Located at Breiðamerkurjökull, Jokulsarlon is an outlet (or ‘tongue’) of the vast and magnificent Vatnajokull Glacier which started to form in the 1930s when the mighty Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier retreated back from the edge of the Atlantic. The size of the lagoon has been increasing rapidly since then, and has grown four-fold in the last 50 years, making it the deepest lake in all of Iceland. Icebergs constantly break off the Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier (a process known as ‘calving’), floating majestically in the lagoon before they find their way out to the Atlantic Ocean.
Where is Jokulsarlon Located?
Jokulsarlon is located in South East Iceland, a little over 370 km from the city of Reykjavík, right on the edge of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier in Austur Skaftafellssýsla county.
For those traveling from elsewhere in Iceland, Jokulsarlon is 187 km from the eastern seaside town of Egilsstaðir and less than 80 km from the south-eastern fishing town of Höfn.
The famous Diamond Beach of Iceland is only one kilometer away from the lagoon.
The Best Hotels & Places to Stay Near Jokulsarlon
One of the most popular places to stay near Jokulsarlon is the Hali Country Hotel, which is located less than 7 miles from the lagoon. This small, one story hotel has 35 rooms in total, the majority of which have private bathrooms as well as the usual modern amenities such as free Wi-Fi, flat screen TVs and underfloor heating (which is especially nice after a long day of hiking in the snow!). Depending on which side of the hotel you stay on, your room will come equipped with a fantastic view; the Atlantic Ocean (to the south), Vatnajokull Glacier (west) or a spectacular mountain range (north). For groups of 4-5 people, Hali also offer luxury guesthouses for that added bit of space and comfort!
For those looking to stay somewhere that little bit cheaper, the Vagnsstadir HI Hostel is 12 miles from the lagoon. While smaller than the above hotel rooms, the hostel still boats free internet, parking and breakfast, great views and private bathrooms.
Jokulsarlon Boat Tours, the Best Way to See the Lagoon!
While there are many ways to experience the majesty of the Jokulsarlon region, going by water is highly recommended. Boat tours are generally seen as the easiest way to see everything that the region has to offer. Those of you who are feeling a bit more adventurous, however, may instead decide to choose a kayaking trip, which allows you to take in the sights at your own pace (please note that kayaking takes higher levels of physical fitness than boating).
Whichever mode of water-based transport you decide to take, your trip will bring you to an otherworldly landscape as you traverse between icebergs which tower high above you – an experience which will never be forgotten! These icebergs are a sight to behold, many of which are far bigger than most people’s houses. It is impossible not to feel humbled in the face of the powerful forces of nature which created this wonderful place. The vastness and power of this glacial world of ice is something you really have to feel for yourself if you are to truly appreciate it. Visitors are constantly amazed when they see the jewel-esque bright blue and green shades within the ancient ice of this brilliant white wonderland. Taking photographs is positively encouraged, allowing you to have a keepsake which you can treasure forever!
The History of the Glacier Lagoon
In the early 1930s, Breiðarmerkurjökull, the outlet glacier from Vatnajökull which feeds the lagoon, started to melt and retreat. This caused the glacier to carve into the land and create a large hollow which filled up with meltwater. However, the glacier has not eroded away entirely, and still exists today, albeit in a much smaller form. The glacier now ‘feeds’ the lagoon with icebergs that break away from the main glacier and float off into the sea. Jokulsarlon is something of a geographical oddity in this sense, as such structures are quite rare in Iceland, and are more commonly associated with Greenland.
Most of the icebergs which separate from the glacier are enormous blocks of ice which fall into the lagoon. Even though the lagoon is the deepest lake in Iceland, many of the icebergs still plunge all the way to the bottom, if only for a moment. They then return to the surface of the water and float further out, gradually melting and making their way south, where the lagoon is not as deep. The final stop for them before joining with the Atlantic Ocean is often at Breiðamerkurssand Beach and, for that reason, the beach has been nicknamed the Diamond Beach as the icebergs tend to glisten in the sun.
Visiting Iceland’s Diamond Beach
No trip to Jokulsarlon would be truly complete without a visit to Iceland’s Diamond Beach, a striking black sand beach which is located within an easy walking distance of the lagoon. A brisk walk along the black sand will allow visitors to spot any icebergs which have floated out from the lagoon to their ultimate destination, the wild waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
While visiting the beach, you will have the opportunity to stand in awe and marvel at icebergs which glitter like diamonds against the black volcanic sand of the beach. Some are huge, some are small, but they are all born from the glacier of which they were a part for so long. You can even hold a small portion of iceberg in your hand and ponder the fact you are touching ancient raindrops or snow-flakes, frozen in time – how wonderful is that? Those raindrops fell to earth thousands of years ago during a time when the earth was far colder!
This romantic setting has allowed the Diamond Beach to live up to its name in more ways than one, as people from around the world come to this special place to propose to their lovers!
The Native Wildlife
The Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon has active tides, so water doesn’t just run out of the lagoon, but also into it. This attracts many species of fish, who use it as a haven to protect themselves from the elements, including capelin (Mallotus illosus) which sometimes visit the lagoon to spawn. The presence of the capelin attracts predators, but nothing too scary, fortunately for us! Always looking for a tasty fish supper are seals, of which there are two species in Iceland; common harbour (Phoca vitulina) and grey (Halichoerus grypus) – it’s hard to imagine these cuddly critters being harmful to anything, but to a small fish, they must be terrifying!
Numerous species of bird also come to the lagoon to feed off the rich fish stocks, including the iconic Atlantic puffins (Fratercula artica), several kinds of seagulls and terns. The king of the skies over Jokulsarlon however, is the great skua (Stercorarius skua). Boasting a wingspan of more than four feet, the great skua is big enough to bully other seabirds and steal their hard-earned dinner. In rare cases, the skua has been known to attack and kill smaller birds, assumedly when fish supplies are running low.
Movie Magic at Jokulsarlon
Being such a unique and surreal looking place, it probably shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Hollywood has realized this and filmed some of its blockbuster movies there, including 2011’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie and not one, but two James Bond films; 1985’s A View to a Kill and 2002’s Die Another Day. Even Justin Bieber made a music video here, for his song I’ll Show You where he dared to wade into the icy cold water to get that all-important money shot!
To find out about more films shot in Iceland, check out our Ultimate Guide to Movies Filmed in Iceland.
Fast Facts about the Jokulsarlon Region
- The lagoon is the deepest lake in Iceland.
- From it runs the Jökulsá River which, at less than one kilometre in length, is Iceland’s shortest river.
- Many fossils of marine creatures have been found in the lagoon, including the sea snail Aporrhais pespelecani.
- Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier, which feeds the glacier at Jokulsarlon, is an outlet from Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier.
- The name Jokulsarlon basically means “glacier-river-lagoon” as it is made up of all three.
‘Jökull’ means glacier, ‘Ár’ means river and ‘Lón’ means lagoon.
Is There Anything You Shouldn’t Do at Jokulsarlon?
- Even though Justin Bieber did it in his I’ll Show You music video, we do not recommend getting into the lagoon. The glacial water is extremely cold and staying in it for too long can cause hypothermia!
- Do not try to stand on the icebergs that are in the water. They can flip very easily, usually without warning. One could easily drown if they got caught under one.
- Don’t park your car in an unmarked area. There are several well-marked parking areas nearby, so there should be plenty of space for everyone.
- Don’t litter (or poop on the ground for that matter)! This is an important one. The area is beautiful, remote and relatively untouched by the hands of man, so it’s important that we keep it that way to preserve this natural wonder for future generations.
Other Interesting Places Near Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
If you’re in the area, you should consider checking out these other fantastic natural Icelandic wonders: