Iceland Mag

5 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag


Legality of charging entrance fees, closing Raufarhólshellir cave to the public in doubt

By Staff

  • The cave entrance The cave has been closed to the public by the landowners while repairs are made to walking paths. They intend to charge an entry fee when the cave is re-opened next summer. Photo/Auður Alfífa-Instagram.

Officials with the Icelandic Environment Agency question the legality of closing Raufarhólshellir cave in Reykjanes peninsula to the public. Plans by landowners to introduce entrance fees are also  questioned by the agency. 

Read more: Raufarhólshellir lava cave closed to public, re-opens summer of 2017: Entrance fees introduced



Raufarhólshellir cave A short distance from Reykjavík, just off the ring-road. Photo/Google Maps

The lava cave, which is the fourth longest in Iceland, is listed as a natural site of particular importance. According to law landowners are required to ensure the public is to have free access to all such sites, although the authorities can permit landowners to charge an entrance fee which must then be used entirely for maintenance and upkeep of the site. No such permit has been issued for Raufarhólshellir, and it is unclear how the fee charged will be used.

Public access is protected by law
Icelandic law contains strong protections for public access to nature, even across private property. According to recent revisions to the laws, necessitated by growing tourism, landowners can limit access across their land in the case of agricultural land, pastures or fields, or to bar organized tours and groups which cause nuisance or threaten to damage the land. None of these seem to apply to Raufarhólshellir, officials with the Environment Agency argue.

Read more: Archaeologists discover a cave believed to have been occupied by a Viking Age outlaw

A spokesman for the landowners and investors who plan on making cave more accessible, expand the parking lot and build walking paths inside the cave, told the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service that they are confident they are acting within the law.

A popular tourist attraction and one of the largest caves in Iceland

The 1,360 meter (0.84 mile) long cave is one of the largest in Iceland, and the fourth longest. It is up to 10 m (33 ft) tall, and 10-30 m (36-90 ft) wide, stretching beneath the lava field. Parts of the ceiling have collapsed, making the cave difficult to navigate. Beautiful lava formations in the cave add to its magic.

The cave is very accessible to the public, as the entrance is located right next to the road connecting the ring road to the south coast of Reykjanes peninsula. It has therefore seen growing numbers of visitors in the last few years, as at least 20,000 people visited the cave in 2015. The number in 2016 is expected to be significantly higher.

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