Mývatn – No Other Place Like it on Earth

Mývatn is a place that’s like no other in the world. And that’s not my opinion – it’s a UNESCO fact. Only two locations are considered somewhat similar – oceanside Hawaii and Mars!

So what makes it so special? Lake Mývatn is full of islands that formed in a very unique way. About 2000 years ago, lava flowing into the lake from a nearby volcano trapped water underneath it. The water started to boil and then erupted itself, as various steam explosions. These splattered lava cones and troughs throughout the lake, forming land masses known as pseudo craters.

Mývatn’s harsh beginnings are now hidden under a lush, soft green. The lake is rich in nutrients, that are carried to the surrounding land by aquatic insects, allowing lots of plant and animal life to thrive. In fact, the place teems with a unique combination of species, unknown anywhere else in the world. These include over 100 species of birds and rare fluffy balls of green alga known appropriately as lake balls (Aegagropila linnaei).

But the life that makes its presence most known are the midges. Mývatn is home to more than 40 species of midge, and its name literally translates to ‘midge lake’. Expect to be swarmed if visiting between spring and summer. Annoying is an understatement but the midges play a very important role – carrying nutrients from lake to land, and acting as a main food source for various birds and fish that call the lake home. If you visit unprepared, you might end up spluttering out a couple as well!

Top tips for visiting Mývatn:

  • Definitely take midge repellent and a face net. I didn’t have a net and now know what midges taste like after having to spit out a few. They’re present throughout Iceland’s Diamond Circle, though to a less extreme extent.
  • I stayed right by Lake Mývatn here, which is a great base to explore the Diamond Circle. Don’t miss Dettifoss and Námafjall Hverir nearby. Do keep in mind though that water in this region is heated geothermally, so expect the hot water to smell sulphurous (i.e. stinky) wherever you sleep.  Bookable hotels around the lake are mapped here:
  • For more of my travel around Iceland and related tips click here.