Things to Do

South Coast Tours with Arcanum in Iceland- Glaciers, Snowmobiles, and ATVs!

The South Coast of Iceland is one of the most popular areas for tourist to visit when they venture out of Reykjavik. There’s a lot to see and do: waterfalls, glaciers, black sand beaches, and more.

Arcanum is a tour company that operates in south Iceland, and can take you beyond what you are able to see and do on your own. They offer 3 different tours; we were lucky enough to try all 3 with various subsets of kids. Any of these tours could be a highlight of your vacation. See below for our reviews … and lots of pictures!

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Glacier Walk on Sólheimajökull Glacier in South Iceland

Our first trip was a glacier walk. Right away, you should know that this was by far the most physically demanding of the tours. I guess that’s obvious, since the other tours involve machines you get to ride on. But this was hard work; children have to be 10 years or older to do the glacier walk. (Note that all of these tours have a different minimum age.)

We started at the Arcanum glacier walk office; you go to a different location, which is about 10 minutes away, for the snowmobile or ATV tours. At the office they will fit you for your ice walking gear.

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The kids are carrying their ice pick axes (which you use as a cane to help keep your balance) with their crampons around the pick. The idea is that we will walk to the edge of the glacier in our regular shoes, and then put the crampons on once we reach the ice. Make sure you wear sturdy shoes or hiking boots.

Interestingly, the walk to the edge of the glacier is getting longer every year, as the ice is receding at a rate of 150 feet per year! But it was a lovely hike past a glacial lagoon housing some of that melting ice.

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Holding the ice pick and the crampons proved difficult for my kids, especially the youngest of this group, who was 10. I ended up carrying her equipment and mine. Given the hike was also hard work, I would consider this only for adventurous 10-year-olds!

At the foot of the glacier we stopped to put on our crampons. It’s a little tricky to strap them on properly, but the patient guide went around and took care of everyone. The picture below is actually of a different group getting their crampons on, but you get the idea.

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Then, after a brief lesson about how to walk on the ice (step down to make sure those spikes on the crampons are going to dig in to the ice!) we started climbing. I think it’s hard to appreciate just how much the crampons make a difference; after a few steps, you more or less forget that you are walking on a literal sheet of ice.

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Up and up we went. We stopped in an ice cave. Now, this isn’t much of an ice cave; since the glacier is melting this time of year (late May), you can’t trust large ice caves when they are melting. But there will still little crevices we could explore. Or rather, crevasses:

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We marched higher and higher up the glacier, stopping once in a while to catch our breath and learn something about the area. We saw a device scientists are using to measure how much the glacier is receding, and we were also able to fill our water bottles with fresh (and ice cold!) glacier water. It’s windy at the top, so make sure you wear some layers; wool is always good!

Then it was time to start the journey back down. The kids were happy to start walking downhill rather than trudging ever higher.

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You can see the winding path on the left hand side that leads back to the home base. At the bottom, we reversed the process, removed our crampons, and walked back.20160522-imgp1086

We opted for the 3 hour tour, and the kids were definitely worn out by the end. You may want to consider the 2 hour tour. Note, however, that you spend an hour walking to and from the glacier and getting your crampons on; so that means the 3 hour tour gives you 2 hours on the glacier, while the 2 hour tour only gives you one.

Prices are: 11,990 / 14,990 (2 hour walk / 3 hour walk) for adults, 8,393 / 10,493 for kids ages 10 or 11. I think these are reasonable prices; there is no transportation provided, but at about $108 per adult for the 2 hour tour, you’re getting a good value by Icelandic standards.

The building you start and end at (top right in the picture above) also has bathrooms and a small restaurant, the Arcanum Glacier Café. I wasn’t overly impressed by the food, or rather the value; the kids very much enjoyed their hot chocolate to warm up after our tour, but I thought the food was somewhat overpriced. I guess that’s to be expected when you are hungry next to a glacier?

I think there are a few picnic tables, so you could pack a lunch to eat after you visited the glacier.

If you have kids under 10, or the glacier walk just isn’t right for you, you can also park out here and walk by yourself to the glacier’s edge. You should NOT walk on the ice without a guide, but you can hike to see it, and then buy some hot chocolate when you return.


Snowmobiling up Mýrdalsjökull glacier

My 7-year-old couldn’t go on the glacier walk, so I took him snowmobiling in the afternoon. Yes, snowmobiling up a glacier; it’s certainly much easier to let the snowmobile handle the climb up (a different part of) the glacier!

Note that you start from a different building for the snowmobile and ATV tours; you want to head up Road 222 for these tours; the glacier walk is off of Road 221.

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We arrived, and they suited us up before we got into a vehicle to find the snow and ice. In the winter time, you may be able to hop on your snowmobile right from the office. But as the snow melts in the summer, they move the snowmobiles higher and higher up the mountain. So in the winter, your 2 hour tour can involve nearly 2 hours on the snowmobile; in the height of summer, you may only get an hour.

The rest of the time is spent on a very bumpy ride in a truck. You drive on a road that was closed after the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in 2010. The road is no longer maintained by the government, and it sure is bumpy. It’s off limits to other vehicles. (While we were riding in the truck, we saw a tow truck pulling a tourist’s car off of the road; my guess is their small sedan was ruined by the road. Don’t do this!)

We drove maybe 15 minutes each way; the road gets bumpier and bumpier as you go. Then, we saw the array of snowmobiles ready to go.

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I’ve never been on a snowmobile before, but after a 2 minute training session, I was ready to go. We started slow while I got the hang of it; you need to adjust to the fact that the snowmobile will slide a little bit on the snow. My son said it was a little too bumpy at first, but by the end he was having a great time; he sat behind me on the snowmobile.

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After a long climb, we arrived at the top, or at least what seemed like a good stopping point. The guide used the snow to draw a diagram of the glacial system, and which parts are connected and where the melting snow goes. I enjoyed this, but my son just wanted to play in the snow. I guess you can’t blame him, since being surrounded by snow at the end of May is quite the novelty.

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There was plenty of time to ask questions and relax and enjoy the magnificent views. You can see the mountains, other glaciers, and even the Westman Islands. The quiet is striking, especially after the roar of the snowmobiles.

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Then we headed back down. This is a long, continuous ride. Heading up, I felt like we kept going and going and going, with the top of the glacier seemingly never getting any closer. But the trip back down seemed faster, and before we knew it we were back with the rest of the snowmobiles.

This trip is significantly more expensive than the glacier walk. Adults cost 26,990 ($245); kids 5-11 are 18,893 ($171). (If you’re wondering about the strange price for kids, it’s a 30% discount from the adult price.)

Snowmobile drivers need to have a valid drivers license. But if two parents are both up for driving, this could be a nice activity for the whole family. And a family of 2 adults and 3 children can also work; the third child can ride with the guide.

Unlike the glacier tour, you don’t need to bring warm layers, since Arcanum provides warm overalls. A warm baselayer would be good for the summer, though you may want another layer or two in the winter.

My son really liked the trip; it was new and different for him. I enjoyed it as well, and I recommend it. It’s expensive, though I think it’s a fair price given that they have to maintain the snowmobiles and pay for insurance. Oh, and be careful– something like 5% of people manage to tip their snowmobiles over! But if you’re careful enough to land in the other 95%, and this sounds interesting to your family, you’ll have a great time.


ATV / Quad bike tour

Finally, I took an ATV tour with my older son. This is similar to the snowmobile, where you can drive as long as you are a licensed driver, and your kids can ride behind you. But unlike the snowmobile trip, where kids as young as 5 can ride along, children need to be at least 12 for the ATVs.

We cruised across the black sand beaches of South Iceland. It hadn’t rained in several weeks, which is extremely unusual, and so we kicked up a lot of dust. But other than getting my camera dusty, this didn’t impact the trip at all; we still had the opportunity to do some hills, flats, water crossings and see some amazing things. You ride from the office (the same office as the snowmobile rides start from) but immediately head downhill, away from the glacier, toward the ocean. And right away, you are reminded of a prime feature of this tour:

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Over 40 years ago, a US Navy plane crash landed on the beach in South Iceland; the site is now called Sólheimasandur. (Note the similarity to the same of the glacier Sólheimajökull: Sólheim glacier vs. Sólheim sand.) Until about a year ago, you could drive your car down a path on the beach to see it. But because people were driving off of the path, the landowner closed the area to car traffic. There is a small parking area down the road, which this sign is pointing you toward. You’d need to park and walk almost 4 miles roundtrip to see the plane. And this is a boring flat walk!

But Arcanum has permission to take you onto the land and ride right up to the plane on their ATVs. This is what you will see:

Strangely, this is not what we saw on our tour. Instead, we saw this:

No, the plane is not still on fire today. This was some sort of movie shoot, and more than likely won’t look like this when you see it! (Supposedly they were shooting a web series; let me know if you know what the series is!) I think the site was even closed to foot traffic this day, and so we were some of the only people to see the plane like this.

But the plane isn’t the only thing you’ll see. I really liked this orca (killer whale) skeleton; this is about half a mile from the plane.

You’ll also catch a glimpse of the Dyrhólaey rock arch off in the distance. See the teeny tiny lighthouse up top?

Of course, I’m leaving out all of the fun. You get to drive fast, leaving tire tracks in the sand as you go. Toward the end, once you’re more comfortable driving the ATV, you get to try some hills and water crossings.

You have the choice of a 1 hour tour or a 2 hour tour; I think the longer tour gets you much closer to Dyrhólaey.

Prices are: 18,990 ($172) / 26,990 $245) (1 hour tour / 2 hour tour); that’s the price for anyone 12 and up; you have to be 12 to do the tour. If you have an odd number of riders, you’ll need to pay an additional 10,000 for the single rider.


I’m probably biased by the prices here. My kids each loved the snowmobile and ATV tours. They were great experiences, and if they sound exciting to you, I recommend them. Here are the prices for a family of 4, assuming all of the kids are 12 or older:

2 hour glacier walk $435
3 hour glacier walk $544
Snowmobile $979
1 hour ATV $689
2 hour ATV $979

At today’s exchange rate of 110 krona per US dollar.
(Both the the glacier walk and the snowmobile tours have discounted pricing for younger kids.)

I’m partial to the glacier walks; the walk was challenging, and I think that made it more exciting to me. But you can’t go wrong with any of the tours with Arcanum.


Thanks to Arcanum for sponsoring our tours!

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South Coast Tours with Arcanum in Iceland- Glaciers, Snowmobiles, and ATVs! was last modified: December 7th, 2016 by Eric