Laki, Iceland


Laki at a Glance

Located in the south east of Iceland, north of Kirkjubæjarklaustur and near the canyon of Eldgjá, Laki is the most catastrophic volcanic eruption ever recorded in the country, having lasted some eight months. It is situated in an area of fissures between the glaciers of Mýrdalsjökull and Vatnajökull. Even though the eruptions occurred as far back as 1783, the craters are still steaming to this day. The correct name is Lakagígar (Craters of Laki), since the actual mountain did not erupt, but fissures opened up to the sides of it. 

The history of Laki and the scale and destructive nature of the eruptions are factors that attract both curious visitors and geology experts to this area. There is a considerable amount of geothermal related tourism. In fact, Laki is one of the most visited places in the western part of Vatnajökull National Park. However, visitors are requested to treat the area with utmost respect because it is also an area of some fragility. During the summer, a ranger is on hand to provide visitors with all the information they need about the area. There are a number of paths and hiking trails in the Laki area, ranging in duration from less than half an hour to two to three hours, and the view from the summit is good. There is a daily bus service from Skaftafell to Laki during the summer, and the nearest shops and restaurants are at Kirkjubæjarklaustur. 

The Laki fissure system erupted over the course of eight months during the period 1783 to 1784. During the series of eruptions a vast amount of basalt lava, poisonous hydrofluoric acid, and sulphur dioxide compounds poured out of an estimated 25 km fissure. The consequences were catastrophic for Iceland. More than half of the country’s livestock were killed and this, in turn, resulted in a combination of famine and fluoride poisoning that killed an estimated 25% of the population.