This story is part of our continuing series on the Magic of Iceland.
Turquoise-colored icebergs. Long stretches of black sand beach. Amphibious boats navigating the crowded waters of a lagoon that cozies up to Breidamerkurjokull, a tongue of the larger Vatnajokull glacier, where large chunks of ice fall into the water before eventually getting swept out to sea.
Nora and I could see much of Jokulsarlon’s elegant scenery as we drove eastbound on the Ring Road, the two-lane highway that hugs Iceland’s southeast coast. We had spent the afternoon at nearby Skaftafell National Park but our day was far from over. Visiting Jokulsarlon (translated to English as glacier lagoon) was next on our day’s bucket list, and after crossing the suspension bridge spanning the inlet that connects the lagoon to the North Atlantic Ocean’s rough and tumble waves, we turned onto a gravel road that took us to a logjam of icebergs huddled only steps from the Jokulsarlon welcome center.
We were ready to explore. The rain had returned after a mostly dry afternoon at Skaftafell, so after reassembling our rain gear, Nora and I were primed to dig into the glacier lagoon’s hidden secrets.
Jokulsarlon has grown in size and popularity over the years, but for different reasons. The abundance of icebergs at Jokulsarlon has helped it become one of Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions. But the growth of the lagoon is a direct result of Breidamerkurjokull being in decline; the glacier has receded in recent decades, resulting in more and more icebergs breaking off into the expanding lagoon. Today, Jokulsarlon is estimated to be as much as 820 feet deep.
Inside the welcome center, Nora was disappointed we had missed out on the final boat tour of the afternoon but I wasn’t as concerned. Most of the area surrounding the lagoon was accessible on foot. And both of us wanted to explore the black sand beach and experience the roar of the waves of the rambunctious North Atlantic.
While Nora was scouting for more information, I had slipped into the Jokulsarlon cafe — which had a fine selection of Icelandic beer. After a long day of hiking in Skaftafell, I needed one and I chose the Vatnajokull brand, made from the very waters of the glacier that supplies icebergs to Jokulsarlon. Talk about authentic! Virtually all the glacier tongues along the coastline in southeast Iceland branch out from massive Vatnajokull, but it was news to me the glacier also supplied a local brewery!
The peacefulness of the lagoon was palpable as Nora and I walked along the water’s edge. Despite the rain, people were out and about. Our walk along the lagoon produced one of my favorite photographs from our Icelandic odyssey, taken of a person sitting alone on the rocks overlooking the many icebergs in the vicinity. Even though the lagoon gave the appearance of a stationary portrait, it wasn’t. If you kept an eye on an iceberg long enough, you could detect the perpetual motion, slow as it was.
Nora and I were walking near the inlet connecting the lagoon to the ocean when we witnessed one of Jokulsarlon’s trademark events. Yes, an iceberg had broken free and was being swept out to sea! We marveled as it was greeted in transit by more than a dozen seabirds seemingly celebrating the occasion. Some of the birds landed on the berg as if they were trying to hitch a ride to the ocean!
Our tour of the black sand beach revealed numerous beached icebergs, as if the ocean had rejected them. Some were the size of cars, and many were in shapes that would awe a skilled ice sculptor!
As we got back on the Ring Road headed east toward our overnight accommodation at Hotel Smyrlabjorg near the town of Hofn, Nora and I agreed that part of Jokulsarlon’s magic was twofold. The calming stillness of the massive glacier complemented the lagoon hosting its icebergs. It was seemingly a world apart from the ocean’s angry waves that decided which icebergs it would accept and reject. Yet the lagoon and North Atlantic were separated by only a few hundred yards.
In our journey around Iceland, we witnessed many examples of nature’s extremes produced within a close vicinity. Our experience at Jokulsarlon was one of the most memorable.
Check out the entire Magic of Iceland series right here:
Part 1-Overview, Part 2-The Golden Circle, Part 3-Latrabjarg, Part 4-Midnight Sun Drive, Part 5-Westfjords and Isafjordur, Part 6-Fire and the Mountains, Part 7-Date Night at Hverfell, Part 8-Surreal Saturday, Part 9-Beyond Fire and Ice, Part 10–Taking the 939, Part 11-Lost in Skaftafell, Part 12-F208 Dilemma, Part 13-Volcanic Highlands, Part 14-Homestretch to Remember
More Magic of Iceland: 1. Jokulsarlon – Glacier Lagoon