After a foray into the lava tubes in Iceland, it was time to snorkel between the ancient continents in Thingvellir.
Our next stop is the Silfra in Thingvellir National Park. It’s a special treat to snorkel in this beautiful and significant place of the Icelanders. Not only is Thingvellir a world heritage site, it’s home to one of the oldest parliaments in the world, Alþing. It’s also part of the famous Golden Circle route that most tourists take when visiting Iceland for the first time.
Having read about the clarity of the water for years and the Silfra’s stunning underwater scenery, it’s a dream come true to try to snorkel here!
Sarah our Arctic Adventures guide prepares us for the rather complicated process of getting ready for the plunge into the 2-degree Celsius water. It involves putting on our wool thermals, then a fat insulated onesie which they call a teddy suit (below). The teddy suit envelops us in warmth and true to its nick name makes us look like soft huggable toys. We then have to pull on a tight dry suit over everything.
Armed with a set of neoprene gloves, hood and snorkelling gear, we walk over to the ladder and get briefed. Wasting no further time, I decide it’s best to just jump directly into the water.
The coldness of the water shocks, but a stark underwater world is there to distract us.
The entrance to the Silfra is narrow and shallow and it’s hard to describe what we see. Physically, it’s algae, sand and rocks. There are no fish around, although the guides tell us that trout live in other parts of the lake. But the wall of jagged lava rocks envelops. They tell Iceland’s story in their silence – that the country is slowly drifting further apart due to the movement of the tectonic plates. Each year, Iceland is widening its territory by roughly 3 centimetres. Talk about world domination!
It is unbelievable to think that we are swimming in an ancient rift between the continents.
The river pushes us gently upstream, and the dry suit gives alot of buoyancy, so all we need to do is gently float and steer with our fins. After about 30 metres, we snorkel through to the Silfra Hall. If you’re diving here, there are a number of underwater caverns which you can explore.
As I slowly soak in all that I can see, I remember that I’m swimming in pure melted glacial water – I open my mouth and the water is just so cold and refreshing. I close my mouth before I drink the lake up.
Time is hard to tell time while snorkelling but at some point the Silfra widens even further. We snorkel into what is called the Silfra Cathedral. Here, we can see as far away underwater as 100 metres. I peer down, and can see the depths of the fissure, which spirals down to about 20 metres.
Popping our head out of the water was just as stunning an experience as looking down. The sun is about to set, and the pale colours of the Arctic sky reflect off the water.
By the time we reach the end of our snorkelling tour, I’ve acclimatised to the water. I delay my ascent back onto dry ground by swimming a bit further around, trying to imprint this moment into memory. I’m so glad I’ve done this, despite it being the peak of winter. Apparently, even if you go during the summer, the water’s still gonna be cold…and now I have winter snorkelling bragging rights!
What can I say but I SURVIVED and it was AMAZING!!!! Woo!!
Arctic Adventures Winter Combination Tour: Black and Blue
Cost: 22,180 ISK
For the snorkeling part of the trip I wore:
Damart light thermal singlet
Icebreaker 200 wool count long sleeve top
Icebreaker 260 wool count long underwear
Arctic Adventures provided us with:
– an insulated padded onesie (they call it a teddy suit)
– a dry suit that kept us warm, toasty and relatively dry
– neoprene head mask and gloves (wetsuit material)
– snorkel gear
One of the guys on the trip only wore a cotton t-shirt and pants underneath his teddy suit and he was sweating like crazy after the plunge into the water. I wish I had his warm blood! I on the other hand was not warm, but it was bearable. My neck was the coldest bit as water entered my dry suit (to be completely dry the suit has to be custom made for your body). However, the point of the dry suit is that when the water enters, your body temperature will warm it up.
Thank you Arctic Adventures for the wonderful hospitality and experience!
- Iceland winter adventure: lava caving and snorkelling (Part 1) (thefourthcontinent.com)
- Swim between two continents at Iceland’s Silfra rift (theglobeandmail.com)
- Snorkeling Silfra, Iceland (myoutdoorsite.wordpress.com)
- Snorkelling Silfra’s Ancient Waters (thesweepingswallow.wordpress.com)