe to visit. After all, there’s lava up to 1,250 degrees Celsius spewing out of the ground in every direction. But is this volcano “safe to view”? With caution, the right guide, and by picking the safest viewing platform, I’d say it’s something travelers can enjoy as long as they listen to the professionals. Being a wilderness guide in Iceland, I’m quite biased when I say it’s definitely worth it—but I’ll let you decide. There will always be risks involved and that’s something each person individually must decide if it’s worth it for them.
The main reason I say that the volcano is manageable to visit is due to the type of eruption itself. The word “predictable” doesn’t get used very often when it comes to Icelandic volcanoes, and I refuse to attach that moniker here. With that said, this (and the last) eruption are what are called “effusive eruptions,” which means that the majority of the activity on the ground is lava flow, i.e., less explosive. As scary as lava is, it is a slightly more predictable and manageable substance (from a viewing standpoint) than “explosive eruptions,” which can fire debris high into the air over large distances.
Another major component of volcanoes is the dangerous gases that they emit. Each eruption is different from the last. The 2021 eruption had various harmful gases escaping. This meant you had to be careful where you viewed the lava. Tall hills are a great option, deep valleys less so. This eruption is no different.
What’s happening on the ground right now?
There is currently a warning out that a new fissure may open up near the current lava flow. So this new eruption may have some more surprises to share in the future.
At the time of writing, with the culmination of the new fissure currently releasing lava into the Meradalur valley and it being in close proximity to where the postulated “next fissure” will open up, it is not safe to get quite as close to the lava flow as we did in 2021. There are just too many variables to account for on a guided tour. This doesn’t mean you can’t still visit, though.
Thankfully, the current eruption is quite massive and the nearby hills that we take our guests to is a perfect spot to get one of the most breathtaking views of your entire life. As with the last eruption, the volcano changes and surprises us on an almost daily basis so each new visit brings with it new experiences and new viewpoints. My recommendation is to not wait too long to get over here to view it.
What’s the best (and most responsible) way to view the volcano?
Don’t go down into the Meradalur valley where you are exposed to gases and are very close to the lava flow. Staying with an experienced wilderness guide and consulting the local authorities (e.g., safetravel.is) should allow you to visit in a manageable way. Hidden Iceland guides are experienced in this terrain. On any given day, at least one Hidden Iceland guide at the site will be carrying a gas monitor, gas mask, satellite radio, and full wilderness rescue pack and have access to the most up-to-date information from the local authorities. Traveling with an dedicated local guide is the best way to safely view this natural wonder.
The best and safest route (at the time of writing) is to take Route A . . . from the main car park and follow the reflective markers along the edge of the cooled lava fields of the 2021 eruption. After 7 km (about 4.5 miles) and some steep hikes, you will be able to view the new fissure from up close. Please be aware that this might be the best route today but as early as next week, it could drastically change.
What tours is Hidden Iceland running?
Hidden Iceland is currently offering a private version of this volcanic eruption hike either as a day trip or as part of a multiday experience, where you will visit Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in the southeast and take part in glacier hikes. For anyone who is not an avid hiker with a good fitness level, we can also arrange helicopter flyovers with local partners, too. The last eruption lasted six months but there’s no guarantee this one will.
How far is the eruption from . . . everything else?
The car park to start your hike is only 20 minutes’ drive from the airport. It’s also only 50 minutes from Reykjavík and only 10 minutes from the famous Blue Lagoon in the local town of Grindavík. Since the volcano is erupting in the same general location as the 2021 eruption, a lot of the provisions are still there: e.g., car park, temporary toilets, and areas for the search and rescue team to base themselves. The main drawback is the length of the walk itself.