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Blue Lagoon Overview photo credit Kelly Magyarics.jpg
National Geographic named Iceland's Blue Lagoon one of the 25 Wonders of the World. (Image: Kelly Magyarics)

Getting the most from a visit to Iceland's iconic geothermal spa

Enormous piles of black lava rocks surrounding steaming neon turquoise water create a foreign, almost otherworldly, feel. Observing this site, you quickly realize, there really is no place like the Blue Lagoon. It's long been on my bucket list, and my recent trip to Iceland turned the photos I saw on the @bluelagoonis Instagram feed into living, breathing Technicolor.

The Blue Lagoon officially opened in 1992, but the area dates back to 1976, when runoff water from the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power station formed a silica-rich pool in which people started bathing due to its supposed restorative powers. I'd read reviews where naysayers complained about the crowds and the Disney World vibe, but the Blue Lagoon was one of the coolest things I've ever experienced -- National Geographic named it one of the 25 Wonders of the World. If you are visiting Iceland, it's a can't-miss activity, and I have the scoop on how to make the most of your time there.

Plan Your Experience

Pre-booking is required, and downright necessary in the summer high season. Most common is the "comfort package" ($75), which includes entry, DIY silica mud and algae masks, use of towel and a drink at the swim-up bar. Splurge for the "luxury package" ($220), which includes the above plus a robe to use, slippers and spa products to take home, a reserved table and sparkling wine at LAVA Restaurant, and use of the Exclusive Lounge. Everyone is required to shower in the buff before entry into the lagoon; the lounge gave me access to a private shower and changing room, a relaxation room with drinks and snacks, and a separate, private entry to the lagoon.

Getting There

Most guests do the Blue Lagoon at the beginning or end of their trip. There is a scheduled shuttle to and from the Keflavik Airport in Reykjavik, which is 45 minutes away, and for $4 per bag you can store your luggage at the lagoon entrance. I headed there directly after my early morning flight, and it was a great way to stave off jet lag. Since the lagoon doesn't open until 9 a.m., I had breakfast at the Silica Hotel (see more about that below).

Protect Your Hair

I can't stress this enough -- the silica and other minerals will shred your hair. I slathered mine with conditioner and tried to keep it out of the water, which worked until I had to lay back during my in-water massage; for three days after my visit I could barely get a comb through it. Consider wearing a swim cap, baseball hat or even a shower cap.

Explore the Lagoon

The water averages a comfortable 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but I noticed hotter and cooler spots as I moved around. Look left as you enter, and you'll see a crowd of people with white and green covered faces lingering around a mask bar. Dip your fingers in the bowl with the silica mask first, coat your face and neck and let it harden for fifteen minutes (I found it to be a little itchy, but not unbearably so), then simply rinse off with the lagoon water. Repeat with the algae mask doled out by the attendant, which won't harden, and definitely feels more soothing.

Sip a Drink

What would a lagoon be without a swim-up bar? Every package except the "standard" includes a drink of your choice, from cocktails and wine to beer and smoothies; I opted for a glass of bubbly. If you want to order another one (three's the limit), the bartender simply scans your entrance wristband and you pay on the way out.

Get a Massage

Don't want to leave the water to get a massage? You don't need to. I booked a 30 minute treatment ($85), and waited at a designated area for my therapist to collect me. She helped me lay back on a floating yoga-type mat, covered me in towels, and dipped me back into the water every few minutes to warm me up. Afterwards, I was invited to relax in that separate area for as long as I liked.

Take Photos

I bought a waterproof bag for my cell phone on Amazon for around $10, which allowed me to safely take photos and video from the water. I saw a lot of other guests with the same bag, and we all agreed it's a super helpful little tool to protect your phone.

Stay for Lunch or Dinner

Both LAVA Restaurant and Blue Cafe have stunning views of the lagoon. LAVA offers modern takes on some classic Icelandic ingredients (lamb, cod, Arctic char), via a prix fixe or a la carte menu. We didn't have time to linger, so we grabbed some sushi at the cafeteria-style cafe.

Stay for the Night

A ten minute walk from the lagoon, the Silica Hotel features 35 modern Icelandic appointed rooms with incredible views of the lava fields. They also have their own geothermal pool and a killer breakfast buffet with cured salmon, pastries, charcuterie, fruit and Skyr (the creamy Icelandic yogurt that's to die for). You can get a package deal that includes entrance to the lagoon and let your whole experience last that much longer.