26
Nov-2017

Iceland Adventures: Snorkelling the Silfra Fissure

Iceland, Snorkels   /  
Snorkelling the Silfra fissure in Iceland

Snorkelling the Silfra fissure in Iceland © Juliette Sivertsen

ARCTIC BERRIES

 

“Open your mouth.”

Umm, my mouth?

“Just open your mouth, I’ve got something for you.”

It was an odd demand from a man I’d only met about an hour prior. Even odder is that we were currently drifting down the waters of a melted glacier between two continental plates.

Welcome to the Silfra fissure, Iceland.

Water temperature = 3ºC. Personal blood circulation levels = slow.

Snorkelling the Silfra fissure in Iceland: Thingvellir National Park

The view of the top of the Silfra Fissure in Iceland | © Juliette Sivertsen

I looked at my guide, Weston, took the snorkel out of my mouth and did what he asked.

Something sharp landed on my taste buds. A little berry, plucked from the side of the rocks of this body of water. How does a berry grow on the rocky walls of this giant crack in the earth, in such harsh temperatures?

I didn’t have too much time to ponder the answer or ask too many questions. Only a few minutes into my Silfra snorkelling adventure and my lips were numb and no longer nimble enough to hold a clear conversation.

Snorkel back in my mouth, I rolled back over onto my tummy to stare deep down into the abyss below.

 

SNORKELLING THE SILFRA FISSURE OF ICELAND

 

The Silfra is a fissure of the earth; a giant crack between the North American and Eurasian continental plates in the Þingvellir National Park of Iceland.

Snorkelling the Silfra fissure in Iceland: Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir National Park, Iceland © Juliette Sivertsen

It’s filled with glacier water, crystal clear with 100m visibility.

This lake has become one of Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions, giving visitors the chance to snorkel, free dive or scuba dive between the plates. The temperature remains between 2ºC and 4ºC year-round. 

“In another 40 years, you’ll be able to snorkel in another glacier lake,”  Weston suggests to us before our journey into the icy waters.

Weston is from Maine, in the US, and moved to Iceland as a scuba diving instructor. Now he takes groups scuba diving, freediving, and snorkelling through the Silfra each day.

“About 20% of people each day don’t finish,” he explains. Twenty percent – that’s a fifth of each day’s tourists who sign up, pay for the experience and bail.

Why?

“Some of them are from big cities and they don’t know how to swim.”

Weston says some people lie on their waiver forms, stating they are comfortable swimmers, when in fact, they’ve never entered a pool, lake or ocean in their lives. They think the drysuit will somehow magically keep them buoyant and safe.

Why a person who doesn’t know how to swim would pay hundreds of dollars to snorkel in 3ºC glacier water is beyond me. But that’s travel influencing for you – forgo all risks to do what is popular.

The other reason for people not completing is a little more interesting – fear of heights.

The water of the Silfra is crystal clear, over 100-metre visibility. Which means, as soon as you put your face into the water, you can see metres and metres below you, as if you’re at the top of a skyscraper, peering over the edge.

Snorkelling the Silfra Fissure: snorkelling between continental plates

The Silfra Fissure, Iceland | © Juliette Sivertsen

That’s what happened to Frenchie.

One of the men in our group, a Frenchman in his 50s, was attempting the snorkel with his daughters.

“My English, not so good,” he told me.

“That’s okay,” I replied. “Je parle un peu de francais, monsieur. Il fait froid!”

My limited French put me on good terms with Monsieur. But I could not help him when I heard him freaking out as he entered the water.

“Papa! Papa!” one of his daughters yelled.

I rolled onto my back and noticed there was a bit of a commotion, as Monsieur was trying to clamber up the side of the rocks and out of the water.

“Papa!”

Weston told us more confident snorkelers to drift a little further along, then wait for him. He helped the poor man out of the water before telling him to walk around and meet us at the lagoon, our exit point.

Frenchie then became a statistic – one of the 20% who signed up and bailed.

He later told me he suffered vertigo. Suddenly he could see deep down through the crack in the earth through the crystal clear waters, and vertigo overpowered him. And that was it – he refused to go back into the water, recognising his limits, albeit a little late in the game.

 

WHAT DOES THE SILFRA LOOK LIKE?

 

Entering the Silfra is like a magic vortex between time and space where you can be in two places at one time.

From the surface, the water of the lake looks dark, if not a little murky. In Iceland, weather is fairly drizzly and cloudy  – so there was no bright sunlight shining into the water.

But as soon as your face breaks the surface, the scene below is much lighter and the clarity intensifies. Suddenly, you can peer down into a new world below you. It’s a deep chasm, with water so clear it’s like you’re floating or flying in mid-air.

I can understand that if you were afraid of heights, this would be right up there among terrifying experiences.

For me, it was a marvel.

 

DIVE, FREEDIVE OR SNORKEL THE SILFRA?

 

I really wanted to scuba dive the Silfra.

But, unfortunately for me, there’s a requirement these days that all scuba divers must be drysuit certified or have at least 10 logged drysuit dives.

I’m a confident and qualified Advanced scuba diver but have never been in a drysuit. Heck, at the start of the year I was living in Fiji and barely even needed a wetsuit. While all the snorkellers wear a drysuit, scuba divers need to know how to control their suits at depth.

Snorkelling the Silfra fissure: scuba diving between plates

Scuba diving the Silfra

 

I toyed with the idea of getting drysuit certified before I left for Iceland, but I felt it was an expensive exercise if I didn’t plan on doing many further drysuit dives in future.

Then I read about freediving the Silfra. I would be in a wetsuit – brrr – but would be able to have the freedom and buoyancy control to dive down rather than simply float at the top of the surface, like those in a drysuit.

I turned up at Adventure Vikings, slightly hesitant about the prospect of freediving in a wetsuit. I’d come down with a bit of a cold and was suffering the sniffles.

I explained my situation to Weston and he pretty quickly advised me against freediving, especially if I was congested.

“If you can’t equalise on the ground, you won’t be able to equalise underwater as you go down,” he explained. The pressure in my sinuses would be too much. Add the icy waters and I probably wouldn’t have a great time.

Disappointed, I understood and prepared to get into the drysuit instead. At least that way, I could keep all my thermals on underneath, with the waterproof suit and tight seals around my neck and wrists keeping me dry and my body warm.

Just my face and hands were exposed to the elements. I snorkelled with my gloved hands behind my back, above the water, to help keep them from freezing.

 

HOW TO PREPARE TO SNORKEL THE SILFRA

 

I had a rental car with SADCars which allowed me to self-drive around Iceland – and head to the Silfra fissure by myself. 

But, most of the Silfra tour companies offer a pickup from Reykjavik if required, usually for a fee.

If you do have a rental vehicle – which I highly recommend for Iceland –  getting to the Silfra site is easy.

The Thingvellir National Park is about 45 minutes from Reykjavik, but allow for a longer trip as you may want to stop along the way ( like anywhere in Iceland!), or you might get stuck behind a tourist coach.

You’ll need to arrive early to get ready for your adventure – including suiting up and safety briefings.

There may also be another wait before entering the water. For us, it was only about 20 minutes, but in peak times, expect to wait much longer.

 

Snorkelling the Silfra fissure: Scuba divers preparing to enter the water

Scuba divers preparing to enter the Silfra fissure

 

Make sure you’ve had something to eat and drink prior to your adventure – and be sure to go the toilet before getting your drysuit on!

Here’s what I wore underneath my drysuit:

-thermal leggings
-2 x thermal tops
-merino socks

Bring a hat and wool gloves to wear while waiting for your adventure to start.

The drysuit has boots attached to the bottom of the legs, so your feet stay dry – which is why you need warm socks. You’ll be given rubber seals for around your wrist and neck to keep water out of the suit. It will be uncomfortable and tight – but not so tight to cut off circulation – so be prepared for that feeling. It’s a lot more comfortable once you’re in the water and floating on the surface.

Finally – don’t lie on your form when you sign up for the experience. If you can’t swim, don’t do it.

The other big question – should you snorkel the Silfra if you’re afraid of heights?

Yes, you can, but be aware it’s possible you can get vertigo due to the clear water and deep fissure, so be smart about your ability. There are parts of the Silfra that are shallow, so you can drift over those rocks if you prefer not to look too far down. 

Diving or snorkelling the Silfra fissure is a beautiful experience – but just because every other tourist is doing it, doesn’t mean you should, if you aren’t comfortable in the water.

And for those of you who do complete it – welcome to the club! A memory of a lifetime.

Snorkelling Silfra fissure Iceland

Silfra, Iceland | © Juliette Sivertsen

IS SNORKELLING THE SILFRA FISSURE WORTH IT?

 

Diving or snorkelling the Silfra fissure had been the number one item at the top of my bucket list for a number of years now. I’m delighted to be able to cross it off the list.

Like anything in Iceland, it’s not cheap; expect to pay around $230NZD for the experience. That’s definitely the most expensive snorkel trip I’ve ever done.

So, is it worth it?

For me, personally, YES, it was absolutely worth it.

It was a dream experience and something so unique to have achieved. I still would love to go scuba diving, but I’ll save that trip for when John can come with me.

I loved the feeling of drifting between this deep crack in the earth. But I am a water baby. Hand me a snorkel, scuba diving regulator, kayak or paddleboard and I’m a happy lass.

If you’re not comfortable in the water, then you might want to rethink it. And it is bloody freezing – another thing to weigh up if you’re a bit averse to the cold.

But if you have a sense of adventure, love the water and keen to try something you’ll never experience anywhere else in the world – then go for your life. I mean, how many other places can you snorkel between continental plates?

Scuba diving and snorkelling the Silfra fissure in Iceland

Peering down at the scuba divers in the Silfra fissure of Iceland | © Juliette Sivertsen

 


DISCUSS: Have you been diving or snorkelling in the Silfra fissure in Iceland? How did it make you feel? Would you do it again?

 

Snorkelling the Silfra Fissure: Snorkelling between continental plates in Iceland in glacier water

 

I completed this experience with Adventure Vikings. I paid for the excursion myself and receive no compensation for writing this – so it’s 100% my personal opinion.

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  • Malini Swank

    Love these photos! We’re planning a trip to Iceland soon and this is giving me serious inspiration. I’m pinning it for later!

  • Bernie

    That’s an incredible experience. You’ve given the reader some really important things to think about when booking too. I’m happily a water baby, but I’m not good with either cold or heights, so I think I’d have to stick to living it through your post. But what amazing colours underwater!

    • Thanks so much for your kind words! I loved every second of it – even in the cold! Truly incredible and unique experience.

  • Lisa Rivera

    I’m so jealous Juliette, more for the fact that you’re an advanced scuba diver! I was a disaster during the training and realised early on it wasn’t for me! Still, I can’t imagine paying so much money, and not fully understanding what’s involved. I’d never thought a fear of heights would be one of the reasons, that’s so interesting to read! Still, I’m glad you had an amazing experience in beautiful Iceland.

    • Ah thanks Lisa! I must admit, I didn’t take to scuba diving initially. It took me quite a while to get the confidence up – and now I love it!

  • Jamie

    Wow, what a fantastic experience! I would probably end up like the Frenchie with my fear of heights. Your photos are spectacular so I’ll just enjoy seeing the fissure that way for now.

  • I guess an underwater camera is a must as well to photograph those 100 meter views! It’s incredible that 20% of the groups never finish. I saw Alexander Armstrong complete this snorkeling adventure on ITV and he seemed super cold throughout the experience. I would love to snorkel the Silfra Fissure.

    • Yes or the good old GoPro works well too. Amazing to see so far in the distance! It was defintely cold, I’m not going to lie – but I had a lot of adrenalin and excitement helping keep me warm!

  • Jennifer Riley

    I had never thought snorkelling would be an activity in Iceland! The underwater scenery looks so beautiful though! This might be something I would have to treat myself to on a trip there.

    • It’s pretty crazy! There are some cool dive spots around Iceland too that I’d love to go back and try, if I can get drysuit certified. Totally worth the experience – I loved it and would do it again!

  • Mel B

    Ever since I saw a similar post similar on snorkeling the silfra fissure, I have had it high on my bucket list. After reading your post, I want to do even more now, you pictures looks so cool and surreal. Even though it is a little pricey, I think I would definitely treat myself to this. The only thing I am not sure about is if I could handle the cold!!!

    • Oh it’s just the coolest thing in the world! Such a unique experience – you have to do it! I loved being able to see so far ahead and the crazy feeling of drifting between two plates. Expensive but a must-do for Iceland!

  • Lois Alter Mark

    I’ve only been to Iceland once before and fell totally in love with it. I’d absolutely be in that twenty percent- your pictures offer enough of the experience for me! Seems like the perfect adventure for my son though- will have to send him this link!

    • Iceland is spectacular, isn’t it! Incredible landscape. I’m sure your son would the Silfra experience!

  • Kavita

    I had not even heard of this experience, but wow, it sounds magical, as long as you go in prepared and as you say, no point in lying!! I think the cold and the sense of vertigo would be issues for me but on the other hand it looks like an epic experience!

    • Sure was magical indeed! Very surreal but totally worth it. But if you get vertigo…just try snorkelling in other areas first perhaps!

  • Wow, 20% don’t finish?! Interesting. Your photos are just stunning. I’d love to visit Iceland.

    • Yeah, I couldn’t believe the statistics. Very interesting to hear. Iceland is stunning – a bucket list country!

  • Corinne

    When I was in Iceland I toyed with the idea, very shortly, about whether or not I wanted to snorkel in Silfra. Half of me wanted to, but the other half, the sane half talked me out of it. I didn’t, and to be honest after reading your account I’m glad I didn’t. I would have become one of the 20 percent, I’m pretty sure.

    • Well, if you know your limits, then you made the right decision. Sometimes it’s good to push ourselves out of our comfort zone but other times it’s good to know what our limits are and be comfortable staying within those boundaries, than pushing ourselves and then having to bail out before the halfway mark! An incredible experience though.

  • Deni Verklan

    I’ve always wanted to do this!! I’m terrified of everything under the sea though. Is this in a lake or in the ocean? I’ve dealt with wetsuits, drysuits, swimming in glacial water and I’m a good swimmer, so it’s 100% a mental thing. Although this post made me 110% more excited to do it, instead of being more nervous. How long was the excursion for?

    • This is a lake – a melted glacer actually. So the water is 100% fresh – you can even drink it! If you are a good swimmer you’ll be fine! The drysuit keeps you bouyant. And just being in awe of the surroundings – that’s pretty good distraction! I think total time in the water was maybe 45 minutes? I’ve forgotten! It went too quickly for me!

  • Rashmi & Chalukya

    Snorkelling and Iceland both are high on our list. The life under sea has always fascinated us and Silfra looks like magical place indeed. Thanks for all the tips and heads up. Snorkelling in Silfra will definitely be on list on our visit to Iceland.

    • Iceland is a remarkable country. The landscape is spectacular – above and below the surface! Totally recommend the Silfra experience.

  • Oh wow! Awesome experience it was! Too bad that the French man couldn’t experience it! Arctic berries in the midst of frozen rocks? I wonder what it tastes like. I’d love to try it! Thanks for also mentioning what to wear in that icecold snorkeling!

    • A shame that he couldn’t finish, but once he realised he had vertigo, he was quite happy not to complete the excursion. Crazy about the arctic berries!

  • Sounds amazing. I have been to iceland and the Thingvellier National Park, but didn’t get around to the snorkelling. I love snorkeling but have a fear of heights – I wonder which one will win if I tried this! #farwawayfiles

    • Truly amazing! Iceland is beautiful, isn’t it! Well, if you love snorkelling then you would probably be okay with it, you would be able to work through the fear of heights, because you know how to snorkel. You can float over more shallow areas. And can always roll onto your back for a break!

  • Annabel

    That is quite an experience! I love the idea of the exceptional visibility and the location, a crack in the earth, sounds incredible. Not sure if the temperature would put me off, I’m not quite as adventurous as I used to be. I’ll have to encourage a sense of adventure in my kids and then maybe they’ll force me to start doing this sort of thing again! #farawayfiles

    • I hope your kids will encourage you to do this ha ha! Such an incredible experience. It’s hard to describe! It was at the top of my bucket list and I can’t believe I ticked it off!

  • Annabel

    Great blog name by the way!

  • Janine Thomas

    Wow! This looks like an amazing adventure, I would probably be one on the 20% who bailed at the last minute . I love the idea in principle though. Who would have guessed that you could snorkel in a fissure in the earth?

    • I know, it’s a pretty special experience for sure! Loved every second. The guides are great and talk you through everything. But each to their own! Only you know your limits.

  • Untold Morsels

    Wow! I can see why snorkelling the Silfra Fissure was on your bucket list Juliette. It looks absolutely incredible and your advice for those who would follow in your flipper wake is excellent. There is no way I could do this with my reactions to being even slightly cold but I truly appreciate that it must have been a mindblowing experience. Did they have any of those mini submarines for people like Frenchie and me? I’m not sure how environmentally friendly they are though.. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

    • Honestly, it was one of the most magical experiences of my life! Even with freezing hands! Ha ha no rescue submarines – but our guide was great and helps everyone in or out of the water. A wonderful experience though – crazy to think I finally got to tick it off the bucket list!

  • This looks like such an incredible experience!!! I love snorkelling but only ever done it in warm waters. Would love to do this one day. #farawayfiles

    • Snorkelling in warm waters certainly is easier! But the crystal clear glacier water was a truly unique and marvellous experience.

  • hilary

    This is amazing! Your video was wonderful. I’ve never even been snorkeling, so I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t be the place to start, but I really loved reading about your experience. Thank you so much for sharing on #FarawayFiles

    • Thanks so much Hilary! Glad you like the video. I would defintely recommend starting to snorkel in warmer waters first before tackling the Silfra!

  • Amazing – I feel like I learned so much and I like that you wrote this in a scuba diver’s perspective rather than just one of a typical tourist.

  • Insider Families

    I’ve always wanted to go to Iceland but had no idea you could snorkel there. Glad to know how it is possible. #FlyAwayFriday

  • Good luck – it’s a remarkable experience!

  • Such a gorgeous post! I would love to dive Silfra one day, even though I find diving pretty terrifying! I mean, I can swim but all the diving equipment kinda freaks me out, lol! Looks like a stunning experience, though!

    • Thanks so much Vanessa! I would love to go back and do the full scuba dive next time – and bring hubby with me too. He would have loved Iceland so much!

  • Thanks heaps! Glad you enjoyed it and got the chance to live vicariously through me!

  • That sounds so cool! I’d love to snorkel if/when I go to Iceland! I also didn’t know about getting drysuit certified for scuba diving. Good to know!

  • Janine Good

    What a great adventure! I would be quite nervous but you make it look so easy! The water is so clear. I keep getting reminded to put Iceland on my bucket list! See this week on Fly Away Friday!

  • I love snorkeling and scuba diving, but think I might pass on the Silfra. Not just because of the cold and the cost, but those are pretty big deterrents – not going to lie. But I don’t see any wildlife and for me that is the best bit about being underwater. Seeing all those amazing creatures that live under the sea. Did you see any sealife? Amazing video that really gives people a sense of what it is like. it is stunningly clear! Amazing. Thank you for sharing with #FarawayFiles!

  • Pingback: Faraway Files #58 | oregon girl around the world()

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