Unveil the Fascinating Vatnshellir Cave in Snaefellsnes

  • by Yanshu
  • Snaefellsnes
  • 26 Nov 2023

Discover the mysterious Vatnshellir Cave in Iceland's Snaefellsnes Peninsula, a captivating lava tube formed over 7,000 years ago. Join us as we delve deep into this underground marvel, exploring its geological formations and uncovering the secrets hidden within its ancient, volcanic depths.

Unveil the Fascinating Vatnshellir Cave in Snaefellsnes

Where is Vatnshellir Cave Located

Vatnshellir Cave is located in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, West Iceland, near the base of the famous Snæfellsjökull volcano. This fascinating lava tube cave is about 200 meters long and is situated within the Snæfellsjökull National Park, known for its stunning landscapes and geological wonders. 

The cave was formed by volcanic activity about 7,000 years ago and is now a popular destination for those interested in geology and Iceland’s natural beauty. Visitors typically access the cave through guided tours, which delve into its depths to explore its unique underground features.

How Was Vatnshellir Formed

Vatnshellir Cave offers you a remarkable glimpse into Iceland’s volcanic history, showcasing intricate lava formations sculpted over thousands of years. Through its subterranean beauty, the cave connects you with ancient eruptions that have shaped the island’s landscape.

A closer look at the detail inside the Vatnshellir Cave, Snaefellsnes.

Vatnshellir Cave’s Volcanic Origins

Vatnshellir Lava Cave was formed approximately 8,000 years ago during a powerful volcanic eruption within the Purkhólar crater family. As molten lava flowed from the crater, the surface cooled and solidified, while the liquid lava beneath continued to flow, creating a hollow structure known as a lava tube. Over time, the eruptions ceased, leaving behind the hidden marvel that you now explore as Vatnshellir.

  • Age: ~8,000 years old
  • Type: Lava tube
  • Associated Crater Family: Purkhólar

This natural phenomenon makes for a dramatic contrast with other lava caves in Iceland, such as Viðgelmir and Leiðarendi, which are considerably younger at one and two thousand years old, respectively. The understanding of the cave’s geology sheds light on the dynamic forces that continue to mold Iceland’s unique terrain.

Vatnshellir’s Appearance in Literature

Inspired by the otherworldly landscapes of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, where Vatnshellir is located, the cave has also captured the imagination of literature. It is notably referenced in Jules Verne’s classic science fiction novel, “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” In this literary context, the cave serves as a gateway to a subterranean world full of prehistoric creatures and fantastic adventures, fueling the aura of mystery that lava caves often carry within them.

Vatnshellir’s presence in literature highlights not just the physical journey one can undertake into the depths of the earth, but also the journey of the imagination that such unique geological features can inspire. This dual significance cements the cave’s status as both a natural wonder and a cultural landmark.

How to Get to Vatnshellir Cave

In this section, let’s cover the essentials of visiting and exploring Vatnshellir Cave, located in the heart of Snæfellsjökull National Park. From the structured guidance of the cave tours to the necessary preparations, I aim to help visitors ensure a safe and enlightening caving experience.

Getting inside of the Vatnshellir cave in Snaefellsnes.

Guided Cave Tours

Availability: The guided tours are offered year-round, providing an extraordinary journey into the depths of a lava river passage. Each cave tour is led by expert guides from the local tour operators, who are knowledgeable about the cave’s geology and history.

Experience: During the approximately 50-minute exploration, visitors will delve into the cave’s undirheimar or underworld, marveling at the natural lava formations and the interplay of colors.

Exploring Vatnshellir cave with a professional guide.

Accessibility and Facilities

Visitor Center: Before descending into Vatnshellir Cave, visitors can utilize the facilities at the nearby visitor center, including restrooms and a briefing area.

Entrance to the Cave: Access to the cave is made easier with constructed paths and staircases. However, the natural terrain within Vatnshellir Cave requires visitors to navigate uneven surfaces.

Visiting Vatnshellir Cave Safely

Equipment Provided: Safety is paramount, and as such, participants are provided with necessary equipment, including a helmet, headlamp, and gloves. It is mandatory for all visitors to wear this gear throughout the tour.

Conditions Inside the Cave: The environment inside Vatnshellir Cave is naturally cold and dark. Our guides are trained to navigate these conditions and to assist visitors in doing the same safely.

Get Ready For Your Vatnshellir Cave Exploration

What to Wear: I advise wearing warm clothing and sturdy hiking shoes to navigate the rocky surfaces safely.

What to Bring: It’s recommended to have your own flashlight as a backup light source. Though visibility is maintained with headlamps, an extra flashlight can enhance the experience.

Nearby Landmarks and Attractions

When you explore Vatnshellir Cave, you will find yourself surrounded by an array of magnificent sites. The Snæfellsnes Peninsula serves as a backdrop to an adventure that goes beyond the cave’s depths.

Natural Landmarks

The striking Snæfellsjökull Glacier, a towering ice cap, is visible from the cave and is one of the most iconic sites in the region. The Lóndrangar Cliffs are another breathtaking feature, consisting of volcanic basalt that pierces the skyline, testifying to the area’s volcanic history. Additionally, the Purkhólahraun Lava Field stretches nearby, its stark, rugged beauty a testament to the forces of nature that have shaped this landscape. Within the cave itself, the intricate formations of stalactites and stalagmites in various chambers captivate visitors with their delicate beauty.

Londrangar cliffs, Snaefellsnes. [Photo credit to Danni Arndt]

Nearby Attractions

You will discover that Hellnar, an ancient fishing village, is not far from Vatnshellir Cave and offers a glimpse into Iceland’s maritime heritage. Close to Hellnar, the Malarrif white lighthouse stands as a sentinel, guiding vessels along the treacherous Icelandic shores. For those interested in Iceland’s folklore, a visit to Bárðarstofa, a place linked to the saga of Bárður Snæfellsás, the guardian spirit of Snæfellsjökull, is insightful.

Malarrif white lights on Snaefellsnes Peninsula. [Photo credit to Yanshu Li]

Adventures Beyond the Cave

Further to the east, you will arrive at Arnarstapi fishing village, a place with splendid coastal views, where you will find sea cliffs, a natural stone arch, and more wonderful features.

Just a short journey from the cave, Djúpalónssandur Beach gives you a place to ponder the raw power of the Atlantic with its dramatic pebble beach and historic lifting stones. The entire Snæfellsnes Peninsula is laced with trails perfect for hiking enthusiasts looking to experience the grandeur of Iceland’s natural world.

[Photo credit to Danni Arndt]
The iconic house in Arnarstapi fishing village, Snaefellsnes. [Photo credit to Danni Arndt]

Explorers can venture further into other lava tubes in the peninsula, offering a look into the subterranean grandeur of Iceland’s volcanic legacy.

About the author
A journalist and photographer, Yanshu is driven by a deep passion for Iceland. She's on a mission to share her love for authentic travel experiences and exciting adventures with fellow explorers. Armed with her camera, she sets off on hikes, delving into Iceland's intricacies while mastering the art of Icelandic language whenever possible.

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