Silfra – Snorkelling

Snorkelling at Silfra Fissure, Þingvellir, Iceland – crystal clear glacial waters of 2°C

Mention snorkelling to most people and they will normally envisage clear warm waters in a tropical location.

This had long been my image of it too, and had participated in this type around the world including the Caribbean, Maldives and Fiji. However, I was up for a new challenge and our recent trip to Iceland would provide the perfect location.


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Snorkelling at Silfra

You see, snorkelling at Silfra is unique for a number of reasons. It is located in Þingvellir National Park, (which in itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and lies on the rim of the Þingvallavatn Lake. The fissure created is where two of the worlds tectonic plates – the North American and Eurasian – are pulling apart at a rate of 2-3cm per year. Silfra is the only place where you can snorkel (or dive with the right experience/ qualification) directly in between two tectonic plates.


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Eurasian and North American Tectonic Plates

Another reason for its uniqueness is that underwater visibility in the Silfra fissure is over 100 meters, which is rarely surpassed anywhere in the world! There are two main reasons for this. The first is the water temperature is approximately 2°C – 4°C year round! It is glacial water from the nearby Langjökull glacier which is filtered through underground lava for around 30-100 years until it reaches the fissure and seeps out from underground wells. So pretty much as pristine as water can get!


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Safety briefing

Now I must say as I stood there listening to the guide, me and most of the other participants were mainly concerned about how cold we would be! Not a problem apparently, as we would be given dry suits to help combat the cold.


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All secure in the dry suit

Wearing our thermals, we were firstly given a fleece body suit to put on. This stage completed it was time to get our outer layer on – this is where we would need help. A dry suit is, of course, designed to keep you dry. Therefore has to be sealed fairly tightly! Even getting your feet and hands through the holes can be a struggle! This was never an issue however as our guide (who must have done this 1000’s of times) had expert ways and means to get us in the suit! Once fully kitted up, we made a… rather interesting looking… walk to the platform which has the steps leading down in to the fissure (it’s about 100m away from where you get ready). On the platform we had our final checks, then it was time to get in the water.


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Final checks on the entry platform

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In we go!

I really shouldn’t have worried about the coldness of the water. Yes, initially when my face hit the water it did take me a bit by surprise, but as soon as I laid eyes on the underwater paradise below me, the sting faded away in a heartbeat.


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First look at the underwater world

The Silfra fissure does have a little bit of a current but it isn’t strong, so the majority of the time you just have to float on the surface! We made our way slowly down the fissure, passing places the guide pointed out like Silfra Big Crack, which is the narrowest part. Here the tectonic plates are so close that you can almost touch them simultaneously. This then opens up to Silfra Hall which is just breathtaking, the colour variation is incredible.


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Tectonic plates as seen underwater

Whilst the lake connected has an abundance of various fish species, it doesn’t come too far in to the fissure itself. The fissures main marine life consists mainly of bright green “troll hair” and different types of algae.


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Trolls hair

From here went past the Silfra Cathedral which is about 20m deep and well over 100m long and is truly breathtaking, especially as the water clarity is such you can see from one end to the other! I have read that this location has the longest recorded underwater visibility anywhere in the world!


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Looking down in to the fissure

Lastly we made a left turn, where the current picks up slightly as this was the start of the ‘floor’ coming up to a sandy slope which comes up to a depth of about 2-3m – known as the Silfra Lagoon. If you miss the turn you end up in the lake, so keep an eye out for when your guide makes the turn! If the view at Silfra Cathedral impressed, then the view across to the other side of the lagoon (at well over 100m) will blow you away. I’m just gutted the GoPro decided to turn itself off earlier on so I didn’t capture this beauty – oh well, I guess I’ll just have to go back!


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Some parts are quite shallow

Once the swim across the lagoon is completed, another platform with steps greeted us to get out of the water. The whole time in the water was about 35-40 minutes long. It was then just a short walk back to the start where a cup of hot chocolate was waiting – we just need to get out of the dry suits first!


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Unique experience that is hard to beat

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Awesome guide Stefanino from Dive.is
 

I have put a video together if you fancy having a look…