Iceland’s Silfra fissure snorkeling review
A dozen expletives flew out of my mouth the first time I touched the water in the Silfra fissure. And, no, that wouldn’t be the last time profanity would be said through clenched teeth on this snorkeling tour. Ironically, though, the profanity was sometimes the only way to express what I was seeing with my own eyes — it left me that speechless.
Now, I should preface this review by saying that I did not record my dive in the Silfra Fissure, nor did I take any photos. (To learn more about why I decided to unplug, read this article.) Instead, I focused on experiencing the moment at, what I would argue should be considered one of the seven wonders of the world, old or new. As of now, it’s only considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Silfra fissure, sometimes called Silfra in shorthand, is a crack between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. So, technically, I snorkeled in no-man’s land, which is unreal. It’s the only place in the world where you can do this.
Me, a natural thesaurus, was left fumbling and trying to find words to describe this unparalleled phenomenon.
Well, that and because my lips had swelled up and could be the face of a botox advertisement. (I’m sometimes a little punny).
So before I plunge into my Silfra Fissure experience, I’ll outline a few basics about the tour and the company that guided me on my adventure.
Basic tour information
I embarked on my Iceland road trip in November. I didn’t book my Silfra snorkeling tour until two days before because I was on the fence about whether I should spend a large portion of my budget on one tour. After convincing myself that this was a once in a lifetime experience, I began searching the web for what company to go with.
Arctic Adventures was one of the budget-friendly tours that I stumbled across on the website. The tour cost $169 but included admission to Þingvellir National Park (sometimes spelled as Thingvellir National Park for non-Icelandic speakers) and a dry suit. Photos and a GoPro can be rented at an additional cost. As an added bonus, there is hot cocoa and cookies included in your ticket. This doesn’t seem like a perk, but believe me, it most definitely is!
I opted to meet my tour at the location, which meant I had to pay $5 for parking, but there is also an option where you can be picked up in Reykjavik and transported to the dive site. Either way, the site is easy to locate.
Dry suit drama
Now, if you’ve never been in a dry suit before, this is going to be an experience in itself, which was the case for me. The dry suit is two layers and can be difficult to put on. Yes, you might have to get a little personal with your tour guides. Especially, if you end up getting stuck in the suit like I did. (Long story short: I have short legs and the suit’s legs were far too long for me. It took a lot of shimmying and helpful bounces from one of the tour guides to finally get the legs situated correctly!)
Overall, the dry suits aren’t super uncomfortable. If you’ve been in a formal gown before, it’s somewhat the same feeling. The suits are slightly constrictive, but will definitely be a life saver once you step into the cold water.
If you are claustrophobic, you might feel uncomfortable in the suits. It’s ultimately your decision. The tour guides jokes about the suits will put you at ease and you’ll soon forget how silly you might feel.
How fit do you have to be?
Most Silfra snorkeling or diving tours have a health clause in their booking. Most state that participants need to be “physically fit” in order to engage in the tour. Many sites do not hard-set definitions about what it means to be “physically fit” other than it requires a moderate level of exercise.
The most important of these is feeling comfortable swimming in open water. The extra room in the dry suits can be filled with air, which helps the snorkeler stay afloat. I found this uncomfortable because I lacked control and felt like I was on an inflated raft. Yet, this function definitely helps put participants at ease.
In the Silfra fissure, there aren’t any strong currents. In fact, there’s a steady current and it will require very little effort on your part to get to the end.
As a snorkeling novice, this tour was a breeze. The only thing you need to worry about is enjoying yourself and fully taking in the crystal, blue water below.
Experience in the water
I was cursing at a higher power when I first dipped my flippered foot into the Silfra Fissure. All year round the water temperature is an average of 3 degrees Celsius (37.4 degrees Fahrenheit). The cold temperature of the water is in part why it is so crystal clear.
Don’t be fooled. If you’ve participated in a polar plunge before, it will not prepare you for this experience. Being a native of Minnesota, I was even shocked at how cold the water was and had a hard time not mulling about it over and over while on the tour.
In part, the water is crystal clear because it is derived from a glacier. The water flows from nearby Langjökull Glacier (The Long Glacier). For the next 30-100 years, the water is filtered through porous underground lava fields before it reaches Þingvellir Lake (Thingvellir Lake). After which, it seeps into the underground wells and fills the Silfra fissure.
During the tour, your face and hands will become wet, which will not ease those chilling shivers you’re already experiencing. Dry suit gloves are designed to let water it and form an insulating layer. That’s if you do not move them vigorously in the water, this was the mistake I made. My tour guide actually suggested keeping your hands out of the water so they’ll stay warmer. You can either do this by placing your hands on the back of your head while you’re snorkeling or on your back.
Obviously, it’s impossible not to get your face wet during the snorkeling tour. You’ll wear hoods that will cover the majority of your head and face, but your lips and part of your forehead and cheeks with be exposed.
You’ll spend about 35 minutes in the water. You’re going to want the tour to go faster because the water temperature is so cold, but bear with it — it’s impeccable!
Quirks of the Silfra fissure
Immediately, once submerged you’ll be able to see meters ahead of you. Water in the Silfra Fissure is claimed to be the clearest water on the planet.
There are trout and numerous other species of fish that live in Þingvellir Lake (Thingvellir Lake). Yet, the fish do not venture into the Silfra fissure. The only living organism you’ll see in the fissure are your fellow snorkelers and what is considered as “troll hair.” Troll hair is a bright green algae, that resides within the fissure.
On your tour, you’ll explore the four sections of the Silfra fissure: Silfra Lagoon, Silfra Deep Crack, Silfra Cathedral and Silfra Hall. The formation of this geological features has evolved over time due to earthquakes, minor and major, that have remodeled Silfra’s appearance. Roughly, every year, the fissure shifts two centimeters.
Each of the sections is dyed a dark, cerulean blue hue and visible up to 100 meters. The rocks are a greenish, black hue and almost look like neon signs popped into the bright blue water. Especially with troll hair spotted throughout the fissure, it feels a little psychedelic at times.
Each meter of the fissure is different from the last. Parts resemble a coral reef while others are similar to deep sea diving in an underwater canyon. The views are impeccable and so hard to describe.
And yes, do taste the crystal, clear, glacier water. It’s the freshest water that you’ve ever tasted and will quench your thirst. This was surreal for me because I’ve only snorkeled in salt water before. I had to convince myself numerous times that I heard the tour guide correctly and could actually swallow a gulp.
Would I do it again?
Most definitely. Though the water will chill your skeleton in mere seconds, staring into that crystal, blue water is unlike anything I’ve experienced. I’ve snorkeled in tropical places all around the world, but after one dip in the Silfra fissure, I realized how diverse the underwater world can be.
No, there weren’t any starfish or crustaceans that preoccupied my time. Instead, I had to admire the rock canyons that I swam between and the endless clarity that the water provided. Taking a few gulps of that cold water goodness was also worth the shivers I lived with after the tour.