Blue Lagoon. It’s the great white (blue?) whale of all aspiring travel influencers who descent on Iceland. Located out on the Reykjanes Peninsula between Reykjavik and Keflavik, the Blue Lagoon is in a favorable position to catch everyone from casuals who are spending a couple of days in Iceland to hardcore travelers who stop there at the end of several weeks on the Ring Road. In a land filled with natural wonders, Blue Lagoon is one of those funny things – a manmade accident. A nearby geothermal plant was built in 1976. The plant pumped water from far underground to heat the area’s actual water, and then the hot wastewater was dumped into a lava field where it wouldn’t bother anyone. Well, soon locals were swimming in the hot, milky blue water that was rich in silica, and when a psoriasis patient discovered that this wastewater actually relieved his symptoms, Blue Lagoon was born.
Nowadays, Blue Lagoon is among the swankiest of the world’s geothermal spas. There’s a huge facility and a hotel and a sauna and massage services and a huge profit to be made from the operation. Elizabeth and I make a rough-and-ready set of vacationers – give us a car and send us to a lonely corner of Snafellsnes, and we’ll be happy. But for goodness sakes, it was our honeymoon. There was no way we could not go to Blue Lagoon.
As it was, Elizabeth and I visited on the day we drove from Vik to Reykjavik – our second-to-last full day in Iceland. This was not a short drive – the lagoon sits a little under 3 hours away. The day was gloomy and a light rain occasionally fell, giving the drive more of an authentically Icelandic feel. We had a hotel breakfast at Hotel Vik before checking out, and then stopped along the way for a more substantial snack/meal since you can really only do an Icelandic hotel breakfast several days in a row. This breakfast from the Almar Bakari in Selfoss consisted of a latte for Elizabeth, and giant (and cheap!) fresh pastries. All served on Ikea trays and with Ikea dishware, of course.
Interestingly, the route to Blue Lagoon took us past an erupting volcano on the Reykjanes Peninsula – and when I say past, I mean “you could see the parking lot” where tourists were milling about”. However, what you couldn’t see was the volcano – both because of the low cloud deck, and because it was like a 12-mile round trip hike to get to the volcano. It had been the talk of the island everywhere you went – “Did you see the volcano? Did you see the volcano?” Elizabeth and I had talked half-heartedly about hiking out to see it, but the views seemed pretty underwhelming, and we had a full itinerary, and, though neither one of us would admit it, the travel, stress, and busy nature of the last few months had us on wits end. Already we had had several terse exchanges in the car today that I think were mostly to blame on exhaustion. In light of that, there was really nothing else to do but go and, as I kept saying, “get our asses pampered”.
Finally, Elizabeth pulled on in to one of the least likely spa locations you’ll ever see. Icelandic lavafields are some of the loneliest terrain you can imagine – black, spiky, forbidding rock lying all over the ground, with some sad yellow grassy lichen in between and atop it, stretched for miles in every direction. And then there was a giant power plant, with huge stacks belching out steam into the cool Icelandic air. And then there was a parking lot with a sleek area for buses, leading to a quiet path cut into this volcanic rock, behind which Blue Lagoon sits.
Right as the two of us got to the facility, we got our first glance at the water. It was an opaque turquoise very similar to the color of a robin’s egg. It looked placid and shallow. And I could feel the warmth curling off of the surface. Now I wanted to be pampered more than ever.
Kudos to Blue Lagoon – they know their shit. You need to purchase a timed entry permit ahead of time (done), and when you show them that at the front desk they’ll give each of you a little wristband. On that wristband, we had access to the locker rooms and spa area, as well as the ability to scan for one free drink apiece and three free mud masks apiece. Then you went through the security stuff and walked back into the changing room area, where Elizabeth and I split up to go into our respective gendered rooms. The wristbands Blue Lagoon provided were super-duper high-tech: you could swipe it front of the locker while it was open to set that one as “yours”, then when you closed it the locker would only open again from a swipe from your wristband. Pretty cool stuff! I was a little overwhelmed, unlike the always-on-top-of-it wife of mine, but after a few missteps I was in one of the shower stalls in the changing room, taking my Blue-Lagoon-mandated pre-spa shower.
I walked through the door that led “to lagoon” and waited for Elizabeth. The wait wasn’t long: she emerged from the women’s changing room with her bathrobe in tow. Oh shoot: I’d left mine in my locker. No help for it now.
We emerged into the chilly Icelandic air. If you were going to have a day with stereotypical Icelandic weather, you couldn’t ask for a better one than the day where you’re going to be entering water that’s between 98-104F. The lagoon lay spread out in front of us. I can’t find any wide pictures of the lagoon spa area itself, even among the ones Elizabeth sent me (probably a tech issue since I am reasonably sure they exist – I didn’t bring my phone into the lagoon but she did), but here’s a picture of what the water + rocks looked like.
Now imagine that spread out among essentially a giant, shallow swimming pool. Here’s Google with an interpretive view on a sunny day:
It looks like nothing but a giant pool, but looks are deceptive. Back by the building, there’s one of those fun water doors where you can actually enter the water insider. There’s a manmade cave if you feel like bathing in the relative darkness. There are little drains where old water is piped out and new, hot water comes seeping in – these patches were noticeably warmer. There was a waterfall of piping hot (stinky) water. There was a bridge (to the right of the image above) that led to an adults-only quiet area (very peaceful after the third or fourth time you listen to little kids screaming). There was a mud mask bar. There was an alcohol bar. You could get out of the water and go into a steam room or a sauna (there’s apparently a difference).
Elizabeth and I had anticipated we’d be at Blue Lagoon for an hour, tops. We ended up staying for like 3.
The pool was somewhat crowded, but as we eased into the water I could see why people liked this so much. The lagoon didn’t just feel like a pool – it wasn’t slimy, per se, but the water had a definitely silty feel. In a good way. It’s impossible to get into words. The temperature was pleasant, too – you instinctively crouched down so that you were submerged up to your neck, because the warmth felt so much better than exposing a ton of skin to the cool air. Some pockets of water felt more lukewarm than hot, but if you got near a pipe, hoo-wee did it get warm. When we sat down against some rocks on the edge of the pool to relax in silence, I realized with some amusement that the brine inside the lagoon was buoyant enough that I had trouble keeping my bottom on the bottom. It added an element to “getting my ass pampered”.
I’m not much of a face mask guy, but I was willing to try the face masks that Blue Lagoon offers. In addition to the typical rejuvenating nutrient yadda-yadda, they also have masks made of the silica clay at the bottom of the lagoon. And that clay is one of the whole reasons that the spa exists, so why not give it a shot? I will give the mask experience like a 5/10. Not really my jam. As much as I did genuinely enjoy sitting in the salty brinewater with my back up against some lava rocks, the masks were kind of itchy, and hardened on my skin, and then you were supposed to wait a certain amount of time before you could rinse them off. And there were only so many freshwater spigots you could use to do so – the salty lagoon water did not make you feel a whole lot cleaner-faced.
I did enjoy the bar. Although the beer that I got was the standard Icelandic beer – Gull – it hit different inside a luxury spa pool. As for the sauna, or steam room, or whatever it was, no. Genuinely a traumatic experience. When we got in there, there were just a couple of other people – a woman who looked to be Scandinavian sitting motionless on the other side, as well as a father and a son. Elizabeth and I took our seats in the silent room. It was so hot. I immediately began to sweat. Breathing itself hurt, the air was so hot. I hunched over and immediately began to shut down. The father and son left. A new guy walked in to take their place. I grabbed Elizabeth’s arm to let her know that I feared for my life. Then the new guy immediately left, and after a few seconds Elizabeth asked me if I wanted to also. Quickly we exited the hut into the most deliciously cool, humid air you could imagine outside.
The Scandinavian woman never moved.
There were several other cool experiences at the Blue Lagoon – chief among them the story-telling oral history of the Blue Lagoon from one of the staff members, where everyone gathered in one corner of the water to listen. But most importantly, this was a time of peace and quiet and relaxation. Elizabeth and I had scoffed at the idea of going to some resort in Costa Rica on our honeymoon – how boring! – but I had come to understand why it’s such a powerful draw. The wedding had taken so much out of us, and then international travel and adventuring alone across a remote hinterland for a week had really worn us down. In a way, Blue Lagoon ended up being a vacation from our vacation. It was perfect; the next day in Reykjavik I felt much better-rested and Elizabeth and I were able to enjoy one of our more spontaneous fun days of the honeymoon.
Of course, before we could go to Reykjavik, we had to make sure we had everything. And that would include my brand-new wedding band, which I had left in my locker and hadn’t noticed until we were walking out of the facility. This is where a massive shoutout needs to be given the Blue Lagoon staff, who found the ring within minutes of me notifying them and prevented what would have been a real honeymoon bummer. And a massive shoutout needs to be given to Elizabeth, who clearly thought that her new husband was a giant moron but didn’t – quite – say that.
While our last booked excursion was over (and my last blog post about said excursions is also over), there was so much else from Iceland that was incredible. Next post, I’ll cover the beauty of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.