What You Can Expect When Snorkeling In Silfra Iceland
When we travel to new places, we are always on the lookout for things to do that are special or unique in that area. We had heard about this activity and since we enjoy snorkeling, we decided to check it out. If you are open to new experiences, getting a little out of your comfort zone and seeing some spectacular underwater viewing, then for you, Silfra snorkeling will be worth it!
In this article, we will describe our experience, give you our insight, some resources and tell you how best to plan for your trip.
Highlights for Silfra Snorkeling
First Question: Is Silfra Too Cold for Snorkeling?
Ok, let’s get this out of the way since this is always the first question we are asked when we tell people we did this activity in Iceland. When most people think of snorkeling, they immediately think of warm water, tropical fish and your biggest concern is making sure your shoulders don’t get sunburned.
Snorkeling the Silfra fissure is a much different experience. Yes, the water is cold – on average three degrees Celsius! Admittedly, we were a little concerned at first to know it was going to be that cold. We are from Canada, so we know what that temperature feels like and there was some initial apprehension.
But we figured if this was a very popular tour that was often sold out – it couldn’t be that bad, right? And we are really glad we did take the plunge. There is no doubt about it – it is cold. But to be honest, the only part of your entire body that is exposed is your lips.
Once you put your lips in the water and get over the initial shock (they turn numb pretty quickly) we didn’t have any other discomfort.
What Is The Silfra Fissure?
Our guide did a great job explaining this to us. This area is very special since it spans two tectonic plates – the North American plate and the Eurasia plate. The fissure (or big crevice) formed as the result of an earthquake and has been continuing to open wider as these two plates move further from each other.
It moves at the same speed as your nail growth. So not super fast.
The opening where you can swim ranges from 40-50 metres deep. Visibility is excellent and on average you can see a distance of 90-100 metres. This clear spring water is fed from the Langjokull glacier that is filtered underground. The water gets close to the freezing point but not quite enough to turn the water to ice.
But what makes this area so special is that it is the only place in the world where you can swim between two continents and touch them both at the same time. This alone makes Sifra snorkeling worth it!
What to Expect When Snorkeling Silfra
The Silfra fissure is not full of coral or colourful fish – the water is just too cold. However, with the water being so incredibly clear you can really see the rock formations and how things have moved and settled over the many years the fissure has been opening.
The area is constantly evolving with seismic or volcanic activity on the island so over time the fissure does appear differently.
If you visit in the summer, you will see a bloom of algae in stunning blue and green shades. It is truly beautiful.
There aren’t many fish to see. But in the shallower areas, some fish use the calm water for spawning grounds. And there are many plants that you can explore.
There are several notable areas within the Silfra fissure.
- Deep Silfra crack – tectonic plates
- Silfra Hall – majestic 23m depth
- Silfra Cathedral – deep blue world
- Silfra Lagoon – great underwater visibility
Getting from Reykjavik to Silfra
Silfra is an easy day trip from Reykjavik – the drive is just under an hour. There are parking lots in the Thingvellir National Park where you can meet the snorkeling companies conducting the tours.
Make sure you confirm which parking lot you need to go to and ask for a pin on the map. We put in the P5 parking lot on our Google Maps app and it initially took us to the wrong spot!
The parking cost is 750 ISK and is payable at the machines in the parking lot or online. Payment is only possible by debit or credit cards. You can check the details here.
If you don’t have a car, then be sure to book a tour that includes your transfer from Reykjavik. Many companies offer this seamless option and will pick you up either from your accommodations or a designated bus stop located nearest your accommodations.
What to Wear
Of course, you want to do everything you can to stay warm for the tour. We were advised to wear a warm layer of clothes, so we opted for thermal long sleeve shirts, long johns, and warm socks.
From here it was a bit of an ordeal to put all the layers on. Our tour company provided a warm layer like a light snow suit that we put on top of our clothes.
Then you have the dry suit. This is a waterproof neoprene suit that covers your full body. It goes over top of the warm layers and does up with a zipper in the back. This suit is made for going into cold water. It is quite snug so be prepared for feeling slightly constricted around the neck area.
They have many different sizes of suits and we each found one that was appropriate for our individual sizes.
Along with the body suit, you are given booties, gloves and a hood. The hood is very tight to ensure you don’t have water getting in. In my opinion, this was the most uncomfortable part of the experience.
Once you get in the water, everything settles around your body and the tightness eases up. But while you are waiting to get in the water, it can be slightly unpleasant. Denis didn’t have any issues with this, so it is likely an individual situation.
Our tour company also provided fins and a mask and snorkel. So essentially, we were covered from head to toe except for our lips! It’s worth mentioning that our guide took extra time with each person to make sure we were all comfortable. He also checked all the potential leak areas to ensure we wouldn’t have any water seeping in.
What to Bring
Aside from bringing your warm layer, you may want to bring a change of clothes for after the swim. Everything you need during the swim is provided.
The hood is very snug and tight while putting it on. If you have longer hair I would definitely recommend tying it up or braiding it so it doesn’t get caught while pulling on the hood. I have mid-length hair but still had it pulled back in a French braid to keep it off my face and to avoid stray hairs causing leaks.
The gloves that are included are big and don’t have individual finger slots so don’t bother bringing an underwater camera as you won’t be able to use it. It is best to book a tour that includes pictures. The guides know all the perfect spots for photos so best to leave it to them.
Make sure to remove all your jewellery prior to arriving for the tour since the suit is tight and you don’t want anything getting in the way of a good seal.
Is it Strenuous?
You must know how to swim to participate in this activity. However, the dry suits are very buoyant so it keeps you on top of the water without much effort. There is also a current in the fissure, so it moves you along quite easily.
Swimming skills are required to maneuver around the area so you don’t bump into anything and also for keeping up with the group.
There is a walk from the parking area where the trucks are parked to the entry area into the water (approximately 200m). And you must carry your gear, so participants need to be able to handle the walk while wearing the suits. It can be slightly awkward since you feel a little like the Michelin man!
The entrance into the water is very easy. There is a large set of metal steps that allows you to easily walk down and right into the water. Once you get to the bottom of the steps you are already submerged to your waist, so you just swim off the platform into the water. No jumping is required!
When you are finished, the lagoon is very shallow so you are able to stand up and make your way to another set of metal stairs that brings you up to a platform. From here you again walk back to the truck to get changed (approximately 500m).
How Long Does Snorkeling at Silfra Take?
The tour that we booked was noted as being three hours long. This is the amount of time that we were there but only in the water for just under an hour (this can vary depending on how much free time you want in the lagoon).
The remainder of the time is spent getting your gear, putting it on, listening to a safety and orientation briefing, walking back and forth to the water area and having a snack and warm drink afterwards.
Our time in the water started with a skill check with the guide. He made sure that everyone was comfortable and breathing easily with their snorkel.
It is suggested that once you put your face in the water you just keep it submerged. We found this worked well rather than lifting and resubmerging which will make you feel the cold of the water over again.
For most of the swim, you are floating due to the current but towards the end, you need to work your way to the shallower area and this requires a little effort. Overall it is very gentle for the majority of the hour.
When to Visit
Silfra snorkeling tours are run all year round. The temperature of the water doesn’t fluctuate much but from our perspective, it would probably be more enjoyable in the summer months when the air is warmer. We don’t think it would be that nice getting out of the cold water and it being potentially colder from the air temperature.
You also need to change in a trailer so not sure how cold this would be in the winter time.
And as already mentioned, the algae blooms in the summer months so the colours under water are ever more vivid.
Is It Safe to Snorkel in Silfra?
Our guide explained that the Silfra fissure is a very stable environment. Yes, things do shift and move but the guides are in the water several times a day and constantly monitoring the entire area.
They keep people in the centre of the fissure, and you don’t enter any volatile areas or tunnels. We felt completely safe during the entire activity.
Something to note – you will be required to complete a medical statement. And for those with any medical conditions or if you are between the ages of 60-69 you will be required to have a medical clearance form signed by your doctor.
There is a minimum age requirement of 12 years of age.
Tour companies do have some limitations on who can participate (varies by operator). This tour is not suitable for:
- Pregnant women
- People under 150 cm or over 200cm
- People who are very sensitive to cold conditions
- People who have an extreme fear of heights
Can You Snorkel Silfra On Your Own?
This is a hard no. You must snorkel in this area with a certified tour company due to safety regulations. It is important to have the correct gear for this activity and the tour operators provide all the necessary equipment to keep you as warm and comfortable as possible.
The tour guides also make sure to keep everyone together and in areas that are safe.
Heed the Washroom Advice
Make sure you don’t drink too much before the tour. Once you are in your dry suit, you won’t be able to use the washroom again so take their advice and go to the washroom just prior to getting dressed!
Book In Advance
This is a very popular activity in Iceland – especially in the summer months. They do limit the number of people snorkeling each day so be sure to book your tour early as many sell out.
The tour costs will range depending on if you are needing the transfer included. Our tour without transportation converted to approximately $165 USD per person. While this may seem expensive for the amount of time, it is important to realize that this is a once-in-a-lifetime activity for most people.
And overall Iceland tends to be a more expensive destination in general. We felt the amount was warranted given the equipment that was provided and that the pictures were also included.
Other Things to See in Thingvellir National Park
If you drove to Silfra for snorkeling, you may also want to plan to see some of the other sites in the Thingvellir National Park.
- Hakid Visitor Centre – for information and interactive exhibits
- Walk between the tectonic plates by walking through the Almannagja Gorge.
- Thingvellir Church – dates to the 11th century
- Althing – designated as the site of the first Parliament in the World
- Oxarafoss waterfall – small but picturesque
- Game of Thrones filming site of the Wildling Camp
Final Word: Is Silfra Snorkeling Worth It?
We felt that the snorkeling experience at Silfra was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and we would definitely recommend doing it. Yes, it was cold for the first part but nothing that would deter us from telling people to try it.
We thought the tour operator that we used did a fantastic job and created a very memorable experience for us. So if you are considering this activity – take the plunge!