How often do you get to snorkel between two tectonic plates, through some of the clearest waters on Earth? I knew I absolutely had to check this experience off my bucket list when I went to Iceland. Snorkeling in Iceland at the Silfra fissure is an absolute must on any itinerary through the island nation!
Read up on my Iceland series: traveling as a vegetarian in Iceland, all about the Blue Lagoon, one day in Reykjavik, and exploring the hip coffee culture of the capital city.
The Silfra fissure:
The Silfra fissure in Iceland is the point where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly moving away from each other (2cm/year). Therefore, you will literally be snorkeling in the crack between the tectonic plates at the Silfra fissure. In all the excitement of this big bucket list experience I was going to have, I would show friends and family photos of the fissure on Google Images before my trip, telling them one side was Europe and the other was America. Contrary to the rumors doing the rounds on the Internet, you can’t actually touch both continents with your arms – they are several meters apart! So you have been warned 🙂
Aside from the fact that snorkeling in Iceland means you get to swim between two continents, the Silfra fissure in Iceland also boasts of the clearest waters in the world, with visibilities up to 100 meters. The water that flows into this fissure comes from a glacier, so there is no marine life here, the temperature is approximately 2ºC all year round (be prepared), AND it’s drinkable!
Getting to Iceland’s Silfra fissure:
The Silfra fissure is located in the Thingvellir National Park (one of the three stops on the Golden Circle), which is about 45 minutes from Reykjavik. You have several options available:
- If you have rented a car and want to drive to Thingvellir National Park yourself, you can book just a diving or snorkeling experience with one of the many companies that operate in Iceland.
- If you don’t want to drive, you can either book a diving or snorkeling experience which includes a Reykjavik pick-up OR you can book a Silfra experience as part of a Golden Circle tour.
We chose to go with Arctic Adventures’ Golden Circle tour with a snorkeling experience. There are several companies that operate and you can’t really go wrong. It all depends on availabilities, so just make sure to book in advance. You can’t miss out on snorkeling in Iceland!
Scuba Diving or Snorkeling in Silfra?
To scuba dive at Silfra, you need to be a certified diver, AND either have a dry suit certification or have logged at least 10 dry suit dives in the past two years. Since I didn’t have any of this, and I was going to visit Silfra less than 24 hours after landing in Reykjavik, I chose to go snorkeling in Iceland instead.
What to expect when snorkeling in Iceland at the Silfra fissure:
I had read so much conflicting information about what to pack for snorkeling in Iceland at the Silfra fissure. So let me clarify this for everyone! Due to the FREEZING temperatures, you will be wearing three layers: a full set of clothes, a puffy fleece overall, and a dry suit. I am a bit of a noob about all of this stuff so I’ll explain for those who are as confused as I was. The dry suit looks like the wet suit you wear to scuba dive, except that it prevents any water from entering (and is therefore exceptionally tight). That extra bit of insulation keeps you warm.
Beware! You WILL feel a bit claustrophobic the first time you get the entire three layers on. The dry suit is meant to be really tight, especially at the wrists and the neck, where there is most likelihood of the ice cold water seeping in. To prevent this, they will tie rubber bands around your wrists, and a collar around your neck. Our snorkeling instructor told us that if we felt like we couldn’t breathe, we had put the equipment on right. I am HUGELY claustrophobic so I was not feeling very confident at this point. How was I going to survive another hour in this suffocating gear? But if you are anything like me, don’t worry – the minute you go underwater, it becomes much easier. You won’t really feel anything 🙂
Your head and hands will be covered with neoprene gloves and a hoodie, which, unfortunately, are not waterproof. Our guide warned us that our hands and head would likely freeze. To avoid that, you shouldn’t move your hands around too much in the water, and if you aren’t taking pictures, just keep them on your back, above the water.
Packing for snorkeling in Iceland:
So… what do you actually need to pack for snorkeling in Silfra?
- Full sleeve cotton tshirt and tights/leggings to wear underneath the two other suits. Do not bring jeans! Lot of websites recommend thermals, but don’t worry. Just a regular full sleeve top and leggings should be fine.
- Thick socks
- A change of clothes. Despite all the protection, some people can have water seep through their dry suits, in which case your clothes can become wet and cold.
- Protective case for your phone or GoPro
Honestly, the funniest part of the day was probably getting into and out of the gear. Even in the summer, it’s just so cold in Iceland. Your hands feel numb. And all the gear is SO DAMN tight and rubbery. It really is a struggle getting into and out of all the layers, and strapping everything on.
You will spend 30-45 minutes in the water, so just soak it all in (not literally :)). Your hands will get a bit numb, but it won’t be unbearable. The views are so gorgeous and totally worth it!
After snorkeling, they’ll treat you to some cookies and hot chocolate. The BEST feeling EVER!! Those 45 minutes got over pretty quickly, and I hope I can return one day.
PS: My stupid underwater camera stopped working mid-snorkel. So a big thanks to my friend Vatsal for most of the photos in this post 🙂