Sitting in a Hot Pot
We love the term “hot pot” because it 1) Makes total sense – sitting in an enclosed space of geothermically heated water and 2) Is the same word for an Asian style of cooking that we always crave – yum. Icelanders have perfected the art of relaxing by the pool. Every village has a swimming pool and they are essentially the bars or water coolers of Iceland. Swimming pools or sundlaugs are places with full facilities usually consisting of a pool, a hot tub, a steam room, showers and a changing facility. Prices vary but are reasonable and they are great if you like water slides, are with a family, or camping and really need a good shower. It may also be a great way to talk to the friendly locals who use the facilities regularly. There are rules to entering these facilities so make sure you follow the swimming pool code of conduct. You can also learn more about different hot pots and hot pot etiquette.
However, as tourists, we didn’t really want to spend our time in a swimming pool facility when there are so many other geothermal baths to enjoy! We would rather go to that secluded hot spring that is set in the middle of nowhere surrounded by the beautiful nature that is Iceland.
It is not as easy to stumble upon the natural hot pots. So the best bet is looking them up online or asking the locals and tour guides for the best spots. Some great websites to help you find them are Visit Iceland and Hot Pots Iceland.
The Blue Lagoon is like the LV of hot springs. Depending on your likes that either makes your eyes light up or extremely turns you off. It certainly has its pros and cons but I will admit we have been there twice. The first time we went because it was just something we had to try. It is beautiful. The water is this eerie blue that we found out is not actually natural, but rather a run off from the geothermal power plant – what?! It is close to the airport (20 min drive) and if you don’t have a lot of time to spend in Iceland, then a quick stop here is something to do! The Blue Lagoon feels like a spa, with modern facilities, lockers, sauna, steam rooms, and services, but oddly enough has a pool bar in the middle of the lagoon making it feel kind of like a Caribbean resort where you order those god awful slushy drinks. The first time we came, it was okay. It’s like going to a beach resort only with the two of you. The second time we came was much more fun because we came with a big group of about 20 for our wedding. It’s fun to order a beer and just wade/swim around with your friends, going under waterfalls and into saunas and steam rooms. There is also a white Silica mud mask that you can ladle out of boxes to put all over your skin. Perfect picture moments of white goo melting off your face.
We went to the hot river after the Blue Lagoon and honestly after going there, I wondered why people even bothered with the Blue Lagoon. This is the one of the ones you have to EARN to get there. But it is so worth it in the end.
To get to Hveragerdi, you have to do a fairly easy two hour hike along mostly small hills and valleys. This already may discourage a lot of people from going – which in itself is a pro because it means less people. We went around September 2012 and there were only two small groups there at the time and plenty of river for us to spread out. It really is pleasant hike, although not as exciting as the scenery does not make any dramatic changes, but it is SO rewarding in the end. Imagine after hiking for two hours, just stripping down to your bathing suit and getting into a very shallow river of hot natural water and just looking up at the sky. Best thing ever. We saw others there with eggs and a wire basket. They were just cooking their eggs in the water!
Please keep in mind that the weather has to be decent (i.e., not hailing, some rain is okay) and you have to have enough light to get back. We made it to the river fairly late and were fighting the light on the way back. Thank goodness we had flashlights or it could’ve been bad as it becomes pitch dark at night. No worries though if you go during the midnight sun season where the sun barely sets and you can lounge all day and night.
The little sister of the Blue Lagoon, Myvatn Nature Baths is a smaller, understated version with beautiful views. Man-made, the waters also run off from a power company. While we did visit, we did not actually go into the hot spring. It may not be as glamourous as the Blue Lagoon, but it is more peaceful as not as many tourist manage to make it out here. This is also where we picked up the unique rye bread baked underground, heated by the geothermal energy – Rúgbrauð. Super dense and sticky sweet, it is a definite must try.
Located right next to a campsite, it was the perfect site for us on our journey through the Westfjords.
We had read that there was a pool at the campsite but the hot spring was a pleasant surprise. The fun thing about the pools in Iceland is they are for the most part warm. It is so weird. Every time I approach a pool, I think cold. Brr… But Iceland has the right idea. Warm pools!! These waters always make you feel like you are taking a warm bath instead. The pool itself at this site is nothing special. A simple rectangle good enough for a few short laps and about neck deep. There are also stalls for you to change your clothes. The hot spring is an added treat. HOT, it takes some getting used to but boy does it feel good.
This one was a bit harder to find. Close to Lake Myvatn, if you are in the area the Grjótagjá cave is good for a quick visit! It’s quite beautiful to see. We had also read of people who swam in it (although not the year we visited) and of warnings of bacteria growing in the water and of the temperatures rising. So we were conflicted swimming in this one. To find the opening, you have to crawl through a hole in the rocks and manuever your way down into the cave. It is a very cool sight to see, but we decided not to swim, especially when there were other visitors going in and out as well just taking pictures. We did put our GoPro into the water, so who knows. It could be a conspiracy to keep the tourists out of the water – and I don’t blame them.
GPS: N65° 34′ 29.535″ W16° 53′ 0.868″
There are a ton more hot pots that we have yet to discover. There are so many and really it’s the locals that know it best! This list from Extreme Iceland shows that there are so much more natural pools that we have not yet been to. We will be back one day to hot pot again!