I’ve been diving for more than 40 years, but never have I experienced an underwater experience like snorkeling in Iceland.
About an hour’s drive east of Reykjavik is Sifra – Iceland’s most popular diving and snorkeling site.
Silfra lies at the rim of the Pingvallavatn Lake in Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site – And it’s the only place in the world where you can swim in a crack between the North American and European continents.
The crack, or rift, was formed in 1789 by the earthquakes accompanying the divergent movement of the American and Eurasian continental tectonic plates. Even now, the two continents are still on the move, drifting apart about 2 cm per year.
The water that fills the area comes from the glaciers. And it’s cold – so very, very cold. Sure it never freezes, but it remains about 2°C – 4°C year-round. To swim in these waters – you gotta suit up!
AKA – Another opportunity to make a fool out of myself.
Anyone who goes into these waters has to put on specially designed “Dry Suits” and I gotta tell you, they are not comfortable. Imagine the tightest Spanx you’ve ever worn, and multiply that pain by five!!!! It felt like I was being strangled by the neck, wrists, and face! Woohoo- I paid big bucks for this!
Do these flippers make my butt look big?
Underneath the “frogmen” dry suits, we’re wearing special skull caps, two pairs of woolen socks, long johns, and “special thermal underwear” – all together, the suits added an extra 30lbs of weight! We had to walk about 10 minutes from the parking lot where our outfitters had set up changing rooms to the water’s entry spot – the suits were very heavy and clumsy to walk in. I felt like an obese penguin.
But once we got to the entry point and descended into the water – what a blue paradise. Seriously, the clearest waters in the world. I don’t think the visibility of the water in Silfra will ever be surpassed – you can see about 100 meters! The water that fills the springs is filtered through porous underground lava for 30-100 years so it’s so pure you can sip the water while snorkeling. Yeah, it’s so cold, but c’mon – snorkeling and sipping pure spring water in Iceland while swimming between continents??? – Bucket Item.
The dry suits are very buoyant, so there was no fear of sinking despite being so heavy. A slight, but constant current moved us along. There are a couple of places where they can actually touch both continents at the same time. If you have long legs – you could almost straddle it!
Here’s a look at what separates us from Europe – not so much – it! Moi floating above the plates – getting to do this was such a privilege.
You can’t just go into Silfra by yourself, you have to go with a tour. And note to fellow boomers: If you’re over 60 you need to get a doctor’s permission slip stating you’re fit enough to do this. (So much for age being just a mindset.) You should also be relatively fit – sure you’re not doing open ocean swimming, but there is a current, and you should be comfortable being uncomfortable.
We went with Troll Expeditions and spent about an hour in the water – and I gotta tell you, towards the end, despite the gloves, the suit, the thermal long johns, and the skull cap – I got really cold. My lips were freezing.
Lucky for us, after our swim, we were treated to hot chocolate.
We each paid about $150/USD for our tour and that fee included our access to the park, all our equipment, videos, and photos from our swim and the hot chocolate. Iceland is an expensive place to visit, but I feel we got our money’s worth – and an adventure to last a lifetime.