Photos shared in this post were taken by my Adventure Vikings guide, and were purchased as part of the tour cost. This is not a sponsored post, however, and all thoughts and experiences shared are my own!
From the above, looking in, it might be hard to understand why it’s such a popular tourist destination. But once you’re in the water, it’s easy to see why snorkelling in the Silfra fissure is one of the most popular activities that visitors to Iceland look to do. It’s a pretty amazing feeling to float along as the gentle current carries you, marvelling at the very fact that you are swimming between two tectonic plates - the North American and Eurasian plates - as they slowly drift apart. The water is so clear that you could almost forget that you’re in water in the first place… if it weren’t for the fact that the water is in fact very cold (about 2°C-4°C) and your face and hands are going numb because of it!
If you’re looking to experience this for yourself on your trip to Iceland, keep reading. I’m sharing all the details of my experience with you!
Booking your tour
You’ll need to book a tour ahead of time to snorkel or dive in the Silfra fissure. There are many choices of tour operators. I happened to pick Adventure Vikings and have no complaints at all about them. The friendly folks running the tour were a lot of fun, and also helped me out when I was having some issues in the water. More to come on that later! (Spoiler alert: I drank a lot of glacial water ;) )
When you book you’ll be asked to pick a time for your tour. We were on the 12PM tour and were told by our guides that it was a great time of day to go because of the way the sunlight hits the water. You’ll also have to pick between a wetsuit or a drysuit. The main differences are that in a wetsuit you’ll be able to dive a little deeper into the water. Drysuits are more buoyant, so you’ll mainly only be able to explore near the surface. Also, with a wetsuit, you’ll end up getting more wet (and therefore cold) than in a drysuit. For that reason alone, I picked the drysuit!
When booking, you’ll be asked for some personal information (such as your weight and height), as well as to sign off on a medical statement. Please do make sure you read through the medical statement before you sign up. Although rare, deaths have sadly occurred at the Silfra Fissure. Like with any other physical activity, it’s important to read and understand any medical or liability forms before you take part.
What to Wear
Thermals - you’ll keep them on while snorkelling. I showed up in thermals under my regular clothes, fully expecting to have to strip down to just my thermals, but because I was in leggings, I was able to keep them on. If you don’t want to strip down to your thermals, I’d recommend wearing something tighter, but not restrictive (ie. not denim as that material is harder to move and swim in).
Your hair tied up (for my fellow long-haired friends)
No glasses! If you have your own snorkelling mask with prescription, bring it along. Otherwise wear contacts!
What to Bring
A towel and a change of clothes in case you get wet
If you have one, a GoPro to film the amazing sights! If you don’t have one, don’t despair! The guide was really great about snapping photos of us while we were in the water. With our tour with Adventure Vikings, we also did not have to pay extra for photos as it was included as part of the tour price.
Not much else! There are no lockers in the parking lot. You can leave your valuables in the bus when you're off exploring Silfra, but the buses are largely unmanned and all tour groups use the same parking lot. Of course, Iceland is pretty safe, but I would recommend bringing as few valuables with you as you can. If you have to bring small and light valuables that you don’t want to leave on the buses (your passport for example), we got away with putting them in a ziplock bag and tucking it under our thermals. They stayed dry and there was no fear of them falling into the fissure as our drysuits were so tight.
Getting into your gear
The entire tour from start to finish will take 2+ hours but the majority of that time is actually spent getting into your gear. Heed the advice of your wise guides and use the bathroom before you get into your suit. Once you’re in, it’ll be hard to get out of it!
Your guides will help you through the arduous process of getting into your suit. The first layer on top of your clothes is a jumpsuit that looks sort of like a race suit that a F1 driver would wear. I loved this layer and almost want to buy something like it for wearing around at home. It was very comfy and warm! On top of that goes your drysuit. It was my first time wearing a drysuit and to be completely honest, it was very uncomfortable. It was so very tight but even though you might feel like it couldn’t get any tighter, the guides check each person’s suit to make sure water won’t seep in. If they don’t think it’s tight enough, they’ll seal it further by putting elastic bands around your wrists, or a collar around your neck. It’s really not the most comfortable outfit, as I’m sure you can imagine. I think the best way of explaining it is that you’ll feel like a sausage just about to burst out of its casing! But this is all required if you want to stay warm and dry.
The Silfra Fissure
Finally, you’ll get to start your snorkelling adventure in the Silfra fissure. The total time you’ll spend in the water is about 25-40 minutes, and it’ll go by so quick! There is a gentle current that will carry you through the fissure so for most of it, you’ll be able to float through without putting a lot of effort into swimming.
The water you’re swimming in originates from Langjökull, the second largest glacier in Iceland. It filters through underground porous rock for up to 100 years before it reaches the Silfra fissure, making it exceptionally clear and clean. This also means that visibility is exceptional. This is not like your typical snorkelling destination where you’ll see coloured fish and coral. What you’ll see here are deep underwater canyons, and large boulders that have fallen and settled into the crack due to to the tectonic activity in the area. The Eurasian and North American plates continue to diverge at a rate of about 2cm a year and occasionally earthquakes occur causing rocks and boulders to fall.
The most breathtaking part of the snorkel route for me was the Silfra Cathedral. You’re at the deepest part of the fissure here, and thanks to the brilliant visibility, you can see all the way down to the sandy floor. Being weightless and floating high above this marvellous sight is an amazing feeling! I can only imagine what amazing sights divers can see when they’re exploring deeper in the waters.
After marvelling at the Silfra Cathedral, don’t forget to follow your guide and take a left to avoid being swept out to Thingvallavatn lake. This is the one spot where you do have to swim a little harder as the current gets stronger. It’s here where I struggled a bit. It happened to be a windier day and the water got a little rougher here so I kept getting water in my snorkel tube. As I mentioned, the filtered glacial water is very clean so it’s drinkable, but constantly gulping down this refreshing water makes it hard to breathe when your only way of breathing is through your mouth! To compose myself, I flipped over on my back a few times so that I could clear my tube and breathe. Unfortunately, every time I did that, the current would start to carry me out again so I was making no headway in reaching the end of our route. Thankfully, my guide noticed that I was struggling and was able to pull me back to land safely. Although I enjoyed tasing the glacial water, I’m very glad my guide was there to help me and keep me safe!
You might be wondering, did the drysuit work and keep me dry? Yes, it did! The only areas where I did feel numb from contact with the freezing water were my face and hands.
Thingvellir National Park
After you’re out of the water and get out of your suit, enjoy a hot chocolate with your group before parting ways. Before you leave the area though, don’t forget to explore Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park! This UNESCO World Heritage Site holds both geological and historical significance. Not only does Thingvellir lie on the junction of two tectonic plates, it is also here that Iceland’s parliament (Althing/Alþingi) was founded in about 930 AD. Walk through Almannagjá, learn about the assemblies that took place annually here, and admire Öxaráfoss!
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