Iceland is open for travel: check volcano updates here

Rafting And Jet Boats In Iceland: 10 Questions We Get Asked

10 Questions about Rafting and Jet Boats in Iceland

|July 10, 2023
We are lucky to have many talented, adventurous, and open-minded people within our community. Arctic Adventures community consists not only of staff members but also of numerous guest bloggers, fellow travelers, nature lovers and Iceland enthusiasts. Read their stories!

Have you ever considered Iceland as a top-tier extreme water sports destination? Here are some of the questions about jet boats and rafting in Iceland in particular.

The land of Ice and Fire is often first on the list for hikers, snowmobilers, and horse enthusiasts, but did you know that Iceland is also one of the best destinations for extreme water sports like river rafting, kayaking, and jet boats? Here are some of the questions we get in our office about jet boats and rafting in Iceland in particular.

1. Is Iceland a good destination for water sports?

You bet! Iceland’s glacial rivers are some of the clearest and freshest in the world. Plus, most of the white water rapids here are accessible to all skill levels, so newbies and pros alike can join in on the fun. 

The best time to head out on the water and get wet is in the summer, of course! The summer season in Iceland usually lasts from May to September, when the warmer weather melts ice from the glaciers and the levels of the rivers rise, making river rafting and jet boating its most thrilling at this time.

2. What’s the difference between Rafting and Jet Boats, anyway?

Essentially, the difference between river rafting and jet boating is that a raft is operated with manpower and a jet boat has an engine. Typically, a white water raft is a large, inflatable boat used to navigate a river. Popular since the 1950s, these rafts are equipped with paddles or oars for rafters to navigate and steer the craft. Our rafts in Iceland usually accommodate 10-12 people and one guide per raft, depending on the size of the boat.

River Jet boat traveling down a calm river with passengers

By contrast, a jet boat is engine-powered. The first was designed in the 1950s, with a pump that sucks up the water underneath the boat and shoots it behind, propelling the vehicle forward. Most jet boats zip by on 80-350 horsepower. Our jet boats carry up to 11 passengers each.

3. What’s so special about white water rafting in Iceland?

With Iceland being well-known for its glaciers, it’s no surprise that people travel from all over the world just to come face to face with towering ice caps. In Iceland, all the best rivers for rafting and jet boat adventures draw their source from these glaciers — so you can bet the water is as crystal-clear and clean as can be. 

The Hvítá River in South Iceland originates from the second-largest ice cap in the country, Langjökull Glacier

North Iceland features two rivers beloved by rafting enthusiasts. Jökulsá Vestari (West Glacial River) and Austari-Jökulsá (East Glacial River) are filled with the meltwater from Hofsjökull Glacier Volcano, the largest active volcano in Iceland.

Two blue rafts heading towards a fast part of the river

These rivers stand out among rapids around the world for their clean turquoise waters. But don’t be fooled — while these colors give out a tropical vibe in photos, the water temperature is nothing close to that in the Bahamas!

4. How fit should you be to join a Rafting or Jet Boat Tour in Iceland?

White water rafting and jet boats in Iceland are not any riskier than elsewhere. As with most physical adventures, you should be reasonably fit. We do require all participants to know how to swim and everyone will be provided with a life jacket. Depending on the class of the river, age restrictions may be in place. However, we do class most of our white water adventures as easy. 

Find out more about this sport, discover the terminology used and classes of rivers.

5. Isn’t it a bit risky?

The jet boat adventures are totally safe even as you ride the rapids in Gullfoss Canyon. As for rafting, there are rivers in Iceland to suit both beginners and experienced rafters. The popular Hvita River is graded as a Class II river and is best for novices who are comfortable with a little maneuvering. The Jökulsá Vestari (West Glacial River) is the most relaxed, suitable for children and absolute novices. The Austari-Jökulsá (East Glacial River) is the most thrilling, at Class 4, requiring advanced maneuvers and scouting.

Raft boat lifted onto one side while passages avoid falling out

There will be a professional, specially trained and certified river guide with you on your rafting tour. Our boating and rafting guides will provide all the necessary equipment and safety instructions, all so you don’t have to worry about a thing. 

Be sure to wear swimwear under your clothes, and a layer of wool over that. Prepare to get wet! Find out more about what to wear when river rafting.

6. What are the best places for Rafting or Jet Boating in Iceland?

Hvita River is an excellent destination for water sports in Iceland because it’s such a short distance from Reykjavik. Rafts and jet boats have a mix of calm waters and enthusiastic rapids to choose from. The river flows from Langjokull, Iceland’s second biggest glacier, before moving through Bruarhlod River Gorge and feeding into Gullfoss Waterfall. The rafting fun lasts 60-90 minutes and introduces water riders to Iceland’s beautiful natural scenery. You might even end up soaking in the Drumbo sauna afterwards!

Two rafts drifting down a calm part of the river with white water rafting

Easily combine your hours on the rapids of the Hvita River with a tour of the Golden Circle, a morning of horse riding, or a soak in the Secret Lagoon

So you are up for tackling the white water of Iceland? Or if you are visiting in summer you can do something more relaxing such as a Zodiac Boat Tour at Jökulsárlón. Check out our rafting and jet boat tours.

7. How Did River Rafting In Iceland Start?

Iceland is all about adventures. Living on an isolated island far in the North the habitats have had to be creative when it comes to activities. But when you have hiked the same mountain a hundred times, you get the urge to do something different.

In the 1980s an adventurous Icelandic couple went to Nepal for a river rafting experience. When they returned they were so in love with the sport that they started a search for the perfect river here in Iceland. They found one, Hvítá river in the South to be exact, and started Iceland’s first adventure tour operator Bátafólkið and it is through Bátafólkið that Arctic Adventures started its operation.

A snippet of a newspaper from 1995 with detail of how river rafting started in Iceland

River Rafting is a whole different sport to others. It’s fast, wet, adrenaline-pumping but above anything else fun!

River Rafting tours are not usually the first thing  pictured when it comes to activities in  Iceland but it is a great place to try it.

8. What Is The Culture Of River Rafting In Iceland?

You know when you meet a tourist and they have been doing all the things in your country that you have always thought about doing but never done? Well, the same does NOT run for river rafting here in Iceland. River rafting is one of the few tours that almost every Icelander has done at least once in their lives. In spring when graduations, work-groups, bachelor & bachelorette parties, and just friends want to celebrate they often do so by going river rafting in the south or in the north.

Two river rafting boats navigating through a small passage between steep cliffs

It’s kind of a tradition. For example, teenagers who are graduating “grunnskóli” (at 16 years) often celebrate by joining this incredibly fun river rafting experience in Iceland; a local’s way to have fun, get active and find joy.

9. Is Jet Boating And Rafting A Family-Friendly Activity In Iceland?

Up in the North of Iceland, Viking rafting offers special family river rafting tours for kids from 6 years old. River rafting on the Vestari-Jökulsa tour is designed for adventurous families, where they can all join for a fun day on the river. The guides are experts at what they do and everyone is provided with the proper gear including life vest, suits and helmets so there is no need to worry about safety.

This is the perfect family activity as everyone is together in one boat and can have a blast together.

White water raft crashing into a wave with the spray covering people in the craft

In the South, the river is calmer so the age limit for tours is only 11 years, which meansmany families can join that tour as well.

Both the North and South base offer a possibility of having a BBQ after the tours, or visiting a d bar, and the South Base has a sauna.

10. Where Can You Go River Rafting In Iceland ?

The two locations where you meet up for river rafting tours in Iceland are Drumbó (South) and Hafgrímsstaðir (North).

River Rafting in South Iceland

If you are traveling the Golden Circle, Drumbó is conveniently located on the route. This central location means that anyone on a self-drive tour can add a little extra fun with Gullfoss Canyon Rafting.

River rafting in Iceland's Gullfoss canyon


River Rafting in North Iceland:

For those of you who have gone a bit further in your Iceland explorations and have found yourself in the North of Iceland, Akureyri area now has the opportunity to join for a river rafting tour and no ordinary tour; River Rafting in Jökulsá Austari is a level 4 river (OUT OF 5) and it’s OH so much fun. The age limit is pretty high but for those planning to have the whole family no worries, they also have a different tour on a different river like talked about above.


East Glacial River - Rafting in Iceland (Viking Rafting Promo 2015)


Related Tours

Related Blog Posts