What’s the craziest and/or most impressive thing you have ever done? I can now say that snorkeling Silfra ticks both boxes for me! Snorkeling in Iceland is not something most people think of when they think of Iceland, but I knew we just had to do it. When I realized what was significant about this snorkel, it made the idea even more exciting.
I hate deep water, so much so that I have a complete genuine fear of it. The last time we were in Hawaii, I was hoping to conquer that fear. But 3 seconds into snorkeling, I ran out of the water and sat on the beach while my husband continued the swim. So when I told him I wanted to try snorkeling in Iceland, he looked at me with two expressions – shock and intrigue.
First of all, snorkeling? In Iceland? That’s a thing? Yes it is! And it’s quite the experience! For starters, you are not snorkeling to see fish. In fact, there aren’t any fish where you will be in the water. So then what makes snorkeling Silfra so special? Because Silfra is a fissure located in Þingvallavatn lake at Þingvellir National Park. It is a rift that separates two tectonic plates – the Eurasian plate and the North American plate. That’s what makes snorkeling Silfra so exciting, because you are actually swimming in clear, glacial water in between two active tectonic plates that make up two different continents. The geology and science nerd in me loves these kinds of things!
We checked out of Silica Hotel after breakfast at around 8 am. It was about an hour and a half drive to Þingvellir from where we were, and our swim was scheduled for 9:30 am (just minutes after sunrise). After pulling into the park where they happen to film many Game of Thrones scenes, we met up with our guide Fraser. He educated us a bit on the area and the Icelandic language, as well as the history of Silfra. The tectonic plates in Silfra move about 2 inches a year, with the glacial water in between them having been naturally filtered over 50 years. He informed us that the first people who probably swam in Silfra were the Vikings, which I thought was pretty cool. I bet those Vikings wished they had dry suits though….
The water is a chilling 34F. While the dry suits would be keeping us completely dry underneath, our hands, feet, and lips weren’t going to be so lucky. After suiting up in 3 different layers and making sure no water could sneak in anywhere, we grabbed our masks and headed towards the water. A bunch of tourists admiring Þingvallavatn looked at us like we were crazy, which wasn’t really far from the truth. We were crazy to be swimming in freezing water in between two active plates, but hey you only live once! As soon as we were ready, we floated off the platform and thus it was the start of one of the most mind-blowing 30 minutes of my life as we began snorkeling Silfra. You’d have never guessed from above water what exactly lied beneath.
Silfra is deep. Some caves we swam above go as deep as 137 feet (42 meters) and the main part of the swim at Silfra Cathedral is 72 feet deep (22 meters). As someone who has a fear of deep water, those parts made me panic a little. What made it especially eerie was the fact that since the water was so crystal clear (you can drink it as you swim!), it actually felt like I was about to fall to the bottom at any moment. It didn’t look like water in between myself and the bottom, instead it looked like blue air. But there was nowhere to go but forward, so I kept looking down and kept trying to remind myself to breathe slowly.
I made sure to touch both tectonic plates during the swim by swimming from one side to the other. It’s not everyday you can say you’ve touched two different continents. Towards the end of our swim, I was getting pretty cold and bolted for the exit. But Tor stayed in the water a bit longer, recording some pretty awesome video for our vlog (he’s also bigger than me and retains heat longer than I do). When we all came out of the water, our lips were super puffy from going numb 20 seconds into the swim. Who needs lip injections when you can just swim Silfra?
Tor and I both highly recommend snorkeling Silfra if you are planning a trip to Iceland. I mean, how cool is it to say you’ve gone snorkeling – in Iceland – in between two continents?! It doesn’t get more adventurous than that! And I will say, it’ll definitely impress your family and friends. Of course, you need to be in perfect health as it’s still a pretty rigorous experience. But your guide will take excellent care of you and take you through one of the most extraordinary spots in the world.
(PS shoutout to our awesome guide Fraser! He told us if any guide gets 5 star reviews on TripAdvisor then their boss gifts them a six-pack of beer. Well, although this isn’t TripAdvisor, Tor and I are expecting to hear he got a nice big pack of beer because he was awesome!)