Snorkeling the Silfra fissure
Snorkeling the Silfra fissure in Iceland is a crazy idea. But we were not alone. We snorkeled in 38 degree Fahrenheit water with 5 strangers under the midnight sun in the middle of Thinvellir National Park. Our small golden circle group tour ended at Thingvellir so that we could suit up and snorkel in the Silfra fissure. The Silfra fissure is the only place in the world that you can snorkel directly in the crack between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates! I was excited about the idea, but nervous about the cold.
Our adventure began with a short walk to view the Silfra fissure from land. We got a safety briefing from our guide, Scott, about being in the water, respecting the geology, and the important turns on our snorkeling route. The water is crystal clear because it is glacier runoff that filters through underground lava and takes between 30 and 100 years to get to the area on it’s way out to Thinvellir Lake. And since the water is probably some of the purest on the planet, you are encouraged to drink it. That certainly makes it much easier to clear your snorkel!
After our briefing it was time to gear up. They bring your gear based on the height and weight info you have provided them. So this is not the time to fudge a little on those numbers. Our group had all shapes and sizes on this adventure, so there is no need to be embarrassed. They had very few extra pieces of gear. There are two small but nice temporary restrooms in the lot they use as home base. First, we start with long underwear and thick socks that we brought with us. Second, we step into an insulated wet suit that felt like a thin sleeping bag. Third, we step into a dry suit that covers everything except for your hands and head. The tight fit around the wrists and neck is crucial to ensuring that no glacier water will get past them. Sadly, that leaves your hands and head to fend for themselves. Oh, we got wet suit mittens and hood, but they absorb the water.
Walking about 100 yards in a wetsuit holding flippers, mask, and snorkel was comical enough on it’s own. We stepped into the water in two groups of 6 or 7 people. The suits are very boyant, and they gave us some time to get used to floating in the water. I can see why they say that minimal swimming skills are necessary. The view from the shore is nothing like the one under the water.
We walked down the steps to the water one at a time. Scott described the cold temperature like laying in the snow while wearing all of your ski clothes. I will admit that the areas covered by the dry suit did feel that way. But the hood and mittens, were decidedly different. My forehead above the mask almost felt like it was burning due to the cold. The mittens had held the last three fingers together, so my pointer finger and thumb were eaten their own pocket. I’d always heard that fingers fare better in the cold if they can huddle together in your mittens. My lonely pointer finger and thumb on my right hand were proof of that concept. They were really cold!! My left hand was fine. Too bad I’m right handed and need those digits!
I tried to divert my focus from the cold and took in the beauty beneath us. The route is narrow in the beginning so there is a lot of bumping and jostling at first. This is where you can almost touch both the North American and European tectonic plates at the same time. I found Hubby and we floated together holding hands the rest of the route. The enormity of the crack, the depth, and lack of any sea life makes the snorkel a little bit eerie. The snorkels made it difficult to talk, so it was like being alone in the quiet above this huge expanse of the earth. I’m sure scuba divers have that feeling all the time. I haven’t been scuba diving since I was a teenager, so I wouldn’t know. Their website describes it as liquid meditation. Quite.
After the narrow section, it widens into Silfra Hall, Silfra Cathedral and finally Silfra Lagoon. The fish from the lake don’t make it up this far, so you’ll only see weird looking algae. While we were only in to water about 40 minutes, we saw a lot of different examples of what the fissure can look like underneath the water. Our guide was snapping photos that we were able to download later. I think it was about $15, so well worth it of us. I definitely wanted proof that we’d done it! The dry suits and cold temperatures make it nearly impossible to dive down deep into the water. A guy in our group asked about it since he’s used to snorkeling in the tropics and diving down to pick things up.
We were the last snorkelers to float into the Silfra lagoon, and everyone in our group had decided to get out of the water. We were told we could swim around the lagoon as long as we wanted, but no one wanted to brave the cold any longer. We walked back to our staging lot and enjoyed some hot chocolate and cookies after we peeled our of our suits. Apparently they do this tour in the winter since the water temps only raise by about 1 or 2 degrees. But Scott said sometimes the mittens are frozen or covered in snow by the time they get back to the lot. By this time it was late and we still had a 45 minute ride back to Reykjavik. It really didn’t feel like it was very late since the sun was still out. Our guide kindly offered to drop us off anywhere in Reykjavik upon our return. So we had her drop us off at the harbor so we could try out a great restaurant. More on that later this week, so check back in.
We paid about $275 each for our combination golden circle and snorkeling tour. I thought it was well worth it to avoid the giant tour bus crowds, enjoy our small group, and have an amazing snorkeling experience. The tour lasted 8-9 hours. All opinions are my own, and I’ve only provided a link to the company we used for your convenience.