Icelanders swear by a daily soak in one of the island's volcanically heated pools, waterfalls and spas. Here's where to join them
Icelanders are blessed with a healthy lifestyle and a long life span, with many swearing by the benefits of a daily soak in the country’s volcanically heated pools and spas as the perfect way to unwind and relax.
In terms of the health benefits of geothermal bathing, as the water comes from underground it crosses the layers of rock and lava - pushing the minerals to the surface. Although there is no scientific basis for the benefits of hot spring water, the Icelandic people have long sworn by the beneficial effects – particularly as a way to relax stressed and tired muscles.
The increase in circulation as a result of bathing in warm water is also said to help boost the immune system and eliminate toxins from the body. The sulphurous waters of Iceland have also been known to soothe and improve a range of skin irritations, including eczema and psoriasis. Bathing in heitir pottar, literally translated as ‘hot pots’, dates back to at least the 12th century, when saga poet Snorri Sturluson composed his work from a home-made hot tub at his home in Reykholt, north-west Iceland.
Nowadays, the abundance of geothermal heat means that bathing spas and pools can be found throughout Iceland. However, alongside the more well-known pools and spas are numerous hidden gems, offering a unique natural bathing experience:
1. Swim in a volcanic crater: Isolated in Iceland’s remote central highlands, next to the Vatnajokull ice cap, the lake-filled crater ‘Viti’ was created following the eruption of the Askja volcano in 1875. Nowadays, intrepid visitors can hike up to the crater and take a dip in the warm waters, which reach a depth of 60m and a temperature of 30°C. Getting to the crater is challenging and can only be accessed by sturdy 4WD vehicles, so a guide is recommended.
2. Shower under a warm waterfall in Laugarvalladalur Valley: East Iceland’s Laugarvalladalur Valley boasts a natural warm water shower, located under a waterfall fed by the geothermal river Jökulsá, some 20km north of Káraghnjúkar. The waterfall and its pools are located next to an abandoned farmhouse and can be reached by either hiking or on horseback.
3. Relax in a lazy river in Reykjadalur: A popular day trip from Reykjavik, the Reykjadalur geothermal area features a warm water river that is perfect for bathing. The place for a dip is slightly downstream from where the boiling hot water from Klambragil merges with the cold fresh water flowing from the east; the merging of the two rivers means that there is a water temperature suitable for everyone. The hiking trail is a well signposted 40 minute hike from Hveragerði, just north west of the capital.
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