Updated on December 21st, 2021
Visiting the Silfra Fissure in Iceland is a unique experience on any level. After all, it’s not every day you get the chance to explore the exact spot where two continents divide. Snorkeling Silfra genuinely is a once in a lifetime opportunity. There is literally nowhere else on earth where you can swim between tectonic plates. So, pull on your warm clothes & your dry suit & join me for an experience like no other…”
Snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure in Iceland is unique. Where else in the world do you get to swim between continental tectonic plates? Where can you be immersed in glacial water with one hand in Europe & the other in North America? The answer? Nowhere! And with visibility up to 100 metres, it has been voted one of the Top 5 activities in the world by Trip Advisor. National Geographic called it one of the planets top dive sites. So, when in Iceland, why wouldn’t you?
OK, what might put you off is that the water is freezing cold (well maybe not quite freezing but it is 2–4oC year-round). But they do give you a dry suit to wear & treat you to a hot chocolate at the end!”
Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site & THE most important place in Iceland. Apart from being where the plates meet, it also has historical significance as the location of the first-ever parliament (maybe in the world). It was the meeting point in the days of the Vikings to set the rules & punish anyone who broke them. Therefore, if you don’t fancy snorkeling Silfra, Thingvellir should appear on your itinerary in its own right & is featured on every tour of the Golden Circle.
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What is the Silfra Fissure?
The Silfra Fissure is the ever-expanding gap between tectonic plates that runs directly through Iceland. One side marks the edge of the North American plate, the other is the Eurasian plate. These two are moving apart on an average of 2-3 centimetres each year. Some years, they hardly move at all, others it could be as much as one foot after a significant earthquake. Ultimately, this could split the island into two, but so far, enough magma has come from the earth to fill the gap. And in the south of the country, the fissure runs straight through the Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park.
The water in Silfra Fissure comes from the Langjökull glacier (the second-largest glacier in Iceland). It can take over 50 years to reach this point, filtered through layers of volcanic rock on its journey. This is what makes it both very cold & incredibly clear, allowing visibility up to 100 metres.
I had already visited the fissure once during my stay in North Iceland on a transformational yoga retreat. That time I had straddled the continents with my feet. It blew my mind then, so I was excited to explore on a very different type of adventure. Snorkeling Silfra truly is an experience not to miss in this magical country.”
Snorkeling Silfra Fissure in Iceland – An Experience Not to Miss!
How to choose a tour for snorkeling Silfra
There are numerous choices of tour companies but here are a few questions to ask yourself before you choose which suits you best:
Do you have transport? If not, you need to make sure there is a hotel pick up available or included in the tour.
Do you have limited time & want to see the Golden Circle too? Then there are some options which include this as part of the package.
Would you like to combine it with another experience? One tour company offers a combination that also includes a lava cave visit.
I was heading back to Reykjavik after a solo road trip along the Ring Road (including an incredible glacier hiking experience). If you also have your own transport, I would thoroughly recommend my tour with Troll Expeditions. They also provided photos of the event afterwards which was a big selling point for me!
Bear in mind that the tour will last around 3 hours in total, with just 30 – 45 minutes in the water. Trust me when I say, this is enough. The water is cold!”
If I succeed in persuading you to add snorkeling Silfra to your Icelandic adventure, book well in advance as the groups are small (a maximum of 6 people per tour). In addition, you cannot buy tickets at the site.
Before you commit to snorkeling Silfra
To ensure you are not disappointed on the day, there are a few exclusions to be aware of.
For example, it is not suitable for pregnant women, you must be in good health, comfortable in the water & obviously able to swim. There are also some height & weight restrictions & if you are over 60 you will need medical clearance from a doctor. Finally, the drysuit you will be given for the activity needs to be watertight, which means it can very constricting. If you think you would struggle with this, then the activity is probably not for you.
You are provided with everything you need for the actual snorkeling Silfra experience, but make sure you wear warm comfortable clothes. They snorkel Silfra year-round, so if you choose to go in winter, dress accordingly! You essentially strip down to your base clothing layer before suiting up. For me, this was tracksuit bottoms, thermal top & socks. Also, in case of any leaks, bring a spare set of dry clothes for after the tour.
What NOT to bring
Effectively, everything else! All jewellery, earrings & hair accessories will need to be removed. All other additional items you take with you are going to be put into a dry bag for the duration of the experience. Therefore, if you don’t need it, don’t take it. I even left my beloved GoPro behind as it was impossible to operate with the gloves we were given. Luckily my tour offered photos taken by the guide in the package.
Dressing up for snorkeling Silfra Fissure
I was nervous, excited & unsure of what to expect when I arrived at the start of my adventure. After signing the medical form, I was shown into the back of a van where I stripped off all except my base layers along with my fellow adventurers. My possessions went into a large dry bag until I emerged from the water & I climbed into a thermal suit provided. Then it was back out of the van & the first stage of the struggling with my drysuit.
This is not a glamorous activity & thankfully our guide Kevin was on hand to help me wrestle it into place!”
Our briefing started with a warning. The suit would be tight & the water would be cold. If we didn’t think we could make 30 minutes in the water, we needed to raise an alert early on. Other rules included not touching any of the rocks (apart from one photo opportunity) & not kicking our legs. The suit makes you buoyant so your legs can’t get under the water. Instead, you need to kick like a frog, as in breaststroke. Kevin gave us a full explanation of the route & then it was time for the next phase of suiting up.
To make it over our arms & head, the suit needed a liberal dusting of talcum powder. I then needed some extra Velcro straps at the wrists & an unnerving rubber band pulled quite tight around my neck. They need to ensure that everything is watertight. After all this, it was finished off with mittens, which were more like claw hands! The gloves get wet, so the less you move your hands the better. Your body temperature then warms the water around them. It is suggested that if you can, you rest them in the small of your back.
Our final bit of equipment to grab was the mask, snorkel & fins. My top tip is to choose a mask & snorkel which is different from others on your tour. Trust me, if not, it’s hard to tell who is who in the photos!”
Taking the plunge in Silfra Fissure
After all of this was completed, it was finally time to take the plunge! We walked the 200 metres to the platform before masks were rinsed, final watertight checks were done & hoods went on. Once the masks were in place it was only my cheeks & mouth which were fully exposed to the water. It was hard to manoeuvre in the outfit, so thankfully Kevin was on hand again to get us all into our fins. Then it was into the water.
After a swift practice with my face in the icy cold water & a demonstration of the safety position (on your back, snorkel out), we were actually off!”
Those first moments when I was fully immersed in the water, took my breath away. Then I focussed on getting my breathing steady, my feet moving in the right way & keeping my hands still. Within a moment, I was totally numb & it was all ok!
The water in the Silfra Fissure was incredibly clear & beautifully blue. I found it hard to put my finger on what was different from my previous snorkeling experiences. Then it struck me. No fish! This is glacial water filtered through rock, so I guess not surprising but again made this a unique experience.
But there was algae covering the rocks below in what seemed to resemble a soft beige quilt, like something you could settle into for a comfortable nights sleep. This was overlain with other plant life which I could only liken to green, spray-on party string. My analogies may sound strange but these were the descriptions that came to my very cold mind as I drifted above, admiring the view & in awe of the experience!
After the first section to get acclimatised, we went through a very shallow spot. Trying to avoid swimming into each other with limited peripheral vision was a challenge, especially in water only 1 ½ feet deep! Then the fissure really did open before us.
Although narrow, the walls seemed to go on forever. The sudden drop into the deep was mind boggling, especially when imagining what could be happening under the earth beneath you.”
Before long, Kevin was calling us forward individually for the obligatory photo with a hand on each continent. This was the only time we were allowed to touch the rocks. That blew my mind! It was swiftly followed by one of the most spectacular sections, nicknamed the Cathedral for its magnificent proportions.
At the end of the channel, we found ourselves floating over fine white sand in an area they call the Bahamas. The final part of the tour was the lagoon where we could spend another 10-15 minutes exploring if we wished before heading for the exit point.
Exploring Baby Silfra
The feature that fascinated me most was Baby Silfra which opened during an earthquake in 2008. It was an ominous reminder of the dangerous & dynamic nature of the terrain. It looked like a brick wall that had been knocked down & crumpled in on itself. I was able to look deep down within & felt slightly freaked out. It messed with my head!
Fascinating though it was, I was getting cold, so after a short exploration, I headed for the exit point. Kevin helped me get fins off, mask off & it was all over.
With the group reassembled, I walked back to where my adventure had started, slightly bewildered by what I had just experienced. The staff helped to strip me of all my equipment & I was stunned to discover that I was totally dry. That was amazing!”
I was given hot chocolate & a piece of cake for some warmth & comfort before heading out on my way. Later that day the photos were delivered into my Inbox & it all felt like a surreal dream.
Where to stay when snorkeling Silfra
As I have already said, I had spent a few days exploring the South of Iceland & based myself just outside Hella in the Hotel Ranga. It was the perfect place to get away from it all, especially if you have a penchant for wood cladding, taxidermy & enjoy the relaxing rejuvenation of a hot tub. It is also an excellent place to see the Northern Lights. However, Thingvellir National Park is also still very close to Reykjavik which gives you loads of options for your stay. I enjoyed my time at the CenterHotel Plaza & the Apotek Hotel by Keahotels. Both are very centrally located. To find your perfect room for the night, check out the search box below.
Snorkeling Silfra Fissure is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Therefore, I hope I have persuaded you to add this unique experience to your Icelandic adventure. Just brace yourself, take the plunge & prepare for the snorkel of your life!
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