Snorkeling the Silfra Fissure in Iceland

December 3, 2017

The things that excite you are not random. They are connected to your purpose. Follow them.

Have you ever wanted to be in two places at once? What about on two continents at once? Well let me tell you that is very possible, and not only can you be there, but you can snorkel or dive in between two continents, too.

According to The Icelandic Web of Science, Iceland is geographically located at the meeting point of both American and Eurasian plates, belonging to the western part of North America and the eastern part of Europe. However, due to European settlement, Iceland’s natural conditions today are more similar to that of Europe than America.

This meeting point crosses Þingvellir National Park, where one can find the Silfra, a rift formed between two divergent tectonic plates: North American and Eurasian.

Tectonic plates (also known as continental plates, which average about 100 meters thick) are sectioned pieces of the earth’s crust, which shift over time — sometimes apart. Other times, they collide with each other causing earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and formations of new mountains.

Silfra is flooded by Langjökull’s meltwater, which passes through porous lava rock and aquifer over a period of 30 to 100 years before reaching Þingvallavatn Lake, fifty kilometres away. This highly filtered groundwater emerges as very clear and potable water. Langjökull is Iceland’s second largest glacier so it is also very cold (about 2°C year round).

Silfra is located about 60 km east of Reykjavik and is about an hour drive away. It offers a rare opportunity for scuba divers and snorkelers to swim in waters with such geological significance: to swim between two tectonic plates. It offers visibility of a little under 100 meters, which is exceptionally clear. At its deepest, it measures 63 meters deep, with many caves found at the bottom.

You’ll also find jagged areas, smooth areas and shallow areas along the fissure. Be careful not to touch (and especially not to stand on) the rocks to prevent any damage.

The day started with an early morning pick up at my hotel in Reykjavik. Since I went in November, the morning was very frigid. On my way, I knew I was signing up to freeze my buns, my fingers and my toes off, but there was no way that I was going to turn back. Upon arriving, there was a lot of sitting around as the tour operators prepared the equipment for our group of snorkelers.

Eventually I got suited up! I was wearing a dry suit, which means you can wear your clothes underneath and stay dry. The only parts that get wet are your hands and face. They are also more buoyant, so you float at the surface, but very restrictive in movement so you can’t do much except paddle with your limbs.

Nevertheless, my whole body was freezing. I was actually colder outside waiting to go in, than I was in the water.

My group was lucky because once we arrived at the start of the fissure, we didn’t have to wait long. The groups after us had to wait.

It was really hard getting the suit on because there were many layers to put on and they were tight, especially the rubber head piece and gloves. (It was even worse getting them off 😅). It was all very worth it, though!

You can also opt for a wet suit, which unfortunately is not insulated. You wear your bathing suit underneath, because, as the name suggests, you’ll get wet and cold. The plus side is that you’re not physically restricted as you would be in the dry suit, so you’re able to swim even a few feet below the surface.

Once I was in the water, I couldn’t get over how clear the water was. It was so clear with the loveliest greenish blue. In spite of how cold the water was, I felt a slight sense of warmth. Since my face and hands were the only parts that touched the water, they eventually acclimated to the temperature as the water filled my gloves, allowing my body heat to warm up my hands. One thing that I had a hard time getting used to was breathing through my mouth in the snorkel mask, instead of through my nose while my face remained under water. There were times when water entered the tube causing me to somewhat gurgle while breathing, which wasn’t much fun. Since we were snorkeling in a line, it would have been inconvenient to stop to clear it out, so I lived with it.

I swam over shallow ends and deep ends and stayed afloat the whole time. Since the dry suit was more rigid, I had a little less control in the water so there were times that I would accidentally bump onto the sides while navigating the shallow ends in attempts to stay on course.

It took about 30 minutes for us to complete the course. I felt so accomplished simply because I looked back at the time when I first heard about this place, and went the idea of traveling to Iceland went from being an interest, to a dream, to reality.

Have you been? Tell us in the comments below!

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