A black sand beach, full of broken up ice that sparkles like a sea of diamonds. Doesn’t sound real, does it?
We had to go see for ourselves that it was not only real but that it would sparkle just as much in person as it did in the carefully curated photos we had found online.
I also had to answer one question for my nerdy brain – how on earth does ice live on a beach in the middle of summer?
Turns out that was an easy one – it’s cold (idiot!)
How this place came to be also has a lot to do with what is just on the other side of the beach.
The Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon – which I could best describe as an iceberg harbor to be explored at the foot of an icy glacier.
But our experience could easily have been one of disappointment.
Read on to find out why…
In this post:
- Our First Impressions
- The Real Diamond Beach Experience
- Why Does This Happen?
- Safety Hazards
- Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
- How to See the Lagoon
- How to get to Jökulsárlón and the Diamond Beach
- Are Day Tours Available?
- Accommodation near Diamond Beach
- Final Word
Our First Impressions
I will never forget the feeling we had on our first visit to this famous beach.
It was getting to the end of a very long day on the road and we were looking for somewhere to park our campervan overnight.
We were passing by the beach and lagoon area so figured we would stop for a quick look.
As we walked past the car park and onto the mostly deserted black sand beach we felt one thing.
Complete, and utter disappointment!
It was very late in the day and I can only assume that the diamonds had either melted or been tossed away by the droves of tourists there before us that day.
Or maybe summer was just the wrong time to visit!
It was nothing like the pictures I have excitedly trawled through prior to the trip.
The Real Diamond Beach Experience
We had an early boat tour booked for the lagoon early the next morning (more on this shortly) and afterward we thought we would give the beach one more shot!
All I can say is WOW!
It was nothing like what we had seen the evening before. Chunks of ice were scattered all along the beach and the further we walked from the car park the bigger they got!
Pro tip: If you don’t see much on arrival walk down the beach. Surely not all of these appeared overnight.
We had expected to make a quick ten minute stop just to have another look. This turned into an hour of mucking around in this unique icy wonderland.
The photo opportunities are just stunning and of course, I couldn’t resist the urge to stick a small ice diamond down Anh’s back every chance I got.
Why Does This Happen?
Icebergs wash ashore and break up into smaller pieces.
As a result, you have everything from big icy structures that you could easily stand on if you’re game enough, to smaller chunks that could fit in your hand.
They are randomly scattered along the black sand of the beach offering a contrasting mix of colors that make the white sparkly ice really pop!
Ice is Slippery (Duh!)
I mentioned standing on the icebergs…. As you can see, I did risk winning a Darwin Award by perching myself up on one of the bergs.
It goes without saying, but take care when doing this.
They are slippery, sharp, and have waves crashing around them all the time.
Safer to just not do it all.
Waves are Unpredictable
It is easy to get distracted and complacent when marveling at the spectacle on the beach.
The tide was fairly tame when we visited but we still saw a number of people get caught out by a wave that made it further up the beach than the others.
Cold and wet feet is one thing, but it wouldn’t take much more for a wave to knock someone off their feet.
The currents are strong and the water (ice) cold!
If you were to get into trouble then you not only risk drowning, but also hypothermia.
This location is a long way from medical help.
Wind is Relentless
You are facing the ocean here and are not very far from the Arctic. The wind is fierce and it’s cold.
Make sure you dress for the occasion with a wind and waterproof jacket whether it be summer or winter.
Sunglasses will also keep any airborne sand from hitting you in the eyes.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
The Diamond Beach is split in two by the entrance to the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.
This narrow opening expands to a larger harbor like body of water that is full of icebergs.
It is a glorious sight!
Off in the distance, you can see what remains of the glacier and its pathway down from the mountains.
Enjoy It While It Lasts
An unfortunate fact is that this glacier is receding by (x?) meters every year.
The warmer climate is slowly melting the ice and is likely to disappear within the next century.
It will be some time before the surroundings are any less impressive. Perhaps, not in our lifetime.
So maybe just a social awareness issue rather than an urgent push to jump on a plane and see it for yourself.
How to See the Lagoon
There are boat tours leaving frequently that will give you a closer look at the lagoon.
We recommend that you pre-book online so that you have a scheduled tour and can avoid the queues.
We only booked the day prior to our arrival and were therefore unable to get the option we wanted.
Amphibian Boat Tour
This is the most basic option ad the tour that we experienced. Still enjoyable, but it is very basic.
You are loaded into a large truck/boat that glides straight into the water from the shore.
From there you do a lap around the lagoon and reasonably close to the icebergs and the glacier.
It won’t blow you away, but a nice option.
Zodiac Boat Tour
This is the tour we wanted to get on but couldn’t. You are in a smaller craft here which gets you much closer to the icebergs.
When conditions allow you can even travel underneath some of the icy formations.
Very cool! But also a more expensive choice.
I wouldn’t trust myself on a kayak around icebergs. But if you are better at maneuvering these crafts than I, it certainly looked like a lot of fun!
Definitely the best way to really get up close and personal with the icebergs!
The smaller kayak will get you access to where larger watercraft just can’t go.
How to get to Jökulsárlón and the Diamond Beach
Distance from Major Cities?
With the exception of Reykjavic I use the term major very loosely. What i mean is the closest village with basic facilities like a grocery store, gas station… and more than a few people.
- Distance – 379kms
- Time – 4 hours 44 min
- Distance – 192kms
- Time – 2 hours 18 min
- Distance – 80kms
- Time – 1 hours 2 min
Are Day Tours Available?
Given the distance from the capital city, a day tour will be a pretty epic day. Having said that, it can be done!
Extreme Iceland offers this as a 16 hour round trip which covers as many of the south coast highlights as you could possibly cram into a day!
You will be on the bus for at least half of this time, but it is still a very long day. It may not be enjoyable for those who do not have the stamina to see this out.
At the very least take a comfy pillow with you for the bus ride home. You will need it!!
Click here for the full list of highlights and current pricing.
Accommodation near Diamond Beach
- Distance – 57kms
- Time – 47 min
This is closer to the Skeiðarárjökull Glacier and would be a good home base the night before your visit to the Diamond Beach – assuming you are headed east.
We have not stayed at this campground so cannot talk about the facilities from personal experience.
The surrounding mountains look glorious though and you have the option of camping, parking your campervan, RV or caravan, plus some cabins of various sizes.
You will find good facilities here compared to Haukafell – including showers! – and we would definitely recommend staying here out of the two options.
- Distance – 60kms
- Time – 51 min
This is where we stayed – mostly through a lack of planning on our part – and would be a great home base if headed west as it’s just outside Hofn.
We were of course headed east so went past Jökulsárlón to sleep, then circled back the next morning (dumb!)
You will find limited facilities at this campground. There is no office to charge gadgets, or hot showers available.
Just a toilet block, sink, and some nice scenery.
Hotels and Guest Houses
We have looked for the closest options that present reasonable value.
Iceland hotels are expensive so you will still be looking at around $200 a night for the closest options.
You can do better if you venture further away from Jökulsárlón.
Hali Country Hotel (to the east)
- Distance: 12kms
Simple, clean, and the closest good option you will find to the Diamond Beach.
The rooms are modern, very clean, with plenty of space to walk around outside and take in the mountain views.
There is also a restaurant on-site to look after you for breakfast and dinner.
Adventure Hotel Hof (to the west)
- Distance: 40kms
This is very close to the Skaftafell National Park and can be a good home base if you wish to take advantage of the glacier trekking tours on offer there.
Then heading off fresh to Jökulsárlón the next morning.
There is a mix of standalone cottages and hotel rooms, and an on-site restaurant.
It is all very cosy and with stunning mountain views from around the grounds.
You will not find any budget accommodation near Diamond Beach with the closest hostel being located in Hvolsvöllur.
Which is over three hours away. But this would still a manageable home base for a day trip to the east.
Midgard Basecamp Hostel
You can find reasonably priced 4 and 6 bed dorms here if you are after the cheapest option you can find.
This is just one of those hostels where they have thought of everything. Good food, bar atmosphere, cleanliness and secure storage for your belongings.
Plus, a rooftop hot tub if you want a hot soak in the cold Icelandic air.
Can I just camp at the beach?
There are signs at each car park stating no camping for both the lagoon and the beach.
I am not sure how often they are patrolled, if at all. But the lack of facilities available overnight would make it uncomfortable for you and potentially damaging to the surroundings.
Unfortunately accommodation is a distance away so plan for this prior to your arrival.
Is this the black sand beach?
The sand on the beach is in fact black. But it is not to be confused with THE black sand beach.
This is found either side of the coastline around the town of Vik and a two hour drive away.
Are there Toilet Facilities on-site?
You will find a decent toilet block next to the lagoon car park.
It is a mobile building, but is clean and functional. The odd thing was that it was not gender specific.
So be warned if you are uncomfortable with this.
After our night at the poorly equipped camping ground I chose to wait and use the facilities here.
This was all good until I had a whole family (including little kids) congregate outside my cubicle for a few minutes.
Oblivious to the mayhem happening just a meter away from them!
Where can we eat nearby?
The car park area next to the lagoon has a small gift shop that includes a café.
We had a nice lobster soup here to warm up after our boat tour… and some standard Iceland machine coffee.
There were other food trucks around that were not in operation. I was dead keen on trying the local fish & chips – but it was not to be.
This was the point at which we turned around and headed back towards the capital on our south coast road trip. As we drove away and looked back we knew we had also hit one of the high points of the trip.
I am so glad we gave the Diamond Beach a second shot! It was so different in the morning to what it was that first night and we would have gone right past a great experience if we didn’t persist.
But one question does linger for both the Diamond Beach and the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon…. What does it look like in winter?
One day, Anh and I are going to find this out!!