By Paul Johnson on Oct 01, 2022 in Adventure travel, Attractions, Europe, Family travel, Going out, Iceland, Pleasure travel, Regions, Specialty travel, Western Europe
Do you remember those geography lessons in school where you learned about continental drift and the movement of the earth’s crust? Iceland sits along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and exists due to the divergence of two tectonic plates – the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate – and a great place to see this first hand is at Silfra in the Thingvellir National Park. Moreover, it is the only place in the world where you can dive between two continents.
Silfra and the Þingvellir Valley, located in Iceland’s Golden Circle, were formed by the divergent tectonic drift of the two plates which move apart by about 2cm each year. This creates tension between the plates and the landmass above which is relieved by periodic major earthquakes that occur about ten years apart. These earthquakes create cracks and fissures and Silfra, which is on the edge of Lake Þingvallavatn, is one of the largest and deepest of these fissures.
This fissure is fed by meltwater from Iceland’s second largest glacier, Langjökull, which seeps underground through porous basalt lava rock before percolating through an aquifer over a period of 30 to 100 years. This highly filtered groundwater fills fissures such as Silfra, making it exceptionally clear and of great appeal to snorkelers and snorkelers, especially given the unique location between two tectonic plates.
There are a number of companies that offer snorkeling and diving experiences. We went with DIVE.is who are one of the experts in this particular activity and the oldest diving and diving company in Iceland. The process was quite simple – we just arrived at the Silfra meeting point, had our reservation and disclaimers checked in the back of a van (it is mandatory for every DIVE.is participant to fill out his medical form), and we were good to go. With certain medical conditions such as heart disease, epilepsy or lung disease, it is unfortunately not possible to participate. With certain other medical conditions such as asthma, high blood pressure, dizziness or cancer, you may only participate if you obtain medical clearance from a physician.
We were then assigned a guide who would accompany us on the snorkeling tour – in our case, a gentleman named Pau from Spain – before being directed to another van to put on a dry suit. Why all these vans, you might be wondering? This is because Silfa is a UNESCO World Heritage area and new building constructions are not allowed in the area.
In addition to a dry suit each, we were of course equipped with flippers, as well as a snorkel and a mask. The flies can be a bit of a bother, so you can also borrow one of their mosquito nets and mosquito nets if you find them bothersome.
The suit has seals on the neck and wrists that prevent water from entering. These can be tight and sometimes an extra rubber strap needs to be worn around the neck. It can be quite uncomfortable – if you feel it’s too tight, ask your guide to check it for you.
We also received neoprene hoods and semi-dry neoprene gloves. Our heads and hands were exposed to water through these, but that was perfectly fine. A small part of our faces was not covered by the hood and these were the only parts of us that were in direct contact with the water.
Divers are released in small batches, usually around six people plus a guide, so there is a short queue as people wait to enter the water, but this was a great photo opportunity family, even if it is difficult to identify who is who!
Although some operators offer this experience in wetsuits, DIVE.is only provides drysuits for the activity. The only benefit I can think of of wearing a wetsuit would be that you could dive a bit below the surface, which you can’t easily do in a drysuit. Since you’re in the water for 30-40 minutes and the water temperature is 2° Celsius, a drysuit is probably a better option. Whichever you choose, it is recommended that participants eat breakfast or lunch before the activity due to the time spent in cold water.
When it’s time to enter the water, your guide will walk you through the process. There is a metal staircase that leads straight into the water (you can see it in the distance in the photo) – we just walked down these and before we knew it we were face down in the water. The first thing that struck me wasn’t the cold – it really wasn’t that bad – but the clarity of the water. The water is extremely pure and amazingly clear, and underwater visibility is estimated to be over 100 meters… pretty amazing!
If you’ve read other articles on Silfra, you may have seen people describe how they could reach out and touch both tectonic plates at the same time when diving. This is misleading to say the least – or else they have exceptionally long arms – because the tectonic plates are 5 kilometers apart! Remember that this is a crack that formed due to an earthquake caused by the divergent plates.
As we drifted through the water, mesmerized by the underwater spectacle around us, Pau swam among our group taking photos of us on a GoPro. If you want to make your Silfra experience a lasting memory, you can purchase these as part of your tour with DIVE.is and they will send you a Dropbox link after the snorkeling tour so you can download the photos to your device .
During this time we continued to marvel at the perfectly filtered crystal clear water which is possibly the clearest and purest water on the planet. Because the water is so clear, the light plays off the surface like sparkling diamonds – on sunny days the rays go to great depths, even creating rainbows over the rocks as the clear water refracts the light in the same way as crystals.
This is a once in a lifetime experience that is sure to be a highlight of your time in Iceland!
You will rarely see fish in Silfra, but you will see a number of different types of seaweed, including neon green ‘troll hair’ seaweed which gives the rocks a wonderful pop of color.
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In places, Silfra is actually surprisingly deep – up to 63 meters deep – although very few divers go to anything like these depths.
There is a slight current in Silfra and participants should be comfortable swimming against it for the latter part of the tour, but it really isn’t that strong, so manageable even for novice swimmers.
Once we finally got to dry land we were provided with hot chocolate which was a welcome pick-me-up after our time in the cold water.
Are you planning a trip to Iceland yourself? You can watch a video of our trip to Iceland here. You can see images of Silfra between 1m 26s and 1m 49s: