Seltún: Walking on Mars in Iceland

Geothermal area of Seltun, Iceland

I want to introduce you to Seltun, one of Iceland’s extreme geothermal areas.

If you ask anyone who’s been to Iceland why they like it so much, somewhere in their answer they’ll talk about its bizarre landscape. Known as the ‘land of fire and ice’ it’s guaranteed you’re never going to get bored by looking at the same thing for too long in a country that’s small, and yet boasts an incredibly diverse and powerful landscape.

Situated on the Reykjane peninsula of Iceland, only 40 minutes drive from Reykjavik you’ll find Seltun, a high geothermal area that consists of bubbling mud pots, thermal springs and fumaroles. These unique elements to Seltun can be attributed to its location falling in the middle of the fissure zone on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge which traverses Iceland diagonally from the south-west to the north-east of the island.

As you walk towards Seltun, the first thing that strikes you is it’s lunar and Mars-like appearance. A land shrouded with clouds of water vapour with colours of red, orange, golden and dark silver pools of mud begin to emerge from the earth’s surface. But don’t take my word for it, here’s a quote from NASA about Mars:

Its surface is rocky, with canyons, volcanoes and craters all over it. Red dust covers most of its surface. Mars has clouds and wind, just as Earth does. Sometimes the wind blows the red dust into a dust storm.

Seltun, Geothermal, Iceland

Seltun geothermal area, Iceland

Seltun geothermal area in Iceland

View Point at Seltun, Iceland
Not even grey sky can make this place dull!

During my visit with Alex, most of the time we had the whole place to ourselves and this made us feel even more like we had landed on an otherworldly planet.


It’s not just arriving at Seltun that’s spectacular but the journey getting there is equally impressive, driving along the west coast with the ocean on one side and lava fields and mountains on the other. A memorable stop came when we spotted a dry fish farm in the distance and noticing there was no-one around, we pulled up and headed towards it. Thousands of fish had been hung to dry out on racks, and many were tied to string to make an unusual looking necklace, ready to be shipped off and gobbled up by salty fish lovers around the globe.
Dried Fish, Iceland

From Seltun you can also go to Gunnuhver (appox. 35 minutes drive west), another prominent geothermal area that’s home to Iceland’s largest mud pools. During my visit the wind was blowing me into oblivion as well causing the whole area to look like a Turkish bath – I literally couldn’t see anything beyond a metre in front of me! I’m not a fan of fighting against the wind so we didn’t stay for too long, but it’s definitely worth a visit and hopefully you’ll get a chance to see more of this bizarre spot than I did!

gunnuhver, Iceland
I can’t see you Alex, come closer.

Mud pots at Gunnuhver, Iceland
Every time I look at this photo I have the urge to lather myself up in mud!

Gunnuhver
Lots of pretty colours can be found at Gunnuhver geothermal area, but just don’t ask me the science behind it!

Gunnuhver geothermal area in ICeland
Gunnuhver looks like it’s ready to explode!

The drive alone is worth the visit to Seltun and Gunnuhver. Touring the south-west coast of Iceland was the no.1 highlight of my trip – high praise for something that includes doing the Golden Circle route!



A travel & culture blog specialising in Scandinavia and the Arctic, peppered with the rest of the world in between.


'Seltún: Walking on Mars in Iceland' have 19 comments

  1. August 23, 2013 @ 1:09 pm jenny@atasteoftravel

    What an amazing area. It really does look as though you are on another planet. Iceland certainly seems to be a land of many fascinating contrasts.

    Reply

    • August 26, 2013 @ 7:50 am admin

      Iceland is truly amazing Jenny, I’d love to go back during summer! Love following the updates of your European tour… but I bet it’ll be a mammoth task sorting out all your photos! 🙂

      Reply

  2. August 24, 2013 @ 9:09 am TheTuscan

    Don’t tell me that the rift I can see on picture #4 is exactly the point where the American and European plates (or their oceanic bottom counterparts) come into contact. If it is the case, I envy you so much!
    I don’t know if you’ve ever been to America, but at least geologically, you’ve physically set foot on that continent.
    Oh, by the way, I think you are the right person for a travel company job, as this post entices the reader to visit the places it describes.

    Reply

    • August 26, 2013 @ 8:05 am admin

      Haha I’d like to make you envious, but alas it’s not the exact point (but looking at photo #4 again, it certainly looks that way!)!

      Thank you for the compliment re:my job – I do try me best! At the moment Scandinavia (including Iceland) seems to attract older people partly because it’s expensive but also it can be perceived as being boring but my aim is to prove otherwise! Scandinavia is soooo much fun and there are ways to go there on a budget too!

      Reply

  3. January 20, 2014 @ 11:18 pm Mike | Earthdrifter

    I had no idea about that dual continent thing.

    That fish photo is intense.

    Reply

    • March 23, 2014 @ 9:46 am admin

      I didn’t know until researching about Iceland before I went Mike! I loved getting that fish photo! We saw a dried fish farm in the distance whilst we were driving so we pulled up and got out to get a closer look. It was so windy and the fish were blowing everywhere – invigorating!

      Reply

  4. June 30, 2014 @ 11:58 pm Reykjavik: It’s Quirky, But Is It Affordable? - eTramping.com

    […] areas provides a worthy alternative. To feel like you’ve just landed on Mars, head over to Seltun and Gunnuhver, where you’ll find bubbling mud pots, thermal springs and fumaroles. They are less than thirty […]

    Reply

  5. July 7, 2014 @ 6:28 am Alex

    Hey
    I am planning a trip to Iceland next year. I’ve read a few of your Iceland posts. They are really informative. I can’t wait to check out the site you suggested.

    Alex

    Reply

    • July 7, 2014 @ 5:09 pm admin

      Hi Alex! You’ll have an amazing time exploring all the weird and often quite bizarre landscapes of Iceland! Yeh, make sure you don’t miss Seltun and Gunnuhver , they are real treats for the eyes! Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you want any more info 🙂

      Reply

  6. November 7, 2014 @ 2:42 am John Abell

    I’m planning on visiting Iceland May/June 2015, and your blog has proved more useful than anything I’ve come across when it comes down to winnowing what to do and see in the time we have available.

    One thing I could not find no matter how much I googled is where Seltun is.

    Reply

    • November 22, 2014 @ 9:39 pm admin

      Hi John! I’m sorry about the late reply, I just discovered your message. I’m happy to read that you’ve found my blog useful – that’s why I write! 🙂

      I am so surprised that the address of Seltun doesn’t appear in Google (that makes this place even more exclusive then, huh? :)) Well, unfortunately I don’t have a specific address I’m afraid, but I can tell you that it is about 30 mins east of Grindavik, this might sound very vague but there are not many main roads in Iceland (there’s only one big ring road around the whole country!) so you shouldn’t have too much of a problem locating it. You’ll be able to pick up a local guide map and the directions should marked for you. Alternatively, if you’re staying in a hotel the staff should be able to give you specific directions. It’s definitely worth a trip and the drive there is gorgeous.

      If you have any more questions don’t hesitate to ask, and if you have time you should definitely go to Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon too, it’s mind-blowing. I’ve just written about it here: http://www.theculturemap.com/jokulsarlon-glacier-lagoon-photos/

      Reply

      • November 22, 2014 @ 10:13 pm John Abell

        Hi Shin
        Well this is the problem – we have hired a Kuku Campervan for 5 days, but which way to go, east or west? I was aware of the Jökulsárlón Glacier, but there is so much to see on the west side too, and I just know there isn’t enough time to do both. My rough plan is we do the south-west peninsula first because we are already there, but after that……………? I guess I’m seeking out opinions now. I know two other people who’ve been there, so I’m badgering them to try and get a feel for what exceeds what!
        thanks
        John

        Reply

        • November 23, 2014 @ 10:38 am admin

          Haha sorry to throw a spanner into your planning John! If you have 5 days I believe you can see a large part of South Iceland, not just south-west (even though you’re correct – there’s still a lot to see in that concentrated area!) However, if you want to know what exceeds what, then I have to say the drive from Reykjavik to Vik and then to Skaftafell and Jokulsarlon is a dream!

          If it puts things into perspective for you, some people who are desperate to see Jokulsarlon but have little time hire a car in Reykjavik and then drive there and back in ONE day! Obviously, I think that is a silly idea but it enables you to see how you can comfortably cover a lot of ground in 5 days without rushing too much.

          You could spent a day exploring some of the south-west pennisula, then spend another day doing the Golden Circle Route, then you could drive to Vik (passing the famous Skogafoss waterfall) and stay there for a night, it’s Iceland’s southmost village and perhaps its prettiest (google photo!). There are several black beaches in the area which are stunning and don’t forget Dyrhólaey. Then from there I would recommend driving to Jokulsarlon (approx 2 hours drive) and stopping off at other places of interest including an arm of Vatnajökull glacier called svínafellsjökull which you can just easily park up for. And one more place in the area is Svartifoss waterfall, distinct for its unique basalt columns (a mecca for geologists).

          Then I guess it would be back to Reykjavik for your flight home! This may seem like a lot but they are all enroute so it should be very doable for you especially because you’ll have many hours of daylight. Anyway, these are just a few ideas for you! 🙂

          Reply

      • November 22, 2014 @ 10:45 pm John Abell

        Hi Shin
        Found Seltun!
        Its not on Highway 1, but on a side road called Highway 42, and the geographic location is actually called Krýsuvík.

        If you use Google streetview to look at Krýsyou can see a driveway leading to the geothermal area, and a sign saying Seltun. This must be some kind of local name for it rather than a locational name, which is why it does not appear on any maps.
        John

        Reply

        • November 23, 2014 @ 10:41 am admin

          Ahh this is great, thanks for this info, it’ll be helpful for anyone else reading this post and wandering where Seltun is located! I just want to say, Seltun is not very big so it shouldn’t take up too much of your time. It’s just a really cool place and sums up a great deal of what I like most about Iceland – its eeriness!

          Reply

  7. June 18, 2017 @ 7:57 pm Things You Must Know Before Your Trip to Iceland – Travel Informations

    […] geothermal are, the ground in Seltún is fascinating for being naturally hot and the water is literally […]

    Reply

  8. September 27, 2017 @ 3:20 pm Ernesto San Jose

    Hi, Ms. Shing Yoong. Thank you for the informative take on Seltun. Our group is planning a trip to Iceland in May or June next year. May I ask if one can drive directly to Seltun without a long hike. I used Google Maps and it showed a dotted line from the “end of the road” it seems. Appreciate any information you can provide.

    Reply

    • September 29, 2017 @ 7:34 am Shing Yoong

      Hi Ernesto. Yes, you can dive directly to Seltun without a hike. There’s a car park only a couple of minutes’ walk away – it’s very straight forward. You will probably begin to see some plumes of smoke as you drive up to the site. Hope that helps. Have a fabulous trip! 🙂

      Reply

      • September 29, 2017 @ 9:09 pm Ernesto San Jose

        Thank you very much! Big help in planning the trip, Ms. Shing Yoong.

        Reply


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