Thursday, 10 October 2013

Myvatn Nature Baths: the whiffier cousin of Iceland's Blue Lagoon

If you're lucky enough to travel to Iceland, it's likely that the Blue Lagoon is on your wishlist. A short hop from Reykjavik and even closer to Keflavik airport, the silky waters of this outdoor bathing spot are considered one of Iceland's unmissable experiences.

 Preparing to jump into the Blue Lagoon. Image © Anita Isalska. See more on my Flickr page.
Iceland teems with watery wonders. Soaking in mineral-rich thermally-heated pools is a beloved pastime, with the Blue Lagoon affectionately thought of as a tourist trap. It's one of many hot-pots to hop around on your Icelandic adventures. Each is unique, but not always for reasons you'd expect.

 The ever-so-slightly grey and grim exterior of Myvatn Nature Baths.
Image 
© Anita Isalska. See more on my Flickr page.
Many travellers to Iceland are struck by the sulphurous tang to the tap water. Airport hotels echo with disbelieving sniffing sounds, as wide-nostrilled travellers take their first showers in Iceland. But believe your nose: the sulphur smell is real, and very prominent in the steamy air above pools like the Blue Lagoon.

 Normal Matt reacts. Image © Anita Isalska. See more on my Flickr page.
But nothing could have prepared me for the nasal assault at Myvatn Nature Baths in the north of Iceland. My travel partner Normal Matt and I drove up to the baths and flung open the car doors... only to immediately start gagging at the smell. The odour was incredible, overpowering, and slightly sickening to our unacclimatised nostrils. We looked disbelievingly at the locals merrily wandering in, and winced in sympathy at a pair of Italian tourists who had leapt back into their hire car and zipped their windows shut.

 Soaking in the geothermally heated, if smelly, waters. Ahhh...
Image 
© Anita Isalska. See more on my Flickr page.
"Seems just like a small Blue Lagoon," said Normal Matt, nose wrinkled. "Except really eggy."

We made our way through the puffs of steam, paid our entry fee (wallet-friendly, compared to the Blue Lagoon) and showered before stepping into the milky waters. The pong invaded our senses with every lungful of air. Bobbing around in the warm water, gritty black sand between our toes, it was hard to ignore the olfactory impact. It gradually became a little less noticeable after enough time soothing our muscles in the warm water. Relaxing as it was, there was a constant waft of overripe egg mayo sandwich.
 Bathers relax in the milky waters of Myvatn Nature Baths.
Image 
© Anita Isalska. See more on my Flickr page.
I heard repeatedly on the trip that you know you're a true Icelander when you barely notice the sulphurous scent. Even as I sniffed the distinctive eggy odour on my drying hair, I knew that if bathing in volcanic springs was a regular treat, I could definitely get used to this.

Read more about my travels in Iceland in my article for Lonely Planet, 'Fire and ice: adventures in Iceland'