Iceland's Incandescent Oasis
Hot springs and hotter nights in the Arctic.
Photos by Bernhard Ingimundarson
Nestled in a vast landscape of rugged volcanic rock, and under a cloud-like blanket of steam, the Blue Lagoon is an otherworldly Icelandic oasis. Created from the geothermal runoff of the Svartsengi Power Plant—which towers ominously over the lagoon—this man-made hot spring has become one of Iceland’s most popular tourist destinations, and with good reason. Not only is it supernaturally beautiful—it’s good for the complexion, too.
In the past, references to Iceland may have conjured up visions of Bjork in a swan dress and tall blond people dining on fermented shark, but with its newly elected, out lesbian prime minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir, Iceland has shot straight to the top of the list of must-visit vacation destinations. Although same-sex marriage is still under review by the government, queer couples currently enjoy equal access to adoption, IVF and surrogacy. And Icelandic gays and lesbians are also allowed to serve openly in the military. But, politics aside, no trip to gay-friendly Iceland is complete without a dip in the Blue Lagoon.
The water is a light blue-green and is so iridescent that it appears to be lit from below. It gets its trademark color from a mixture of silicate, minerals and blue-green algae, all of which are good for the skin and leave the bather feeling silky smooth.
Located 20 minutes from Keflavik Airport and 45 minutes from Reykjavik proper, the Blue Lagoon is the perfect place for a stopover on your way to departures—or a soothing remedy for the torments of a lengthy inbound flight.
For those of you who, like me, thought a trip to the Arctic precluded the need for a two-piece, there is no need to miss out on the fun. A rental suit and towel will run you $6 each (and you thought bowling shoes were personal). Rental swimwear may sound a bit creepy, but you can’t beat the price! For those feeling a little squeamish about flaunting their stuff in an unflattering, ill-fitting, rented bathing suit, fear not—the waters of the lagoon are opaque, so even if you aren’t looking your best, no one will know the difference once you’re submerged.
After the mandatory pre-dip shower, you are free to head out to the lagoon. The shower, while not for the faint-of-public-nudity heart, is one of the many ways in which the lagoon is kept clean. In addition, the water is tested daily for numerous micro-organisms and is also completely renewed every 40 hours.
Having survived the shower and rented the suit, it’s time for you to reap your reward: For a mere $36, visitors can float their cares away with a 20-minute massage in 104-degree Fahrenheit luxury. If that’s not enough pampering, they also offer a variety of tempting spa treatments—all while you float in the restorative waters of the lagoon. I suggest the silica massage for two, so that you and your special lady can luxuriate side by side.
For the more DIY-inclined, placed strategically around the lagoon are buckets full of silicate mud to use as an impromptu facemask. It works wonders, but be warned: Don’t rub. Place it gently on your face and let it dry, or you may end up looking like your aesthetician is part mountain lion.
After a swim (and a second round of mandatory showers), you may be feeling a bit peckish. Fortunately, the lagoon has both a café and the Lava Restaurant. Built into the side of a cliff, the restaurant boasts a wall made of volcanic rock and a viewing deck perfect for sipping cocktails while looking out over the water.
The Blue Lagoon also offers a gift shop featuring the spa’s entire product line, made of the silicates found in the lagoon itself, along with all the routine gifts and novelties for tourists.
While accommodations are available at the lagoon, to get the full Iceland experience a stay in the capital city of Reykjavik is a must. The family-owned 4th Floor Guesthouse is centrally located near art galleries and cafes, but most importantly, it is within stumbling distance of the clubs. The rooms are decorated in minimalist style, with hardwood floors and animal print duvets; and the mattresses—well, they can’t be beat. After a long night of techno and Brennivín shots (the deceptively smooth signature alcoholic beverage of Iceland, also known as Black Death), the beds are soft, fluffy and oh-so-inviting.
The Blue Lagoon is like no other place you’ve been. With its lunar-like setting and incandescent water, it—like much of Iceland—leaves you with the sense that you have not just visited another country, but another planet.