We had left the best for the last day on Iceland – the eutrophic Lake Mývatn in the north part of the country, created by a large basaltic lava eruption 2300 years ago.
Mývatn is a destination that I’ve wanted to explore for ages. I’ve been to Iceland twice before and both times I’d planned to see Mývatn, but in October 2013 there was not enough time, and in April 2015, there was a snowstorm which got Steve and I stuck in Seyðisfjörður. But the third time was going to be different. I was finally going to visit Mývatn and I would do it with my entire family.
We set off early in the morning from Seyðisfjörður before daylight. During the first half of the drive, we saw the sky go from dark and starry to the most beautiful mix of red, purple and yellow as the sun rose above the horizon.
2,5 hours later we arrived at Lake Mývatn. Mývatn, which is the fourth largest lake in Iceland, along with its surrounding volcanic landscape, is one of the most popular natural attractions in Iceland. Especially during the summer, tourists flock to the lake to see its beauty and the uniqueness of the natural sites that surround it.
That day in the middle of October, we were almost alone. The sites weren’t abandoned, but we didn’t get a feel of the place being as touristy as we thought we would. It was probably thanks to the time of year that we had the place almost to ourselves.
Namafjall Geothermal Field
We spent the next five hours driving around the lake to the many natural sites surrounding it. The first stop was the Namafjall Geothermal Field, which is a smelly experience with its many solfataras, boiling mud pots and sulfur crystals. I had seen something similar in South Iceland, when I visited the geothermal area of Seltún on the Reykjanes peninsula with my parents back in April 2015, but the smell of Namafjall can’t be compared. Where Seltún had a constant, somewhat pleasant, odor of paté, Namafjall stunk of rotten eggs in most places. But it was beautiful nonetheless.
On the next stop we had my favourite experience of them all – the Hverfjall Crater hike!
Hverfjall is an explosion crater formed in a volcanic explosion some 2900 years ago, which can be seen rising above the flat landscape from almost anywhere in the Mývatn area. It’s one of the largest explosion craters in the world with a diameter of 1000 metres and a depth of 140 metres.
Hiking up the crater is somewhat easy, of course depending on your physical abilities and willpower. Everyone but my grandmother and my big brother’s girlfriend decided to do the hike and managed to get up there! It’s a short climb, but an extremely steep one. Once we got up there, I decided to take a walk quarter of the way around the crater to what I thought was the highest point. Once I got there and looked across to the other side, I suddenly wasn’t sure, as that point looked even higher. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to go the whole way around, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I came back to complete the hike someday!
Nonetheless, the experience of climbing the Hverfjall Crater was amazing and the view from the top was worth every bit of effort!
From high above to down below, the next destination was the small lava cave of Grjótagjá. The geothermal spring inside the cave was a popular place for bathing until the 1970s when it fell out of use during eruptions from 1979-84. The water became too hot for humans to swim in, however, the temperature has started to drop and is now below 50 degrees celsius – maybe one day it will be a natural bathing destination again!
Pseudocraters at Skútustadagígar
After exploring the cave, we drove to Skútustadagígar on the southern shore of the lake, where a collection of weird-looking so-called pseudocraters are located. These craters that look exactly like volcanic craters to me, were formed by steam explosions when boiling lava flowed over the wetlands. Today, the area is preserved and has a rich bird life and countless hiking trails.
On the way to the next geological wonder, we passed by the beautiful Höfði Peninsula, which is a lava-based headland that extends into Lake Mývatn with a small planted forest. With its vegetated scene, the area is very different from other places near Mývatn, and would be a perfect place for a hike. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for anything more than a short stop, but Höfði Peninsula is definitely on my list for my next visit to the area!
The next stop was an interesting one – the Black Forts of Dimmuborgir, a large area consisting of dramatic lava caves and rock formations. The place has some spectacular views and countless walks – short or long – that take you through the most beautiful parts or all the way around, so you don’t miss a thing.
Because we only had little time to explore that day, my mum, my big brother, his girlfriend and I chose one of the shortest routes, which took us through a magnificent forest of rock pillars, where shiny crystallike rocks were just waiting to be found!
The last destination of the day was the Víti Crater (“the Hell Crater”), which was formed by a massive eruption in the Krafla Volcano in 1724. The eruption, which is known as Mývatnseldar, lasted for five years, and created the large crater with a diameter of 300 metres.
Today, the crater features a beautiful aqua lake, which becomes visible after a short and steep walk from the parking lot.
After trying to get there three times, I finally got to explore the area around Mývatn – and it certainly didn’t disappoint! In fact, I would say that it was even more interesting, wild and spectacular than I had expected.
The area has a LOT to offer – much more than we had time to see that day – but what we did see was, in my opinion, a good mix of everything and a great start to my further explorations of the area. We got to see some of the more popular highlights as well as some lesser-known gems.
I’m glad to say that I FINALLY made it to Mývatn and that Mývatn was everthing and beyond what I had hoped for. My third visit to Iceland, although short, showed me a bunch of new places that made me fall even more in love with the country. There’s still so much more to see and explore, and I’m sure that Iceland is just one of those countries that I’ll never be done with. I’m already looking forward to my next visit!