Probably not many of you think of diving when it comes to visiting Iceland, a sub arctic island with no tropical fish or coral reefs. However you’ll be surprised by what the country has to offer for divers and snorklers. One of the best known site is probably Silfra, a fissure between the two continents (Eurasia and North America) filled with crystal clear glacial water.
Silfra has become widely famed for its unrivalled clarity, offering one of the best fresh water dives in the world. As a result other natural diving pearls often go unnoticed. One of them is Kleifarvatn, a geothermal lake nestled between steep lava rocks and black sandy beaches. Let me tell you all about it!
Kleifarvatn is the largest lake in Reykjanes peninsula and sits on a very active volcanic area. There is no water flowing in or out of the lake, so the water level solely depends on ground water. Miraculously, during a silent earthquake in 2000 the a fissure opened on the bottom draining the lake causing a 4 meter drop in the water level. Fortunately the crack has mostly filled up naturally the past years so the lake is slowly returning to its former size.
Due to the lake’s position over a highly active area (with over 2000 small earthquakes a month), you’ll witness something you rarely see during your regular dive in the tropics: nothing less than underwater hot springs!
This is something we had to see for ourselves, so we teamed up with Dive.is, Iceland’s first and leading dive center, with years of experience diving/snorkeling in Kleifarvatn. We met with our guide Louis and a group of five that were joining the tour. The location of Kleifarvatn is surprisingly near Reykjavík (a mere 30 min drive), but nevertheless it feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere. It was a beautiful day, the air was perfectly still and so was the lake.
We realised that we had the lake all to ourselves, not another human being in sight. This kind of seclusion is something you won’t encounter in Silfra, which occupies up to 60 tours a day.
We drove around the lake and found a nice spot on a black sand beach to park and gear up. In the mountains above we encountered a rare sight; the arctic fox in his beautiful white coat. This is the first time we’ve seen one in the wild. Fun fact: the arctic fox is the only mammal native to Iceland!
The lake is about 3-4 degrees celcius at this time of year, so dry suits are recommended and are actually used for most dives and snorkeling tours in Iceland. It was a bit different wearing a bulky dry suit for the first time, but their superior thermal insulation is indisputable. Our guide made sure everyone was ready to get into the water and made a quick safety briefing and gave us some practical tips, like how to release air from the dry suit if you want to free dive, or how to get rid of water in your mask etc.
Getting in the cold water felt refreshing and instantly woke us up. The visibility was pretty decent, about 10-15 meters. We didn’t spot any fish (it mostly inhabits arctic char and brown trout), but it’s not the fish you’re after here, it’s the underwater landscape. As soon as 10 m off the shore we started to see the sandy bottom change to something we’ve never seen before: majestic underwater hot springs surrounded by colourful sulfide deposits. Bubbles filled with various volcanic gases were streaming up from hydrothermal vents all around us. It was so strange to see the lake so calm on the surface but everything steaming below!
To get closer to the steaming vents we emptied the air from our dry suits and free-dived to the bottom. We could see the steaming water from below instantly mixing with the cold water, creating a blurry effect on your vision. We could also hear and feel the vibrations from the ground below.
This was such a unique and different experience from what we’ve seen underwater before. During the tour we got the freedom to explore on our own, giving the tour a relaxed atmosphere. We stayed about 40-60 min in the water and never did we get uncomfortably cold, thanks to high quality dry suits.
After getting out of the water our amazing guide prepared a nice buffet for us on the black sand beach. Having a tasty vegan soup with freshly baked bread, cookies and hot cocoa, really gives the tour a final perfect touch.
On the way back we visited Seltún, a geothermal area just 3 min from the lake. Here you’ll see many mudpots, fumaroles and colorful sediments. There is a nice boardwalk through the area and we recommend walking all the way up the hill to get a nice view over Reykjanes peninsula.
Snorkeling in Kleifarvatn, with its geothermal activity and the amazing landscape of Reykjanes peninsula, makes for the perfect day tour from Reykjavik. You don’t have to be experienced or certified in any way to snorkel in the lake. Our experience and service from Louis at dive.is was nothing short of exceptional!