Thingvellir National Park, located on Iceland’s Golden Circle Route, is home to the meeting point of two tectonic plates. The North American and Eurasian plates divide Iceland down the middle. Nowhere—in my mind at least—is this more pronounced than the chasm of the Silfra Fissure. Snorkeling Iceland isn’t what most people have in mind when they visit the island nation but Silfra snorkeling has been a hit with locals and tourists alike!
Read on to find out why!
Snorkeling Iceland’s Silfra Fissue
As the north American and Eurasian tectonic plates diverge from each other they rip Iceland apart at the seams. A monumental gaping rift is all that’s left in their place. At Thingvellir it’s easy to see the grand scale of these forces at work above ground but what many miss is the covert Silfra Fissure hiding just below the surface.
Without knowing what you were looking for and in the absence of tour vans full of dive and snorkel gear it would be extremely easy to miss the Silfra Fissure altogether. Set on the extreme north end of Þingvallavatn (Thillvellir Lake) the the only clue to the underwater canyon’s existence is an inlet that extends like an outstretched finger into the surrounding countryside. Under the surface however; the Silfra Fissure’s near vertical walls extend down to depths of more than 40m and the crystal clear glacial melt-water enables visibility upwards of 100M.
The Best Silfra Snorkeling Tours
As one of the “must do” activities along the Golden Circle you’ll have your choice of tour operators. We enjoyed our trip into the abyss with Arctic Adventures, one of Iceland’s premiere tour operators and would highly recommend checking out their offerings.
We met the tour group & guides at Thingvellir National Park since we were travelling Iceland in our Happy Camper camper van and already in the area. For a few extra dollars they do offer the tour with pickup and drop off services all over Reykjavik.
Upon our arrival we were checked in, asked to review and sign waivers and then sized for our dry-suits. If you’ve never put on a dry-suit before its… …an experience. Luckily for me both my travel buddy Courtney (a recreational diver) and our guide were able to assist me towards a leak-free condition.
Waddling around like overstuffed plush toys we were given a thorough briefing explaining what to expect and what was expected of us. Following the breif we grabbed our masks and fins and walked over to the entrance of the Silfra Fissure where our snorkeling tour would begin.
Why Snorkel Silfra?
…I was instantly mesmerized by the kaleidoscope of colors dancing before me…Patrick Horsfield
People come from around the world to experience snorkeling Iceland’s Silfra fissure & National Geographic calls Silfra one of Iceland’s Top Adventures…
But why go through all this? It could be the extreme clarity of the water, often cited at more that 100M visibility (a world record might I add). It could be the vibrant hues of an alien blue and green world you’re immersed in upon entry. The big one for me though is that It’s the only place on earth you can feasibly swim between the continents, now that makes for a story!
Upon entering the fissure hues of sapphire blue, emerald green and teal water washed over me; punctuated by the deep ruby red of volcanic rock and the glistening silver of the surface above me. Floating there weightless, stunned by the cold, I was instantly mesmerized by the kaleidoscope of colors dancing before me.
The sensation of flying as you slowly drift, weightless with the current, immersed in the crystal clear water is truly indescribable.
Why is the water in the Silfra Fissure So Clear?
Visibility in the Silfra fissure has been measured at over 100M (326′) and holds the record for best visibility in the world. But why? It all starts thousands of meters higher in the mountains above Thingvellir National Park. Here slowly eroded by the sun, glacial melt water rushes down to the Icelandic lowlands and is absorbed by the fertile volcanic soil.
Percolating through the volcanic rock, sand and ash of the island the water emerges in the Silfra fissure as some of the purest in the world. Your guides will likely even suggest you take a big gulp during your swim. Free of contaminants and with a consistent flow/current the water is consistently some of the clearest in the world! From mountain to mouth the water you’ll be enjoying could be up to 2000 years old!
How Cold is the Silfra Fissure?
Silfra fissure is COLD. Period. End of Discussion. Because it’s fed from glacial melt the water in the fissure hovers consistently between 2-4°C. No matter the season the water temperature stays numbingly cool. Interestingly the Silfra fissure never freezes. In fact you can snorkel Silfra even in the dead of the Icelandic winter due to the “warm” (2-4°C) water emerging from the underground aquifer.
There’s no doubt you’ll be chilled following your cool Silfra snorkel but fear not, a complimentary cup of hot chocolate and a dip in one of Iceland’s nearby hotsprings will have you feeling yourself again in no time!
Things to Know Before You Snorkel Silfra
As always, there are some handy things to know before you go snorkeling in Iceland, and the Silfra fissure specifically:
- Bring Spare Clothes: some members of our group ended up with slight leaks around their wrists or necks and had to contend with damp clothing after getting out of the dry-suits. You’ll be happy you did after your tour if it’s a cool day!
- Bring a Camera: A GoPro is a must in my mind, or maybe you read our guide and bought an awesome waterproof camera? Either way, a camera is a must! you’ll get some amazing photos during your Silfra snorkel or Dive. No waterproof camera? no worries! Most of the tour operators will take photos throughout the excursion and for a fee send them too you afterwards or rent you a GoPro to use.
- No Glasses: If you typically wear glasses you’ll need to consider other options. Because of the way the masks seal to your face glasses cant be worn. There are two options for you, plan well ahead and order a dive mask with prescription inserts or wear contacts for the swim.
- Stay Still. Stay Warm: The water at Silfra is incredibly cold (and delicious). Your hands WILL get cold in the wet-suit gloves provided to you. To help keep them warm try not to move your hands much. Instead, letting your arms float beside your body will reduce the amount of cold water entering the gloves in turn keeping your hands
- Wet Vs Dry: If you have a choice between tours offering wet-suits or dry-suits choose a dry-suit! Sure you wont be able to dive below the surface but it’ll also keep you from becoming a Popsicle. The main difference being that a dry suit traps a layer of air around your body keeping you dry. Whereas a wet suit traps a layer of water against of your body which you then need to warm up.
What to Wear While Snorkeling Silfra
Silfra snorkeling is a cold endeavor no matter the time of year. Your clothing choice is paramount to having a good time in it’s icy 2°C water. While the provided drysuit may keep you from getting soaked it alone wont keep you warm!
Long underwear, thermals, a sweat suit or similar warm but thin layers are a must. Make sure you dont mind getting them wet. Many snorkeler’s we talked to ended up, like us, with small amounts of water leaking into their suit around the neck or wrists.
Arctic Adventures provided us with insulated under suits for our dive which I can highly recommend! But go prepared, not all tour operators are equal. Until you’ve confirmed with your selected outfitter dont count on having one available to you!
Snorkel Silfra Video
A quick look at what you’re in for when you snorkel Iceland at the Silfra Fissure!
So… Is Silfra Snorkeling Worth It??
Where else in the world can you literally snorkel or dive between the continents? Where else will you experience crystal clear underwater visibility other than in Silfra’s thousand-year-old filtered glacier waters? Snorkeling at Silfra is a unique opportunity that you’d be crazy to miss out on while visiting Iceland!