Our trip to Iceland was a spur-of-the-moment trip. When we asked for help on where to go, one of the most popular suggestions was visiting the Blue Lagoon. It’s no surprise, as the Blue Lagoon is almost synonymous with Iceland. Who hasn’t seen Instagram pictures of travelers in a thermal lagoon with products spread on their faces?
While we’re not above going to a touristy thermal bath (as we did at Yunnesun in Japan), it wasn’t what we were looking for on our trip to Iceland. If you weren’t aware, the Blue Lagoon is located very close to the airport. It’s a perfect spot to stop right before or after your flight.
But if you’re looking for a natural spot, you’d better look again. The Blue Lagoon is an artificial tourist attraction supplied by water used in the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power station. So guests are swimming in water that has been previously run through the pipes of the power plant.
The Secret Lagoon, known locally as Gamla Laugin, is the oldest swimming pool in Iceland. It was made in 1891 at Hverahólmi, a geothermal area near Flúðir.
We followed Google Maps to the location, but we doubted if we were in the right spot when we arrived.
With a gravel parking lot and a nondescript building, was this the correct place? It was hardly a competitor to the massive Blue Lagoon complex we saw online.
We walked in and were greeted by a sole desk agent who asked if we had a reservation. We said we didn’t, but it turned out that was no problem as they weren’t crowded. We paid our entry fee and were directed to the changing rooms and showers.
If you’re not familiar, in Iceland, guests are expected to fully shower before entering a thermal bath. Much like Japan, this means stripping totally nude and washing before putting on your bathing suit. Prudish Americans might consider using the communal showers at Secret Lagoon awkward but the Icelanders didn’t notice a foreigner in their midst.
The one problem we encountered was that Sharon doesn’t fit into most bathing suits and she prefers to wear a pair of shorts and a t-shirt when swimming. She explained this to the person who sold our tickets, who said this would be OK. However the lifeguard insisted that Sharon would not enter the lagoon while wearing a cotton T-shirt.
To be fair, there were signs in the locker room saying no T-shirts, sports bras, and shorts are allowed at the lagoon.
Secret Lagoon did have swimsuits for rent and despite the poor fit, Sharon made the best of the situation.
Unlike the touristy vibe of the Blue Lagoon, this felt much more like a local pool. There was a mix of tourists and locals and everyone was having a good time. It was a semi-deep pool but there were pool noodles if you wanted to float without any effort.
If you had any doubts about the water source, there were two areas behind the pool with bubbling steaming hot water. They make sure to tell you not to jump into or to stick your hand into the water to prevent burns and your skin from peeling off.
This thermally heated water is controlled and fed into the pool to keep it at a constant temperature and you can feel the currents of hot water entering the lagoon.
Many visitors enjoyed local beers sold from the desk while floating in the lagoon, but we were happy to just float and swim around for about an hour.
If you’re traveling around the Golden Circle, the Secret Lagoon isn’t far away. While it’s not a totally genuine experience, it’s much closer to how the Icelanders soak than what you’ll get at the Blue Lagoon, with all of the other tourists.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary