Snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure Iceland

Snorkeling Silfra Iceland: Everything You Need to Know

If snorkeling in Iceland has not been on your radar, you should definitely consider it. Snorkeling Silfra Iceland is a once-of-a-lifetime experience that shouldn’t be missed during your visit to Iceland. However, it is not for everyone and should be planned out carefully. This article will help you to decide whether snorkeling Silfra is right for you and, if so, how to plan for the best experience.

Where and what is Silfra Fissure in Iceland?

Silfra lies at the rim of the Pingvallavatn Lake in Thingvellir Nationa Park (Pingvellir in Icelandic), a UNESCO World Heritage site, in southwestern Iceland approximately one hour east to Reykjavik by car.

Silfra Fissure is a newly opened rift between the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates that appeared after a major earthquake in 1789. This 200-feet-deep (60 meters) crack continues to widen by about 0.79 in (2 cm) per year.

Melted snow from Langjokull, Iceland’s second-largest glacier, about 30 miles north feeds into the fissure after being filtered through porous underground lava for 30 to 100 years until it reaches the north end of Thingvallavatn Lake. Nature’s amazing filtration system makes Silfra’s water the cleanest and clearest on earth and allows swimmers to see across 300 feet into the abyss submerged in crystal blue freshwater.

Is snorkeling in Silfra worth it?

Is snorkeling in Silfra overrated? No, snorkeling in Silfra is worth it! Snorkeling in Silfra Fissure wouldn’t have been rated one of the Top 5 activities in the world by Trip Advisor for no good reason.

  • It’s the only place in the world you can dive or snorkel between two continental plates.
  • Silfra has the cleanest and most pristine water on the planet with the highest visibility underwater.

This experience is so unique due to Silfra’s exceptionally clear freshwater, its geological significance, and the rare opportunity to swim between continental plates of Europe and North America.   

Silfra Snorkeling fissure underwater

When can you snorkel Silfra Iceland?

Year-round! The water temperatures are constant year-round, ranging from 36°F to 39°F (2°C to 4°C), so it is cold no matter what season you snorkel in Silfra Iceland.  You should wear a base layer of long thermal underwear and warm socks. On top of that, all tour operators should provide and fit everyone with another layer of thermal wear, a drysuit, and accessories to keep you dry and relatively warm (see provided items below). But, your hands and face will feel cold submerged in glacier-fed water.

  • Middle layer: a warm suit (think a quilted thin snowsuit). 
  • Outer layer: a drysuit.  This layer keeps you dry and buoyant. 
  • Accessories and equipment: a hood, a pair of gloves, a mask, a snorkel and a pair of slippers.

Is snorkeling Silfra Fissure safe?

Yes, as long as you are in suitable conditions and follow the tour operator’s advice.

As we stepped off the drop-in platform, this amazing blue “abyss” appeared in front of our eyes.  Hard to describe the vast view and near-flying sensation with words.  You must experience it for yourself. Our guide told us people with a fear of heights may panic a bit at first. So, stay calm and you will get used to it.

Who should not snorkel in Silfra Iceland?

Even though snorkeling Silfra is a great experience for most adults, some restrictions and precaution should be considered before you go. The experts and tour operators advise the activity is not suitable for:

  • Children under 12 years
  • Pregnant women
  • People under 3 ft 9 in (120 cm)
  • People over 6 ft 6 in (200 cm)
  • People over 65 years (or, must present a medical clearance from a doctor. Requirements may vary by tour operators.)
  • Who are not comfortable swimming without a lifejacket
  • Who are very sensitive to cold conditions
  • We also recommend people with extreme fear of heights (acrophobia) to reconsider.

(Please note requirements may vary by tour operators.)

Can you snorkel Silfra on your own?

No, you cannot snorkel or dive Silfra on your own. You must be guided and equipped by a professional tour guide in a small group due to safety regulations. 

Your tour operator will provide drysuits, snorkeling gears, and other needed equipment. Your tour guide will dress everyone properly to keep you dry and warm from cold water as much as possible. Most importantly, they make sure everyone is safe and swim closely as a group. They also take many free and creative photos for everyone throughout the tour. It is well worth paying for their service and tip them generously if you receive exceptional service. Iceland is a very expensive place to make a living for them.

Silfra Snorkeling from below

What is like to snorkel Silfra Iceland? (Our own experience)

Amazing! We snorkeled Silfra in March on a trip to Iceland hunting the Northern Lights. It is still one of the coolest things we have done around the world.

After researching a few tour operators, we chose Iceland Advice.  We are very happy with our experience and our tour guide. We took a 2:30 PM tour among a group of six as the tour promised maximum group size.  Our guide Weston, a Maine native, and a cold-water diving expert was very thorough in explaining what to expect.  Then, he dressed each of us with two additional layers of clothing (on top of a base layer we wore), accessories, and snorkeling equipment all provided by Iceland Advice.

Weston then thoroughly “sealed” each of us around the neck and wrists to further tighten the drysuit’s opening points.  It is very important to be dressed and “sealed” correctly to prevent water leaks which is the key to keeping you warm and mostly dry under the drysuit.  However, do expect your hands and part of your face to be submerged in cold water. 

We were in the water for around 40 minutes exploring and swimming.  For the most part, we drifted with the current toward the lake.  Not much effort is needed.  When we took a turn to swim toward the endpoint, we had to swim a little against the current.  As we navigate among the rocks, the fissure changed from deep to narrow to deep.  We could probably see 300 feet in depth or distance.  The water is very clean so it is safe to drink whatever is caught in the breathing tubes.  Even though there is no fish to watch, Weston put on a beautiful show with his graceful swimming style among rock into the deep blue.  He wore weights and dove underneath to take photos for us and even blow bubbles to create more interesting perspectives.

After finishing swimming, we returned to the parking lot to change back into our own cloth.  After undressing us one by one out of tight drysuits, Weston even rewarded us with hot chocolate and cookies. Hot chocolate never tasted so good!

Other tips and important things to know before your Silfra snorkeling tour

Things to bring onto your Silfra snorkeling tour:

  • Long wool underwear set or long fleece underwear set (cotton thermal clothes not recommended);
  • 2 pairs of thick wool socks;
  • Change of clothes and a towel just in case water leaks into your drysuit;

Wear contact lenses. It’s not possible to wear your glasses with the diving goggles.

Don’t drink too much liquid before the tour. The tour lasts around 2-3 hours (without transfer from and to Rekjavik) or 4-5 hours (with transfer). Swimming time is between 30 to 40 minutes. The last chance to use the restroom is before you get dressed by the tour guide. It takes the guide a lot of time to dress and undress the group one by one. So, plan on 2 hours being in your drysuit.

Book your Silfra snorkeling tour in advance. These tours fill up quickly due to limited allowed visitors per day. Each year, only about 50,000 people dive or snorkel in Silfra.

If you are meeting the tour group in the park (instead of being picked up from Reykjavik), make sure to arrive early. The GPS doesn’t work really well in Thingvellir National Park, so give yourself plenty of time to navigate.

Don’t panic. Take your time swimming and looking around especially near the drop-in point where there is the clearest water and the most dramatic depth.

Combine snorkeling Silfra with a day trip to Golden Circle. Check out our 2-week winter Iceland itinerary:

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