Favourite places: Jökulsárlón, Iceland

I’ve been fortunate to have traveled to some beautiful and interesting places on this planet, spending time photographing them in all their glory.

Icebergs on a summer's evening at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon,

One of my favourites is Jökulsárlón, in southeast Iceland. Jökulsárlón (literally ‘glacial river lagoon’ in Icelandic) is a huge lake of nearly 18 square kilometers, at the base of the Breiðamerkur glacier. Gradually, icebergs break off the tip of the glacier and float into the lagoon, collecting at its ocean’s end. The lagoon is connected to the Atlantic Ocean through a narrow canal, and at low-tide, when water exits the lagoon, icebergs are transported into the shallows of the Atlantic Ocean. There, pounded by waves, they are broken up further and distributed along the black lava beaches.

Stranded icebergs are pounded by waves at Jökulsárlón, Icelan

Stranded icebergs on the beach at Jökulsárlón, Iceland

The glacial lagoon with its icebergs is a very dynamic place. In summer, the lagoon is teeming with wildlife: you can spot seals, fish and when the sun is out, the skies are filled with bird song (watch out for your head though: in nesting season some birds tend to attack the highest points they can find!). The ice in the lagoon changes continously as icebergs shift position with the winds and the tide, and new icebergs arrive from the glacier’s edge. You never quite know what you’ll find, either on the lagoon’s shores, or on the beaches, as the ‘harvest’ of ice depends on the winds and the tide also. I have seen the beach filled with icebergs taller than myself, but there were also days (often rainy and windy) where I found no ice at all.

A bird rests on top of the icebergs at Jökulsárlón glacier la

Iceland’s notoriously unreliable weather (‘If you don’t like it, wait five minutes’), also plays a large part in how the lake looks from day to day. On some days, it’s all glorious blue skies and blue water, but I’ve also spend days waiting for just a tiny sliver of light in an endless expanse of greys and muted blues. In midsummer, when the sun slowly passes through the northern skies above the glacier, and the skies are opening up a little, the play between the muted reds and the icey blues and whites can be just magical.

Jökulsárlón, Iceland

I have visited Jökulsárlón on several occasions, often for days at a time, exploring its shores, the outlooks, the beach, the midnight sun. On every occasion, it has been worth my time, regardless of the hours spent waiting with hot chocolat in a car pounded by torrential rain.

Two birds on top of the icebergs at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoo

Jökulsárlón can easily be visited with your rental vehicle in Iceland; it is located on Iceland’s ringroad, and no four-wheel drive is required. It is quite far from Reykjavik, and I recommend taking 2 days to drive there, spending one night in Vik. There is no accommodation at Jökursarlon; you would either have to camp in the wild, sleep in your car, or spend the night near Skaftafell National Park or at the Hali Country Hotel.

You can see more of my favourite images of Jökulsárlón here. I hope you enjoy exploring them as much as I enjoyed taking them.

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