Imagine a place with the clearest blue water you have ever seen. Is it in the Caribbean? Philippines? Australia? No, it must be Fiji, right?
It’s in Iceland!
Sitting just under the Arctic Circle, Iceland is the land of fire and ice. The small island of just over 320,000 people is one big volcano. Okay, maybe it’s not one big volcano, but due to its position between two tectonic plates, Iceland is a hotbed of volcanic activity.
What is the Silfra?
Iceland is home to 130 volcanos, with 30 of those being active. Remember when Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in 2010 and halted air traffic in Europe for a week? Thankfully there were no volcanic eruptions while I was in Iceland in October. Although, it would have been cool to see!
Enough with volcanos. Let’s talk about mountains!
Do you know what the longest mountain range in the world is?
Nope, it’s not the Himalayas or the Rockies.
The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is the longest mountain range in the world and it can only be found under the sea. It runs for 65,000 kilometers from Greenland down to South America. Most of the mountain peaks live underwater, but some reach above the water creating islands like Iceland and the Azores.
The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is the divide between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. Iceland lies on both tectonic plates. Every year the two tectonic plates pull apart from each other at a rate of two centimeters per year.
Due to volcanic activity and earthquakes over the centuries, the Silfra was formed in Þingvellir National Park in 1789. The water in the Silfra is one of the cleanest in the world due to volcanos. See, I didn’t mention volcanos just fun!
The Silfra is fed by glacier meltwater from the Lángjökull glacier. Meltwater is quite gross. And you definitely wouldn’t want to swim in it.
So what makes the Silfra water different?
It is filtered by the Skjáldbreiôur lava field. The meltwater from the Lángjökull glacier spends between 30 and 100 years traveling over 50 kilometers through the lava field before it enters the Silfra.
Another cool (no pun intended 😉 ) fact – the water is a consistent 2-4°C throughout the year!
How do I Snorkel or Dive the Silfra?
Þingvellir National Park is a protected national park, so the only way you can snorkel or dive the Silfra is with a registered guide. There are several local options, like DIVE.IS or Arctic Adventures. At the time I was not a certified diver (I am now!) so my only option was snorkeling. My travel partner Hilary had never snorkeled before, but she was a willing partner-in-crime.
Snorkeling or diving the Silfra is not cheap. A day tour will set you back 17,990 ISK or about $143 USD. Nothing is cheap in Iceland, and if you want to do cool things, then you must be willing to break out the credit card. Was it worth it? Hell yes!
My Experience Snorkeling the Silfra in Iceland with Arctic Adventures
After carefully researching our options (aka. googling for the lowest price), we opted to do the Into the Blue Tour with Arctic Adventures. We drove our humble little SADcar, Sputnik, to Þingvellir National Park for our 11 am tour. Arctic Adventures offers a Reykjavik pickup for an additional fee if you don’t have your own wheels.
We met our tour guides Tina and Norris and waited around a bit for the van to arrive with the rest of our tour group. Waiting around was the part I hated. Half the group did not read the website and were not prepared for the tour. Who doesn’t bring socks when you know you’re going to wear a drysuit with attached boots?! It took us well over an hour to get everyone ready because of this. Hilary and I were ready in about 10 minutes.
As you can guess, 2°C water is pretty cold. Although I’m used to cold water in Maine, so I didn’t think it was that cold. Either way, instead of a wetsuit, you were a drysuit. It’s just as it sounds – it keeps you dry. Before you put on the drysuit, you put on a “teddy bear,” or essentially a sleeping bag suit. You have no idea how badly I wanted to steal it too!
After the teddy bear and drysuit, it was time to put on the gloves and check the seals. Then it was the head cover and finally snorkel, mask, and fins.
It was time to rock and roll!
We walked from the parking lot across the street to the entrance of the Silfra. We washed our masks and put on our fins to wobble our way down the stairs into the water. Once we were in the water, Tina and Norris helped us squeeze the air out of our suits, which was quite funny.
We spent about 40 minutes in the water. It was plenty of time to splash around and take in the views. The geological formations were incredible. You’re between two tectonic plates! In theory, you could touch both Europe and North America at the same time! But, touching the rocks is frowned upon. Seriously, don’t do it.
While most of your body is warm and dry, your hands and a small part of your face will get wet. I never felt cold, but some people did get cold. If you’re looking to get good videos, photos, or just want to experience the Silfra in peace, definitely hang towards the back or else you’ll be rushed by the other people if you’re in the front.
Before I knew it, it was over. It’s amazing how time flies when you’re having fun! We climbed out of the water, undressed, and headed out for our self-drive tour of the Golden Circle.
Diving or snorkeling the Silfra in Iceland is a unique experience. Where else in the world can you swim between two continents?