One of the most unique and memorable experiences of my life was snorkeling Silfra earlier this month. Silfra is a freshwater fissure located in Thingvellir National Park in Iceland. The fissure was created as a result of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates breaking apart, and the water in the fissure is one of the clearest in the world – only rivaled by the cenotes (“sinkholes”) of Mexico. Scuba Iceland takes adventurous travelers on scuba and snorkel expeditions through Silfra, and my experience with Scuba Iceland far exceeded my expectations.
Scuba Iceland offered to pick us up from our hotel in Reykjavik, but we opted to meet our guide at the Information Centre at Thingvellir National Park because we had rented a car and wanted to continue our tour through the Golden Circle after our snorkel. Note that there is a separate Visitors’ Centre and Information Centre at Thingvellir, and the meeting point for Scuba Iceland is at the Information Centre. It is easy to confuse the two locations, and we ended up arriving a few minutes late to our meeting point.
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We provided our heights and weights to Scuba Iceland before the trip so they could get us fitted with the proper drysuits, and our guide, Neil, immediately spotted us when we arrived at the Visitors’ Centre, as we are a 5’2” female and 6’4” male. After filling out a consent form and waiting for the rest of the group to arrive, we followed Neil to a parking lot near the snorkel site, where we parked our cars for the duration of our tour. Note that once you get into your drysuits, you will be in there for an hour or so, so it’s a good idea to use the toilets at the Visitors’ Centre before leaving for the snorkel site.
From the parking lot, we hopped into Neil’s Scuba Iceland van for the short drive to the snorkel site. Neil gave us a rundown of how the wetsuit and drysuit we would be putting on would work to keep us warm, and then helped each of us into our gear. While waiting my turn, I observed many of the other groups preparing for their snorkel tours through different companies and felt grateful to have Neil as our guide, as he provided much clearer instructions than many of the other guides there that day. Neil got us into our suits efficiently and made sure we were as comfortable as can be. The whole process was easier and quicker than I expected, based on some other accounts I had read prior to my visit.
I would be lying if I said the drysuit felt comfortable. My body felt fine, but my neck felt constricted and I started to worry about being able to snorkel while it felt like someone had a chokehold on my neck. On top of that, when Neil checked the fit on my gear, he determined that the part of my drysuit protecting my neck was still too loose and put a rubber band over that portion of my drysuit. I was not excited about that to say the least but trusted that Neil knew what he was doing. In retrospect, I am very glad he did that because the alternative of having ice-cold water leak into my drysuit sounds absolutely awful. The boots on the drysuit were also much too large for my tiny feet, which made walking around the parking lot very awkward, but I didn’t notice it at all once I got in the water.
After donning our wetsuits and drysuits, we picked out gloves, a head wrap, and a snorkel and mask. The gloves and head wraps come in all different sizes, from extra small to large. I would recommend getting the smallest size possible for your gloves and whatever size fits snugly yet comfortably for your head wrap. You do not want your head wrap to be too tight as that might be uncomfortable for you, but you do want to get gloves that fit extremely snugly as that will help trap heat in your hands while you’re in the water. Finally, Neil handed each of us flippers, and we set off on our short walk to the water’s edge.
There were a couple of other snorkel and scuba groups waiting to enter the water when we arrived. One girl on the scuba tour had a panic attack just before entering the water and was sitting on the ledge when we arrived. She ended up deciding not to proceed on the tour, and her guide seemed very understanding and kindly brought her back to the parking lot meeting area where she could change out of her gear. If at any time you start to panic or do not feel like going through with your plans, simply let your guide know and you will be able to sit this one out.
Right before we entered the water, Neil gave us a couple of helpful tips for staying warm and relaxed in the water. First; rather than kicking our flippers like we normally would, a slight frog-like motion with our legs would be enough to propel us through Silfra. He next recommended to keep our hands on our backs and out of the water when we’re swimming so as to keep them warm. Since the gloves are made of a neoprene material and not the waterproof drysuit material we had on our bodies, water would get into our gloves and reach our hands. However, the neoprene material is designed to retain heat, so the cold water should soon turn warm from our body temperature. However, a majority of my tour group complained of cold hands by the end of our journey, Personally, I kept my hands in the water most of the time since I was holding my GoPro and filming the journey, and my hands did not feel extraordinarily cold by the end of our swim. You may want to just test it out yourself and see what’s most comfortable for you.
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Once I got in the water and started snorkeling, all my fears and discomforts from the drysuit disappeared, and I felt truly relaxed. I have snorkeled many times before in tropical places with just my swimsuit, mask, snorkel, and flippers, and it can get tiring fighting against the waves in the ocean trying to find coral reefs and animals. In Silfra, there is a current that pushed us toward the direction we planned to travel in, so we hardly had to do any work other than float and admire the clearest, bluest water I have ever seen. Our drysuits also acted as flotation devices, so we could simply lie face down without doing any work, and we would stay afloat.
We did not see any animals or coral reefs in Silfra but rather meters upon meters of bright blue water and impressive rock formations. At one point we swam toward a group of scuba divers and observed the bubbles from their dive tanks rising to the water’s surface. At another point, we held onto shallow rock formations and stared down into a deep blue hole, all the while marveling at these impressive natural creations.
The most exciting part of the journey was approaching a narrow opening where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates sit closely enough that you can touch one of the tectonic plates with your hands and the other with your feet. Unfortunately at my wee size, I was not tall enough to reach both at the same time, and the current whipped me around quite quickly, but if you’re a little taller than me (which is not hard to do), you should have no problem with this.
After about 30 minutes or so in the water, we finished our tour and made the journey back to the parking lot to change out of our gear. My body stayed completely dry, and the only thing that was soaked was my hair. Neil helped us change out of our gear and set up a table with hot chocolate and cookies for each of us. After swimming through ice-cold water, a cup of hot chocolate was just what I needed to warm up my body.
TIPS FOR SNORKELING SILFRA
- If you have long hair, bring a hairbrush with you to your tour. You will be able to leave all your belongings in the Scuba Iceland van during your snorkel tour, so you don’t need to worry about bringing too much stuff. My hair had gotten so tangled by the end of my snorkel, and I was stuck with wet, messy hair for the rest of the day.
- If you are worried about being too cold, bring an extra pair (or a few extra pairs) of socks. I wore a pair of my favorite thick wool hiking socks, and my feet did get pretty cold at one point despite being dry and covered with the drysuit.
- If you book a tour with Scuba Iceland, your guide will bring a camera on your tour and take photos of everyone in the water, which you will be able to look through and purchase after the tour if you’d like. However, to ensure you capture the exact images and footage you want to capture, bring a GoPro or underwater camera. One of the girls on my tour left her GoPro in the van last minute because she thought it would be too much of a hassle to have in the water, but I kept my GoPro strapped to my wrist the whole time and barely noticed it was there when I wasn’t using it.
- Finally, if you are planning on touring the Golden Circle or doing any other activities later that day, make sure you allow for extra time in case others on your tour are running late, or everything just takes longer than anticipated.
Snorkeling Silfra with Scuba Iceland was hands down one of the most unique and awesome experiences of my life, and I would highly recommend that you try it when you visit Iceland. After all, how many people can say they’ve snorkeled between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates and even touched both at the same time?
If you’d like to book a snorkel tour with Scuba Iceland, click here and make sure you book early as the tours fill up fast.
A big thank you to Scuba Iceland for making this tour possible for us. As always, all opinions are 100% our own.
Author: Diana Chen
Recently left my job as an attorney to pursue the work-from-anywhere/travel-everywhere life. I blog about traveling the world with a full time job, confronting your travel addiction, and pursuing your passions without going broke. Traveled to 21 countries on 4 continents since March 2017 and 48 countries total. Next big adventure is hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro in February 2018.
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