Gabija is passionate about traveling and writing. In her free time, she likes to read, try out different cuisines, or embark on outdoor adventures.
Francesco Li Vigni came to Iceland almost 7 years ago and has been working as a glacier guide ever since. Having previously worked on glaciers in Alaska, he chose Iceland because of its many opportunities for glacial exploration and because it’s closer to his birthplace, Sicily.
Francesco recalls not knowing much about Iceland before coming here: “It was more like a dream”, he says. We sat down with Francesco in our base camp in Skaftafell, where he shared what’s new this winter season regarding glaciers and incredible ice caves, what to expect coming here this winter season, and which ice caves are most worth visiting.
Francesco - Arctic Adventures glacier guide
So, Francesco, what’s so special about the winter season in Iceland?
First of all, it's exciting because it's the time when glaciers begin to thrive again or, if we're being realistic, suffer less. After the whole summer of melting and receding, the ice starts to be more steady as the temperatures go down during the end of September – the beginning of October. As the ice becomes harder, it also becomes bluer, which is an amazing sight. But the thing we're getting excited about the most is definitely ice caves.
Francesco inside the Skaftafell ice cave, Iceland
Each year at the beginning of the winter season, we head out on the glaciers trying to find one thing – living natural ice caves. Sometimes they're quite small, sometimes they're big, depending on the conditions during summer. As the glacier retreats during summer, there's a lot of water running on the glacier, underneath it, and around it, carving brand-new ice caves on its way out.
Sometimes they're quite small, sometimes they're big, depending on the conditions during summer
- Francesco Li Vigni
What can we expect this winter season?
Sometimes we’re lucky enough to find an ice cave in the part of the glacier where the ice is already blue, and the ice cave itself is big, easy to explore, and accessible. All I can say is that this year it was not the case. We had been exploring Skaftafell for some days already with no sight of possible ice caves until we found a void in the glacier. It appeared to be the beginning of a 12-meter vertical shaft that led to an amazingly blue ice cave. Now the trick was to find a way to safely access the cave since it was buried down below.
We had been exploring Skaftafell for some days already with no sight of possible ice caves until we found a void in the glacier
- Francesco Li Vigni
So we carved a huge staircase from ice which looked straight from the fairytale! What we found down below was amazing – a small natural ice cave with super blue ice, and we were confident that it would grow bigger as the water freezes over during the winter.
Tour guide walking up the ice stairs from the ice cave in Skaftafell, Iceland
This brand-new ice cave in Skaftafell is only one of the many ice caves we can see during this winter. Farther to the east from here, we have another ice cave, which is a bit different from the one in Skaftafell. It is located right on the edge of a glacier and is called a Crystal ice cave for its smooth, glass-looking ice. It is one of the biggest ice caves in Iceland – a 70-100 meter ice chamber, which is great for photography or just for visiting. There’s a river running inside the cave, which is constantly shaping it and changing it as the season goes by.
Inside Crystal ice cave, Iceland
Which ice cave would you recommend visiting?
Many people coming to Iceland ask me – what is the best ice cave or glacier to visit? This is a very difficult question for me to answer. I would only suggest choosing a glacier or an ice cave to visit, depending on which location is the most suitable for you and your itinerary.
I would only suggest choosing a glacier or an ice cave to visit, depending on which location is the most suitable for you and your itinerary
- Francesco Li Vigni
The best place to visit also depends on what kind of activity you want to do. If you’re adventurous and want to try out some serious glacier hiking or ice climbing with the possibility of visiting a natural ice cave, Skaftafell might be a great option for you. If you’re more into sightseeing and photography, head to the east to Breiðamerkurjökull or Crystal Ice Cave in Vatnajökull National Park.
Beautiful Crystal ice cave from inside, Iceland
A natural ice cave in Skaftafell and Crystal Ice Cave are just the two ice cavesthat you can see in Iceland this winter. Ice caves have a dynamic environment and are constantly changing. It can drastically change its shape even within the season. The water is running and constantly carving new incredible ice formations. Ice caves are a unique, natural piece of art, and I definitely recommend visiting at least one this winter!