Raufarhólshellir - the colourful Lava Tunnel in Iceland

Raufarhólshellir - der bunte Lavatunnel in Island
Raufarhólshellir - the colourful Lava Tunnel in Iceland

Iceland. Just outside Reykjavik lies one of the most famous volcanic caves in Iceland - the Raufarhólshellir. The cave is a lava tunnel, once glowing hot lava flowed through here. Today the walls of the cave shimmer in bright colours: yellow, green, red and turquoise. A magical and strange world. In this article you will read everything you need to know for your visit to the Raufarhólshellir lava tunnel in the southwest of Iceland and also get many practical tips.

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Raufarhólshellir Lavatunnel Island

Islands Lava Tunnel Raufarhólshellir

Iceland has countless caves. You can visit many of them on guided tours. Small caves you can even discover on your own. But what makes the lava tunnel Raufarhólshellir in the southwest of Iceland so worth visiting?

Raufarhólshellir is the third largest and one of the longest caves in Iceland. It is about 1.360 metres long, whereby the main tunnel measures 900 metres. It splits into three smaller tunnels at the end. Raufarhólshellir is known for its impressive rock formations and coloured mineral deposits . There are also remnants of ice formations and snow even in summer. In winter, Raufarhólshellir is transformed. The stones at the entrance are then covered with a layer of ice and glittering ice sculptures decorate the walls. They hang in cones from the ceiling or lie in fragments on the floor.

The Raufarhólshellir lava tunnel was formed 5,000 years ago during the Leitahraun eruption . The lava on the surface cooled down quickly. However, hot lava continued to flow under the superficial crust and finally disappeared. What remained was a cave-like channel, a secret world with surprisingly intense colours and unique shapes.

Exciting Trip to the Underworld

At the beginning of the tour we first get a short safety briefing from our guide. Then we will be equipped with helmets, headlamps and crampons. The stones in the front part of the cave are wet and slippery. In some places there is even snow.

The Entrance to the Cave

The entrance of the cave seems unspectacular from the outside - a locked door on the mountain. Behind it, there is a big mess at first. Here the cave ceiling has collapsed in several places. Stones lie wildly disarranged on the floor and under the holes in the ceiling are piles of snow. We go further inside and see remains of ice crystalsleft and right of the path. I absolutely must visit Iceland and the lava tunnel again in winter! The further we advance, the more impressive the cave becomes. The rock ceiling rises to a height of 10 metres. Over a metal staircase we descend further into the heart of the cave. The walls and rock ceiling are discreetly illuminated by hidden spotlights. This way the magical colours of the cave are shown to their best advantage and we can easily recognize the structure of the lava.

Raufarhólshellir Lavatunnel Island

The Experiment in the Dark

After we have seen enough of the colours, our guide asks us to turn off the headlamps. Then the lights go out in the cave. It is pitch dark, an absolute deep black darkness surrounds us. But that is not all, our guide starts an experiment with us: We are supposed to move our hands in front of our face. I see a black shadow - it moves and actually has the shape of my hand. Crazy, right? What do I see there? It doesn't get any blacker than black - how can I see a shadow?

Our guide solves the riddle: Everything that is imaged on our retina is first processed into an image in the brain. Our eyes cannot see our hand, but our brain plays a trick on us. Since it knows that we move our hand there, it shows us a hand. Right, when someone else puts their hand in front of my eyes, I don't "see" a shadow.

Guided Tours in the Lava Cave Raufarhólshellir

The Raufarhólshellir lava tunnel was only discovered by geologists in 1950. At that time lava formations were hanging as stalactites from the tunnel ceiling. But too many and reckless visits to the cave caused enormous damage. Therefore the tunnel is now only accessible with guided tours.

You can book cave tours at “The Lava Tunnel” . A visit takes about one hour and costs 46 Euro. Visits are possible throughout the year, several times a day. There is also a transport service from Reykjavík.

For the more adventurous there is also a longer tour . During this tour you will go deeper into the cave to see more lava formations and step-like fossilized lava flows. The tour requires surefootedness, good balance and good physical condition. I would have loved to do the tour, but at the time when I was there, it was only offered on request for at least two persons. In any case, the long tour in the lava tunnel Raufarhólshellir is already on my to-do list for my next trip to Iceland. Duration: 3 to 4 hours. Costs: about 130 Euro.

Tips for your Cave Outfit

  • In the cave it is cold all year round. So dress warmly.
  • Take your hat, scarf and gloves with you
  • Rain jacket, because from above it drips
  • Ankle-high hiking boots provide better support

Helmets and headlamps are provided by the tour operator. You will also get crampons.

Tip: Tip: If you have one, bring your own torch as a replacement. My headlamp on my helmet broke down on the way and I was groping in the dark (which wasn't so bad, because the cave is illuminated). All spare lamps / batteries were already distributed to other visitors.

How to get there

Raufarhólshellir is only about 30 minutes (30 km) from Reykjavik , making it perfect for a day trip. From Reykjavík you take the ring road about 18 km east. Turn right onto Route 39 towards Þorlákshöfn and continue for another 12 km.

Raufarhólshellir Lavatunnel Island

Book Recommendations and Tour Tips for Iceland

Do you want to know where the journey is going? Then I can recommend this travel guides* to you.

You can order the travel guides on Amazon by clicking on the pictures. If you buy a product via an affiliate link, I get a small commission and you help me to keep filling Fernweh-Motive with interesting articles. This does not make the product more expensive for you.

Are you looking for a guided tour to the caves of Iceland? If you are looking for a guided tour into the caves of Iceland, I can recommend the Ice Cave Tour near Vík* or the combination tour Snorkeling in the Silfra Crevice and Visiting the Lava Tunnel* .

Do you know the Raufarhólshellir lava tunnel in Iceland? How did you like it? Do you have any questions or suggestions regarding my article? If so, please write me a comment!

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Recommendations for further Reading

Do you love the Scandinavian countries as much as I do? Then you might also be interested in my articles about the Kayak Tour in the Swedish Archipelago or a Trekking Tour to the Greenlandic Ice Sheet.

Kajaktour durch Schwedens Schären - die besten Tipps für eure Tourplanung
Hiking Tour vom Eqi-Gletscher zum grönländischen Inlandeis auf eigene Faust


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