Explore a dormant volcanic crater

Iceland is a geological hotspot and one of the most active volcanic regions in the world. Indeed, thousands of people are flocking to Iceland’s newest volcanic eruption at Geldingadalir with fountains of lava spewing metres into the air. For travellers interested in getting a deeper look inside a dormant volcano, Inside the Volcano is a can’t miss tour.

The unique volcano

The Þríhnúkagígur volcano is dormant. It last erupted more than 4,000 years ago. There are currently no indications of it erupting again in the near future. The volcano’s name can be directly translated as ‘three peaks crater’. The three craters (one of which you will be descending into) are prominent landmarks, standing against the sky, about 20km southeast of Reykjavík. It is famous for its enormous magma chamber that is so large that the Statue of Liberty could easily fit inside it and it is the only magma chamber in the world that can be entered. “It’s really beautiful inside the volcano with all the different colours and textures”, said Inside the Volcano’s Helga Frímann. “People can walk around the bottom of the crater and take photos or they can stay close to the guide and ask questions.”

How it started

The idea of making Þríhnúkagígur volcano accessible came from Árni B. Stefánsson, a doctor in Reykjavík and a lifelong cave enthusiast. He has studied caves in Iceland since 1954 and it’s easy to argue that nobody in Iceland has explored as many caves as Árni. Þríhnúkagígur has always been very special to Árni as he was the first to descend to its floor in 1974 and, like most people who experience it, he was awestruck by its beauty and uniqueness. The Inside the Volcano team made his vision become a reality.

The experience

The Inside the Volcano tour starts with a guided walk over a lava field that takes about 40-50 minutes. “We have one guide in the front leading the group and another guide in the back with those who want to go a little slower”, said Helga. “They will stop a few times if the weather is good and the guide will tell them about the area.” Once the group reaches the basecamp, another guide will lead guests to the open cable lift where they will descend 120 metres inside the volcano. After 6-7 minutes, guests will reach the bottom of the crater. Expert guides will be with you at all times, in the cable lift and on the ground in the magma chamber.

Family-friendly fun

The tour is a great option for families with kids that are aged 8 and older. “We welcome kids 8 and older that are able to hike 3.5 kilometres, each way, even in bad weather”, said Helga. “It is essential that they are dressed appropriately for the tour, with weatherproof outer layers.”

Enthusiastic staff

While touring the crater is the main event, the guides are passionate about sharing the experience and making sure guests enjoy themselves. “Of course, the volcano is incredible, and we try to make it as fantastic as possible”, said Helga. “We often have actors who work with us as guides and guests really like them, and our guides in general.” After visitors make their way back to basecamp after ascending the crater, they are offered traditional Icelandic meat soup (or a vegetarian version) and have some time to speak with guides and the other travellers. “People speak highly of the experience at basecamp and enjoy their time”, said Helga.

The logistics

The hike to the volcano requires a moderate fitness level as the hike’s level of difficulty is considered a 2 out of 5. Knowledge of hiking or climbing is not required and it is not a steep uphill walk. However, while the walk is relatively flat, the surface is uneven in places and the last 10 minutes of the hike are the most challenging, with an elevation of around 50 metres. A guide will be with you at all times during the walk.

Guests should be prepared for the walk with good hiking boots as the trail is rocky, and good outdoor clothing. The weather in the mountains can be different from the conditions in Reykjavík and warm, rainproof clothes are essential. Please note that the inside of the crater is about 3°C (37°F).

The dormant Þríhnúkagígur volcano is a unique natural phenomenon and the Inside the Volcano tour opens the door to a new world. Descending into the depths of a volcano is a once in a lifetime experience, as Iceland is the only place in the world where a tour like this exists. -JG