When I heard that one could snorkel between the tectonic plates of two continents when I was in college, I put it on my bucket list and had dreamed about doing it. I didn’t even know where in the world it was, but I wanted to do it. When I learned that I could snorkel between the tectonic plates in Iceland, we decided that we must do it. It was a such a cool experience and in this post I give you all the ins and outs you need to know if you are considering snorkeling in the Silfra Rift.
About Silfra Rift
A rift is an area between 2 tectonic plates. The Silfra Rift is between the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian Tectonic Plate. Something that I did not realize prior to going to Silfra was how big the rift actually is. I had imagined that the part of snorkeling was the only part of the rift and that the plates could close at any minute. Only to find out when we arrived that the actual borders of the tectonic plates are almost a mile apart. The rift between the two main tectonic plates actually cutes through the entire country of Iceland and forms the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The Silfra however is unique in that the fissure is filled with water that is filtered underground by volcanic rocks through old lava tubes.
The water is around 2 degrees Celsius (36 degrees Fahrenheit), so it is super cold! This is because the water is directly coming from melting glaciers. Due to the nature of the water, it is blue and super clear (like has 3 times more visibility than the Caribbean!). At it’s deepest point, it is 207 feet deep.
Where is the Silfra Rift?
The Silfra Rift is located in western Iceland in Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park. From Reykjavik, it is only around 45 minutes by car or bus.
How to get to the Silfra Rift
If you are using a rental car or van during your stay in Iceland, there are multiple parking lots there for you to park while snorkeling and exploring. As usual, I recommend driving as it gives your more opportunity to explore, but I understand that it may not be an option for you in Iceland, so thankfully there are other options.
Many people take buses from Reykjavik to Thingvellir National Park. Another great option if staying in Reykjavik, but wanting to snorkel at Silfra is ask your tour company if they offer transportation. Most Silfra Snorkel tour companies offer transportation to Silfra for an additional price.
Booking your snorkel trip
You need a guide to snorkel at Silfra Rift. Due to several factors (the water temperature, environment, and local regulations) it is not feasible to bring your own snorkel gear to snorkel. This is probably unlike any other snorkeling you have ever done. You must book your tour in advance to reserve your spot as only so many people can snorkel in the Silfra Rift per day. There are various tour companies with different prices and packages.
We went with the company Troll Expeditions which we thought was phenomenal. They have a wide variety of packages and they also combine the Silfra snorkeling with other adventures as well if you choose. (not sponsored, we just really liked our experience with them)
What is it like snorkeling in the Silfra Rift?
Each company will be a little different, but most pretty much give a similar experience. This is what our experience with Troll Expeditions was like.
-before your tour
After booking, you will get an information packet with specifics of what to wear or not wear, where to park if you’re driving on your own, where to meet if they are picking you up, and what time to arrive. There is also a medical form to be completed by your medical provider for some people (more on that later).
-meet your guide
On the day of your tour, you will meet with your guide at the location and time they told you. If you are meeting at the national part, it is a good idea to arrive earlier than you think you’ll need to in order to find parking (the parking lot is a little bit away that you will have to park and walk to the meeting point) and use the bathroom. There are bathrooms beside the area where you will meet your tour guide and get suited up.
Suiting up takes longer than you may expect since it is so cold in the water and there are a lot of things you must wear to assure that you don’t become an ice cube. First thing they will have you do is put on a fleece body suit over whatever you are already wearing. For us they had us do this in a heated truck so that we were warm and cozy and didn’t get cold at any time.
They will give you a dry bag to put all of your personal items, coats, and whatever else you have. The dry bags sit outside, and while someone watches them for you, I would try to bring the minimal amount of personal things with you and don’t bring anything valuable.
Next, you will step outside and put on the dry suit. You will take off your shoes and put them into a giant bin of everyone’s shoes. They will give you a dry suit in a general size (small, medium, large), so it may fit funky on you depending on how wide or tall you are.
Now I have worn wetsuits multiple times in my life before, but the dry suit was completely different. It is very heavy, bulky, and awkward. They put baby powder in the arm holes so that you can get your arms through and also help you squeeze your head through the head hole. Shoes are part of the dry suit, so your feet should stay generally warm and dry.
Next, they tie straps around your wrists and neck to keep water from getting in the suit. For me, this was the worst part. The strap around your neck is pretty tight and at first feels like you’re choking, but eventually you get used to it. Just be careful to not bend over for too long or you can possibly feel like passing out or even pass out (don’t ask me how I know this lol).
Next, they will give you your gloves and head cover. Your hands and head will get wet, but this helps insulate them and keep them warmer than if they were just touching the water.
Last, but not least, you get fins, goggles, and a snorkel.
At some point during suiting up, they will give you multiple instructions and information about Silfra Rift, snorkeling there, and safety positions while snorkeling.
-walk to the entrance point
Now, looking super cute and heavy, you will slowly walk to the entrance of the Silfra Rift where you will get in the water. It is not a far walk at all, but feels a little farther with all the extra weight on you.
-get in the water with your group
To get in the water, there are metal stairs that will lead down to the water. Your guide will give you lots of instructions and help you put on the snorkel and fins. Before going far into the water, your instructor should make sure that you are able to roll into a safety position and able to follow instructions in the water.
-listen to your guide and snorkel
Once you get in the water, your tour has begun! Listen to your guide and follow all of their instructions. There are several different points where they may have you paddle one way or the other to avoid the current or to see something cool. Follow what your guide says and have a great time!
-15 minutes of free snorkel in the Silfra lagoon
I’m not sure about all tour companies, but our tour allowed us up to 15 minutes to snorkel around Silfra Lagoon and explore on our own. The water is still blue and clear here, but it is wider and has less of a current. In the back corner of the lagoon to the left, there was another little fissure that was cool to go in. When you’re done, you can head to the exit platform of the lagoon.
-get out and walk back to the meeting point with your group
Once you get out, they will help you take off your fins, snorkel, and loosen the strap around your neck. The walk back to the suiting-up-area is a little longer from here, but you can go as slow as you want and the path is nicely paved. When you get back, they will help you take everything off and change back to whatever you were wearing when you came. Our tour guide provided hot chocolate and Hraun chocolate candy bars for us before we left. The pictures they took of us during the tour arrived to our email a few hours later.
What should you wear?
Since they give you fleece under suits to put on under the dry suits, you don’t need super heavy clothes on under or it would be way too hot or uncomfortable. I wore leggings, 1 pair of thick socks, and a long sleeve thermal shirt. This was perfect for me as I felt pretty warm and anything heavier would have been restricting.
Tips for Snorkeling in Silfra Rift
-must have a medical clearance if you have various health conditions
Your tour guide company will send you information prior to the trip about if you need a medical clearance. There is a whole list of conditions that require a doctor’s approval prior to snorkeling at Silfra, some of which include high blood pressure, heart problems, or history of a stroke.
-there are some physical requirements
Check with your possible tour company before booking for their specific requirements. Some requirements that our tour company had was on age and weight. You also need to be physically capable of walking in the suit to and from the entrance and exit points.
-Go with a company that takes photos
Some tour companies take pictures of you on your dive while others do not. We are so glad that we decided to go with a company that took our pictures throughout the time snorkeling. It was so beautiful and cool, I wanted to capture every moment. I had my GoPro with me, but the gloves make it very difficult to operate, so I carried it in my pocket the whole time so that I could fully enjoy the experience. The photos we got back were super cool and we will treasure them!
-the water is very cold
I have said this a few times, but in case you didn’t catch it before, the water is extremely cold. Like shockingly cold. When your face first goes in the water, it is so cold that it hurts. Eventually you become used to the water and it doesn’t hurt so bad. The dry suits keep you very warm, so the parts of your body that get the most cold are your face and hands. Due to the gear you’re wearing, your lips will get the most exposure to the water. This causes them to double in size while you’re in the water. When you get out, it will look like you got some free botox while on your tour (luckily they quickly decrease to their normal size after you’re out of the water for a bit).
-Keep your hands out of the water
The gloves that are on your hands allow water in, but provide some insulation too. What was recommended to us and what worked really well was to keep your hands out of the water and resting on your back. Your hands don’t help you too much in terms of swimming or steering. Keeping your hands on your back when you can will keep them drier and let the sun warm them.
-Wear the right clothes
As stated above, try not to wear anything too bulky to go snorkeling. Base layers are a good idea. Also, warm tall socks are good to help keep your feet warm.
-Use the bathroom before you put on the gear
The gear takes a long time to put on, so that means it also takes a long time to get off. Be sure to use the bathroom before you put the suit on so that you are comfortable and so that you don’t have take off your suit. Of course bathroom emergencies happen, but try to prevent them if possible. Also, some people pee in their wetsuits, but these are dry suits, so you cannot pee in them. (Also, very gross considering they are shared suits haha).
-Be prepared for the tight strap around your neck
As mentioned, to keep water from getting in the suit, they put a tight strap or collar around your neck. You may feel like you’re choking or initially feel a little dizzy. Be aware of this. If it is too tight, talk to your guide to see if they can loosen it. However, the loosest it can be to serve its purpose is still pretty tight.
-you need to book in advance
A limited amount of people can snorkel in Silfra everyday. Make sure you book your tour in advance so that you don’t miss out on this experience of a lifetime.
-pull your hair back
Regardless the length of your hair, you will have to wear the drysuit hood on your head. This is tight and will compress your head, so you cannot wear your hair up on your head or in a bun. The long part of your hair will get wet as it cannot go in the wetsuit. The guide recommended to me to wear it in a low ponytail or braid. I had mine in a braid and it worked great for me and stayed out of my way.
-the suits make you float
If your only concern about Silfra Rift is the swimming part, well it is your lucky day. The dry suits inherently have air in them and will make you float. It is almost impossible to sink. Even trying to be in a vertical position in the water (with your feet deeper and your upper body out of the water) is very difficult due to the amount of air in the suit.
-the current will drag you along, so you don’t need to do too much swimming
They will give you fins to help you in the water, but honestly you won’t need them too much. There is a slight current in the Silfra Rift as the water comes up from underground and heads towards the big lake at the end of the rift, so the current pulls you along and you don’t have to swim that much.
Commonly Asked Questions
Can you drink the water in Silfra Rift?
Technically yes! Make the decision for yourself as there’s always the chance it could be not as clean, but many people drink it. Our guide told us it was drinkable and told us we could try it if we were thirsty. We took a gulp of the water and it was so crisp and delicious.
Why is Silfra water so clear?
The water in Silfra comes directly from glaciers. The water passes underground through lava tubes and is filtered for miles through lava rock. Also the water is very cold, which prevents many microorganisms from growing and making the water more turbid. These three factors make the water so clean and clear.
How long does snorkeling Silfra Rift take?
The time you are in the water really depends on the tour you choose. Our tour was technically listed as 3 hours from start to finish (including the suiting up and the hot chocolate at the end). However, we were in the water for only 45 minutes of that 3 hours. We thought that 45 minutes was a good time to be in the water because much more time in water that cold will make you pretty frigid.
Can I bring my GoPro while snorkeling in Silfra Rift?
Again, this really depends on the company you are with for your snorkeling tour. Our guide allowed us to bring ours but reminded me that they are not responsible if it falls down into the rift (200 feet down at points!). I did not end up using it because the gloves make your hands very clumsy and I didn’t have a strap on it. If you insist on bringing your GoPro, make sure you have a strap on it that you can attach to yourself and that you are able to turn it on and take pictures with super clumsy gloves on.
Is it worth it?
Yes! Snorkeling Silfra Rift is completely worth it. It is a bit pricey, but in the end, it is a once in a lifetime experience and a very cool experience. Not many people can say they have snorkeled in glacier water between two continents. The water is gorgeous and the underwater ecosystem is so unique. If you’re on the line about paying the money to snorkel at Silfra while in Iceland, I would tell you that it is definitely worth it. It is something we will remember for the rest of our lives.
Do you have any questions about snorkeling at Silfra Rift? Did I miss anything? Let me know down below in the comments!
Thanks for reading!