Plans for Tourists to Enter Ancient Volcano in Iceland Skip to content

Plans for Tourists to Enter Ancient Volcano in Iceland

Preparations are underway for building a tunnel which will lead into the central crater of Thríhnúkagígur, a 4,000-year-old volcano by the mountain range Bláfjöll where the capital region’s ski resort lies, and provide tourists with a unique perspective.


Bláfjöll. Photo by Páll Stefánsson.

If all necessary permits are obtained, the operations could be completed as early as 2014. Cave expeditioner Árni B. Stefánsson told Morgunbladid that nowhere else in the world can a volcano be entered this way.

Now, people can only access the crater by lowering themselves into it, which was first done in 1974. However, that practice is quite dangerous because there are 120 meters from the narrow opening of the crater down to its rock-ribbed floor.

As it stands now, climbers who make mistakes might have to pay for them with their lives; so far there have been no accidents but some close calls.

Full safety precautions were in place when members of the press were invited into the crater on Tuesday; everyone wore helmets and the lift seemed secure.

Stefánsson, who served as their guide, iterated that people should not stand close to the opening of the crater due to risk of rocks falling from the walls. “They would shoot down like a cannonball.” Yet the safety of tourists would be guaranteed, he maintained.

To reach Thríhnúkagígur, people have to walk from the Bláfjöll cabin for about a half an hour. The cabin lies at a 25-minute driving distance from Reykjavík.

The tourism entrepreneurs are planning to construct a road to the volcano where a parking lot will be made, along with a tourist reception built into a lava wall so that it wouldn’t stand out in the landscape. The tunnel into the crater would lead through the reception.

The project is estimated to cost ISK 1.5-2.0 billion (USD 13-17 million, EUR 9-13 million). Stefánsson believes 200,000-300,000 tourists might be interested in visiting the crater-cave each year; given that it is a unique natural phenomenon.

Stefánsson has fought for the preservation of caves and opening Thríhnúkagígur to travelers would help protect it, he reasoned. “Preservation isn’t about not doing anything. Preservation lies in doing something strategically.”

Making Thríhnúkagígur accessible would ease the strain on other lava caves in the area, he stated; on the way to the volcano he pointed out damages and garbage on the floor of the cave Djúpihellir in the Strompahraun lava field, which is open to all.

“Why not make it accessible to the public with a tiny hole up there, […] which is just one thousandth of the wall space?” he said of Thríhnúkagígur.

“Make a little balcony and then welcome visitors with a reception building and establish paths so that the land could withstand the strain. It would be a very exciting visit,” Stefánsson promised.

The project is organized by Stefánsson and his partners in Thríhnúkar ehf., the municipalities Reykjavík and Kópavogur, Icelandair Group and the investment fund Stefnir Icelandic Travel Service, each of whom contribute ISK 10 million (USD 84,000, EUR 63,000) to the preparation.

An environmental impact assessment is currently being conducted; it is expected to be completed in early 2012, and research of the area is taking place. Once preparations have been completed, the project will be presented to other investors.

Click here to see a picture from inside the crater and here to read about other unique caves in Iceland.


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