Snorkeling is probably not the first thing that pops into your mind when planning your trip to Iceland?
Yet scuba diving and snorkeling in Iceland is becoming more and more popular among the world’s dive enthusiasts. The main reasons being unique sites and most often fantastic visibility. When travellers ask my, what I should do in Iceland I usually tell them this is a must-do thing!
Snorkeling in Silfra
Out of all the great dive sites in Iceland, Silfra fissure is without a doubt the most popular. One of the main reason is that this freshwater fissure is actually a crack between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. This is probably the only place in the world where you can snorkel between two continents.....pretty awesome right?!
The second reason is the visibility, it can reach up to 70 meters all year around! The water is so pristine that snorkeling in Silfra feels more like flying than actually swimming. It sort of tricks your brain and you get the feeling you are about to fall down the crack, that reaches a maximum depth of 60 meters in some areas.
Some interesting facts:
- Every year, the plates are drifting approximately 2 cm apart.
- The water is so pure, it makes for a great drinking-water
- Placed on the world's top 50 diving destinations by CNN
When I was only 13 years old my father took me along on a dive expedition in Silfra with some of his co-workers. I wasn't old enough to join the actual diving, instead I walked along the crack and followed the stream of bubbles. The visibility was so good that I could see the divers clearly underwater. I remember how excited I was, but at the same time a bit jealous and frustrated, not being able to go in the water myself.
Ever since, I knew this was something I had to experience myself.
Finally on a beautiful day in October I teamed up with Scuba Iceland one of the leading dive centres in Iceland, for a snorkeling day tour in Silfra.
The location of Silfra is not far from Reykjavík or a mere 40 min drive. It's situated in Þingvellir national park, one of the three key attractions within the popular Golden Circle route.
Luckily I got my good friend Elín to join me, on our way to Silfra we stopped for a quick hike to Glymur waterfall in Hvalfjörður, one my favorite hiking trip close to Reykjavik.
Around noon we met up with our snorkeling guide and other fellow travellers at the parking lot in Þingvellir. It was a beautiful day, the air was perfectly still and the sun was shining. However we couldn't let the good weather fool us; it didn't change the fact that we were about to enter water that is only 2 °C! The water is actually coming from Iceland's second largest glacier, Langjökull. The melted ice water travels to Þingvallavatn lake with a 30 to 100 years stop in the cracks along the way. During this time the water gets filtered through the lava rocks making it so perfectly clear.
Time for suiting up! Our base layer was the "teddy-bear suit", a kind of a one-piece fleece pajamas. Next we put on the dry suit itself as well as gloves and hood. The neck needs to be duck-taped to prevent leaking.
All suited up, we started walking toward the crack. Before entering the water our guide made sure that everyone was ready and made a quick safety briefing.
As soon as we jumped in the water we floated back to the surface thanks to the insulating air layer inside our dry suit. Before we started swimming our guide suggested to take a sip and taste the fresh mountain water. It was surely a weird feeling to drink the same water you're actually swimming in.
I was nervous about getting cold, but as soon as I my head went underwater I forgot all about it. The view was absolutely stunning and the blue colour of the water almost didn't seem real. There was a gentle current that slowly pulled us through the narrow passage. Without effort we floated forward and could enjoy the view of the unique lava rocks that reached all the way to the bottom.
When I tell people about snorkling in Silfra one of their first questions is usually, "But, what can I see there? corals? Fish?"
Well, it's not teeming with life and nothing like the tropics at all. That's not really the point and people usually don't understand the beauty until they enter the crack themselves. The underwater landscape is something so different, composed of lava rocks, deep caves and a special type of seaweed that the guides call "troll-hair".
Who needs fish or corals when you have stunning views like that?
OR crystal clear visibility like that?
You really get the feeling that you are entering a whole other world. The colours are unbelievably bright and if your nose wouldn't feel so cold...you would probably forget that you are actually in the water.
Before taking of our dry suit we used the opportunity to go cliff jumping!
- Bring extra set of clothes: even though you're snorkeling in a dry suit, there's
always a chance of some water entering through, making you cold and wet.
- Thermal underwear is probably the most important thing you will take with you on
- Prepare to get cold hands: The movement pushes the warm water out of your
neoprene gloves, so there is constant flow of cold water around your hands. To
avoid it you can keep your hands on your head.
- If you are interested in free diving you can ask for a wet suit instead of dry suit.
What to bring with you
- Waterproof camera
- Thermal underwear - for wearing under the dry suit, 100% wool is preferable and is the best insulator. Don’t wear cotton near the skin, you’ll be soaked quickly leaving you overcooled.
- Wool socks - for wearing under the dry suit
- Warm jacket - For before and after the snorkeling
- Dry clothes for after the snorkeling