Depending upon whom you believe Iceland’s Blue Lagoon is either a  man-made modern marvel or monumental money-making tourist trap but after my first visit to the geothermal believe the truth lies somewhere in between these two extreme viewpoints.

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To better understand the present it helps to take a quick look back at the attraction’s past which dates  to 1976 when by a happy accident the silica rich water raised to the surface and held in large ponds at a geothermal power plant was found to have beneficial effects on the skin. Soon bathers began coming for therapeutic properties of the milky white water that looks blue because of the way sunlight reflects of the silica and that early trickle of local bathers grew to a include intrepid international travelers so that by the mid 1980’s the first permanent facilities were opened.

Thanks to the jet-black lava fields that surround the Blue Lagoon these early visitors remarked on the unique, otherworldly experience but the caché this early exclusivity implied has been replaced by mass market tourism as this year Iceland has welcome some 1.6 million tourists, more than triple the number it did in 2010, so there’s no hiding the tourism tidal wave that’s engulfed this North Atlantic nation of only 330,000 citizens. This surge in popularity is examined in more detail in this excellent article but given the Blue Lagoon’s high profile it is no longer the small, hidden gem of an experience it once was. In fact today’s Blue Lagoon, which features such resort-like creature comforts as swim-up bars and full-service spa with work underway on a massive new luxury hotel addition, has become so popular that visitors need to purchase their admission for a specific date & time in advance to avoid being politely turned away at the reception desk because the facility is full.

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While the Blue Lagoon may not be as rustic and undeveloped as it once was having grown into a large scale tourism destination I nevertheless wanted to join the hordes wading into its magical waters to judge for myself its relative merits or lack thereof.

Having scanned the entrance packages I opted for the 70 Euro Premium plan which included my entry, silica mud mask, towel, robe and slippers, one complimentary drink in the water and another during my meal with a reserved table at LAVA Restaurant. There are less expensive admission packages that start at 40 Euro but as I travel light didn’t want to have to pack my own towel and wanted a larger lunch before boarding my mid-afternoon Icelandair flight home. While the cost of the meal isn’t included in the admission package it was a splurge I told myself I was due after 90 minutes of floating around in the lagoon and ordered the beef tenderloin which looked almost as good as it tasted.

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As with most upscale restaurants in Iceland the cost of meals at LAVA Restaurant is fairly high so for those wanting a less expensive dining splurge there is also a cafeteria on-site.

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The Blue Lagoon’s 9 million litres of water range in temperature between 37°C and 40°C, warm enough during my cool and rainy October visit to create a constant steam clouds to shroud the bathers. It was busy enough on a mid-week mid-morning visit to pay attention not to bump into others but not so crowded you couldn’t find some personal space.

To help manage the millions who make their way to the Blue Lagoon annually some high tech tools are used to lock your locker and track purchases made while on-site. A ‘how-to’ video about visiting the Blue Lagoon may be found here.

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Part of the reason behind the Blue Lagoon’s popularity lies in its proximity to Iceland’s main international airport, Keflavik Airport, which is a short 15-minute drive away. I’d opted for a morning visit ahead later afternoon departure but some travellers prefer a refreshing dip soon after arriving on their overnight flight.

I came away from my visit relaxed and ready to endure the last leg of my journey home having happily played in the healing waters for a leisurely length of time but unsure whether I’d return should I find my way back to Iceland in the future as it isn’t exactly an inexpensive detour and has an almost Disney-like mass tourist attraction quality. Make no mistake the Blue Lagoon is well worth experiencing once and I was glad I’d soaked it all in for myself but given the number of natural hot springs and other scenic sights spread around Iceland I’ll probably give it a pass next time through.