Iceland is a tumultuous place of ice and fire, where volcanic activity and seismic contortions deep below the surface of the earth erupt forth and shape the very landscapes, mountains, and scenery of the country itself.
The island’s location on the edge of two continents, where the North American and European tectonic plates slowly move apart from each other, has helped to form Iceland’s unusual scenery and otherworldly natural beauty, a natural beauty that draws in millions of tourists every year to this sparsely populated country on the northern fringe of the world.
One of the more unusual natural attractions to be born of this turbulent geological activity, is the Silfra Fissure, a deep divide in the rock that has filled with perfectly clear water. This is literally the spot where tectonic plates are shifting, and it is here at Silfra Iceland, where adventurous travelers can don a dry suit and dive or snorkel between continents.
It’s an unusual activity and not an activity you would expect to undertake in Iceland, but the Silfra Fissure is, in fact, one of the best snorkeling spots in the world and is a world’s top 100 travel adventure. Due to its uniqueness. The world’s top 100 travel adventures are amazing adventures ranging from 5-day remote hiking/camping in Patagonia to snorkeling the Silfra Fissure in Iceland.
These are bucket list adventures that the everyday person can do. A world’s top travel adventure requires more than just an epic adventure, it includes a uniqueness, history, culture and a sustainable travel side also. Follow our mission as we mark off the world’s top 100 travel adventures one by one.
Here’s our guide to visiting Silfra in Iceland, to help and inspire you to snorkel between two tectonic plates in the land of ice and fire.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Iceland (Travel Guide)
What is the Silfra Fissure in Iceland?
The Silfra Fissure is a rare geological formation, a gap in the earth’s surface that is slowly widening by a few centimeters each and every year, as the European tectonic plate ever so slowly moves away from the North American tectonic plate that it neighbors.
Geologically, it’s a fascinating place, but aesthetically, it’s even more fascinating, as clear, glacial water has filled this crack in the earth, to create a unique underwater sight that boasts some of the freshest and cleanest water of anywhere in the world.
The fissure is filled from underground spring water that comes from a nearby glacier after earthquakes and tectonic movements caused the water to be channeled into this rocky gap.
From the surface, the fissure simply looks like a small river, but go underwater, and there’s a colorful world of rocks and crevices awaiting. On one side, is Europe, on the other, North America, and diving or snorkeling Silfra Iceland is an experience of a lifetime.
Check out this Iceland Discovery Tour
Where is Silfra in Iceland?
The Silfra Fissure is, of course, found where the European and North American tectonic plates are moving apart from each other, but where exactly in Iceland is this strange underwater world found? Silfra is located within the boundaries of Thingvellir National Park, which is found around 50 kilometers, or one hour of driving, depending on Iceland’s unpredictable road and weather conditions, from the capital Reykjavik.
Thingvellir National Park is the site of Iceland’s historic, first parliament, where Viking, Norse settlers gathered to make some of the first democratic decisions in northern European history.
The national park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but not only for these historic events but because of the unusual geological landscape, including the Silfra Fissure. Thingvellir, on the surface, is beautiful, but under the surface, it’s even more spectacular.
Thingvellir National Park and the Silfra Fissure can be easily reached from Reykjavik, however, the best way to get here is either by utilizing your own transport or by arranging a transfer with a tour company, as public transport is extremely limited in Iceland.
There are many companies based in the capital which organize snorkeling and diving trips to Silfra, and these companies can also help arrange transport as part of the package.
Don’t forget to pack: Iceland (National Geographic Adventure Map)
Best Time of Year to Visit Silfra Iceland
Visitors can choose to either snorkel or to dive Silfra. The water remains a very constant temperature of between 2-4 degrees Celsius or 35-39 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year. Although it is very cold, with the addition of a dry suit, it’s easy to be comfortable when you are swimming throughout the year.
Although the water may remain a constant temperature all year round, it’s wise to be aware that the conditions outside of the fissure do not remain constant! This is Iceland after all, and its northern location, in close proximity to the Arctic Circle, ensures extreme weather cycles are very much a thing to be concerned with.
Most visitors will snorkel here during the summer season when the weather is at its hottest and when the days are extremely long. It’s even possible to snorkel Silfra under the midnight sun, a truly extraordinary experience.
During the shoulder seasons, in spring and autumn, it’s also possible to snorkel or dive here, but be warned that when suiting up on the ground it can get rather chilly, so bring plenty of warm clothes. You may find at this time, that the water is warmer than dry land.
In winter, tours are very much at the mercy of the weather, as even being so close to the capital, the roads into Thingvellir National Park can become completely snowed out during the frequent storms that pass over Iceland.
While you can dive or snorkel with underwater torches during these dark days of the year, you may find it is just a little too cold out of the water if you aren’t used to extreme Icelandic weather.
The tour companies will be able to provide all your needed equipment for when you are actually in the water, including dry suits, masks, and snorkels. Bring a GoPro or underwater camera if you have it, or rent one in Reykjavik, because you will want to take photographs. If you are lucky, you may even get a hot chocolate at the end of the trip too.
Related Article: 7 Excuses to Visit Iceland
Snorkeling or Diving the Silfra Fissure in Iceland
Anyone can snorkel Silfra, even without any snorkeling experience, as the route along the fissure is simple and easy. The dry suit will keep you buoyant, so all you have to do is float along and enjoy the surreal underwater world below. There are steps in and out of the fissure at certain points, and you will simply need to know how to swim.
If diving, however, then you will need the relevant qualifications to participate. Some of the routes may also require more technical skills, as there are very deep parts of the fissure that can only be reached with the right training and qualifications. Diving, of course, will be significantly more expensive than just snorkeling. Regardless of whether you choose to dive or to snorkel, you are guaranteed to have a completely unique adventure.
Our top recommended tours:
- Small Group Silfra Snorkeling and Lava Caving Adventure from Reykjavik
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- Diving in Silfra Fissure – Day Trip to Thingvellir National Park from Reykjavik
Best Underwater Sights of the Silfra Fissure
The glacial water is some of the purest and cleanest in the world, meaning that actually, snorkeling Silfra will provide one of the best experiences in terms of underwater visibility that can be found anywhere in the world.
Although there is no visible marine life or vegetation between the tectonic plates – because of the low, constant, temperatures that aren’t very conducive to supporting life – the vibrant colors and crystal clear water provides a phenomenal underwater sight.
The rocks are constantly in flux below, and as you glide along the fissure, you will have the European plate on one side and the North American plate on the other. At certain points, the gap is narrow enough for you to hold onto Europe with one hand and to North America with the other hand. There is quite literally nowhere else in the world where you can do this while snorkeling.
The Silfra Fissure has four important, and distinctive sections that can be dived or snorkeled. These are the Silfra Big Crack, the Silfra Hall, the Silfra Cathedral and the Silfra Lagoon. There is also the Silfra Cave too, which actually leads completely under the surface of Thingvellir National Park. This, however, is no longer accessible, at least to your average visitor, due to its depth, the dangers involved and the technical skills required.
The entry point into the Silfra Fissure leads from the metal steps and into the water, where a short swim will take you over the Silfra Big Crack. As the name suggests, this is a deep and very narrow section of the fissure, where you can really begin to appreciate the separation of the two tectonic plates on either side of you and the geological power that is occurring constantly all around.
Next up is the Silfra Hall, where the rocks widen and the tectonic plates stretch further apart. The colors and rocks are beautiful here as the light begins to enter this more open space before it widens even further into the grandly named Silfra Cathedral.
The short section between the hall and the cathedral becomes very shallow, as rocks have moved and become trapped here in the fissure during periods of seismic activity, but keep going and you will come to a deep area, with the best visibility.
The Silfra Cathedral is long and open, and you can see almost from one end to the other. It’s the most dramatic display of the clarity of the water and the vibrancy of the colors that are present within this unusual Icelandic fissure.
The route ends at the shallow Silfra Lagoon, where blues and greens give the area a beautiful and colorful hue. From here, steps lead back onto dry land, where you can then be surrounded by the marvelous nature of Thingvellir National Park.
Common Questions About Diving Silfra:
- What time of the year can you dive the Silfra Fissure? You can dive the Silfra all year round.
- How long does a Silfra Fissure dive tour take? Once you get to the park it takes 2 hours and you are in the water for around 30 minutes. If you are only diving a tour can take 4 hours, where most people are on a full day tour that can last up to 8 hours.
- How difficult is it? It’s easy, the hardest thing is the cold water. All you do is float, but you do need to know how to swim and that is a requirement.
- For scuba diving, do I need to be dry suit certified? Yes, Dry suit certification is required for anyone to scuba dive Silfra Fissure in Iceland.
- Can I use my own gear? Yes, you can use your own equipment to dive and snorkel. But make sure your dive equipment is serviced and rated for cold water diving. For snorkeling, full face masks are not allowed.
- Is there fish or life in Silfra? There is lots of plant life but everything else is so small you can not see it with humans eyes.
- How far do I have to walk with the dive gear on? The carpark and changing rooms are 100m from the entrance point and you will have to walk 350m when you exit.
- Minimum age: 12 years old
- What’s included? All snorkel or diving gear. Thingvellir National Park fees. Changing room (Only with Dive.IS otherwise there are bathrooms on site) Dryrobe overcoat while doing the tour. Hot cocoa and cookies after the tour.
- What should I bring? A spare change of clothing. A base layer that is ok if it does get wet (include your bathing suit). A towel for drying off after your dive. A camera, however, it is near impossible to work with your drysuit hands.
- Can I drive there myself and dive? Yes, you can drive there yourself just to dive. You will have to organize everything in advance with whatever company you book with.
- Can I dive or snorkel the Silfra Fissure without a guide? No, you must dive with a local guide per national park rules.
Other Helpful Tips For Diving Silfra Fissure
- Book way in advance before landing in Iceland. Space is limited and this is one of the most popular things to do in Iceland so popular times fill up. You may be lucky to be able to book once you land in Iceland but it’s not worth the risk of the tour being filled up.
- Dive IS has a nice warm changing truck for their divers to use. It’s only for changing and for their customers only. Those other tours did not have that. This is a whole lot better than changing in the parking lot or in the wet overused public bathrooms.
- You may get a little wet around your neck, this happens from you not looking down and just floating. Your dry suit may have a small leak in the foot or in the gloves. This is something you will notice right away once entering the water, but it is something that will go away once you get floating and you start to admire what the Silfra Fissure has to offer.
- When picking out your clothing to wear for diving Silfra Fissure, don’t bring anything cotton. Bring cold weather gear like fleece and wool. Yes, even in the summer months. Nice warm wool socks are a must-have. If you even have some gloves bring them for afterward because you will be cold.
- Try not to swim around. Your guides will inform you about everything before your Silfra Fissure adventure begins. The movement will push out what warm water you have in your neoprene gloves, making you cold. It is best to put your hands behind your back or head, this will help keep them warmer.
- Taking photos is near impossible due to the large neoprene gloves you will have on. A GoPro 7 Black with our selfie stick was what we used in video mode then afterward we took out the photos. We also informed our experienced Silfra Fissure guide that we were going to buy photos so he took lots of great photos of us.
- Whatever you do, do not pee in your wet/dry suit. I know it may sound funny but go to the bathroom before suiting up and do not go pee while swimming. The companies wash the wetsuits and try to keep them as clean as they can but its a losing battle if customers are always peeing in them. This is something every scuba diver battles when putting on a wetsuit.
- Take your time, I know you may be cold and a little wet. But make sure you relax and enjoy this world’s top travel adventure.
|Best of Iceland|
Trip Type: Small Group
12 - 15 People
Trip Type: Small Group
12 - 15 People
Trip Type: Small Group
12 - 15 People
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