Snorkelling in Iceland
Nordic Travel Specialist, Charlotte, heads to Iceland for a snorkelling experience like no other.
“Did you know you can go snorkelling in Iceland? I didn’t…”
When I think of summer in Iceland I think of 24 hours of daylight, blueberries growing in the lava fields and hikers reaching summits and camping by hot springs. Before I went for the first time, when I dreamt of all of the activities that one could possibly do in Iceland, the last one I imagined was snorkelling.
It might sound a bit mad (isn’t it cold? What is there to see?) but, not only it is completely possible to go snorkelling in Iceland, it is also an incredibly popular and unique experience. The snorkelling takes place in the Silfra Rift of Thingvellir National Park on the Golden Circle route. Silfra is known to be one of the best dive/snorkel sites in the world with visibility over 100%. It is possible to take both diving and snorkelling tours in the rift; in order to take the diving tour you must already be in possession of an open water diving licence, but snorkelling is open to all.
The park is located in an area of the country where the pulling apart of the American and Eurasian tectonic plates is most evident. Huge cracks have developed in the landscape and one of the smaller ones is the Silfra Rift. The water in the fissure originates in Langjokull glacier and spends on average 50 years filtering through the porous lava rock in the surrounding area before filling the Silfra rift and Lake Thingvellir.
Whilst Lake Thingvellir itself is full to the brim with trout, they rarely come into the rift – although you might be very lucky and get a sighting. Fish (or lack of) aside, the scenery beneath is completely out of this world and I have never seen anything like it. Nothing could have prepared me for the crystal clear blue water, the fluorescent green moss waving in the gentle current and the metres and metres of water below me. People always talk about those moments that make you feel insignificant as a human, and this was definitely one of them. It really is the kind of thing that needs to be seen to be believed.
“The scenery beneath is completely out of this world and I have never seen anything like it.”
Before you get into the water though, you have to get prepared for it…
The dry suit challenge
The first part of the tour may not be the most comfortable but it is definitely the most comical! It is, of course, the challenge of getting into your dry suits. If you’ve never been in a dry suit before, imagine getting into a more robust wetsuit that is then vacuum-packed around you – I felt a bit like a supermarket chicken! But, it does mean that you needn’t worry about the cold in the water.
Although the water is a chilly 2-4C all year round you will really only feel this on your face and hands. Under your dry suit you are insulated by your own base layers, and outside by what is effectively a big sleeping bag with arms and legs – fondly knows as a ‘teddy bear suit’ – to keep you cosy and buoyant; on your head and hands you wear a neoprene hood and neoprene gloves. The suits have wellies attached and then the flippers go on/around them, like you would put your foot into a normal flipper. If you’re not wearing good thick wool socks, neoprene socks are provided.
Snorkelling in Silfra
The guides are really helpful and after a thorough safety briefing and a check of all the equipment, it’s time to head into Silfra. The groups are small at just 8 per guide, with another guide spotting from the land – so if you ever need a breather or some advice of how to de-fog your mask there is always someone nearby.
The ‘swim’ itself last about 25-30 minutes however it’s more of a gentle bob along. The suits make you incredibly buoyant and there is a very calm current that gently moves you along. The icing on the cake comes in the form of the ‘Blue Lagoon’ at the end of the tour. This is a lagoon like no other. At this point in the tour the guides will help those out who want to stand on terra firma again but will also give the more adventurous a chance to explore this incredibly stunning lagoon and even look for underwater caves.
Once on dry land it is a relief to take off your mask and flippers. The waddle back to the car is even more amusing. Not even Naomi Campbell could make walking in one of these suits look good! It’s a lovely time as the group bond over their experiences, what they saw and how delicious the water was. Depending on the time of year you might even be greeted with a very welcome cup of hot chocolate and a biscuit back at the car.