Snorkeling Silfra: The Coldest, Bluest Waters of Iceland

One of the absolute most extreme things you can do in Iceland?  Snorkeling (or even diving!) Silfra.

Silfra, also known as “The Rift,” is home to astonishingly clear waters — some say the clearest in the world.  The water is fed by glaciers and keeps to a temperature of about 2 degrees C (34 F), even in May.

Was I insane for even considering this?!

Most of my readers thought so, at least at first.

But people come to Silfra, located in Þingvellir National Park, for two reasons: first, to say that they snorkeled right between Europe and America.  Silfra is the rift between the American and Eurasian techtonic plates.

And the second reason is for this.

People come here for the blue.

From May 15 through August 31, Dive.is offers a Snorkeling Silfra Under the Midnight Sun tour.  The tour leaves at 4:00 PM and returns at 9:00 PM, and there’s plenty of light throughout.  While there are lots of companies that do Silfra tours, Dive.is is the only tour to do it at this time of day.

The result?  We got Silfra all to ourselves.

I knew this would be a physically strenuous activity and I was a bit nervous, but our guide, AJ, put me at ease right away, telling stories and cracking jokes.  AJ is originally from Poland and has made Iceland his home — though he likes to spend part of the winter diving in Southeast Asia, including one of my favorite places in the world, Sihanoukville!

“How could you ever leave Cambodia and Thailand to live here in the cold?!”  I asked him.

“I just love Iceland,” he replied.  “It’s my home now.”  Later, I checked out his bio on the Dive.is web site and found out that AJ spends his time plotting to be the first man to swim around Iceland.

The drive to Þingvellir National Park from Reykjavik took about an hour, and soon we arrived at Silfra.  There were six of us in our snorkeling group: two American guys, two British guys, a girl from Hong Kong, and me.  Also with us was a group of divers from Dive.is, who would be following right behind us.

First up was getting into our dry suits.

What did we have to wear to snorkel in such cold waters?  First, on top of thermals and thick socks (or for me, two pairs of leggings and two long-sleeved shirts), a warm suit that was essentially a human-shaped sleeping bag.  Next was an airtight drysuit.

“Do not pee in the drysuit,” AJ warned us again and again.  I have to wonder how many people violated that rule.

On top went a mask and snorkel, a head cover, a set of gloves, and finally a pair of flippers.

Know this: drysuits are incredibly uncomfortable and difficult to get on, particularly if you have long hair.  AJ helped us all out, but you’re going to lose a few hairs, no matter what.  It’s incredibly tight around your neck (as depicted in the photo above), as well as around your wrists.

“Is this okay?  Are you sure this is okay?” I kept asking AJ.  My right hand felt like it was losing circulation — and I have tiny wrists to begin with.

“It’s all right,” he said.  “It will feel different once you get into the water.”

Still a bit suspicious, I awkwardly walked down the ladder in my flippers and flopped into the water.

Now, that was a strange sensation — feeling like a giant marshmallow (or maybe the little brother in A Christmas Story), and floating perfectly on my back.  The drysuit kept me right on the surface, and the tightness around my wrist eased.  Getting into the water redistributed the air pockets within the suit, and I was immediately much more comfortable.

As the others gingerly stepped into the water, I rolled over to get a look at what lay beneath.

OH MY GOD.

Blue.  Everywhere.  More shades of blue than you could ever imagine.

Chartreuse rocks on top, occasionally with a sprig of neon yellow grass the shade of a highlighter.

Teal rocks further down, covered in a fine moss.

A turquoise surface, seen from below.

Then cerulean, further down in the rift, as everything got deeper.

And finally, the bottom of the rift vanished into a strong, thrumming shade of violet.

I had never been so mesmerized in my life.

Snorkeling couldn’t have been a better way to experience Silfra.  All I had to do was lie on my stomach, kick occasionally, and watch that dreamy environment pass by.  The drysuit kept me from having to do any work.

How beautiful is this?!

I do wonder how the divers were able to handle it — the drysuits make it difficult to actually get far below the surface.  AJ had to swim hard to get our pictures from a few meters beneath.

Best of all, there were no fish to be found in the rift.  (You remember my fish phobia, don’t you?)

And yes, the water was extremely cold — but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  In fact, the only parts of my body that got cold were my lips and my hands, which started getting a bit uncomfortable after 25 minutes or so.

Dive.is doesn’t let people stay in water this cold for longer than 40 minutes.  As snorkelers, this was our one turn; the divers had two rounds.

After a round of energetic swimming into another channel to avoid being swept into a lake (AJ warned us, “If you end up in the lake, only a helicopter will be able to rescue you,”), we lazily finished up our floating journey.

It was back to dry land, and back to the reality of Þingvellir.

The Icelandic wind whipped across my face, my now-soaked long hair dancing wildly — and I knew that after Silfra, I would never look at the color blue the same way again.


READ NEXT:

What No One Tells You About the Blue Lagoon, Iceland


Many thanks to Dive.is for hosting me on a Snorkeling Silfra Under the Midnight Sun tour.  All opinions, as always, are my own.

All underwater photos are courtesy of Dive.is.

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DebbZ
Guest

too beautiful, it looks sureal !!! Such a great experience, Kate 🙂

Nicole
Guest

Yes, it looks amazingly beautiful! However, my teeth are chattering just thinking about it! You are far braver than I am… 🙂

Adventure Travel Editor
Guest

So cool! What an experience

Nomadic Samuel
Guest

It looks absolutely gorgeous but I would likely have to psych myself up to plunge into waters that cold 😛

Rachel
Guest

This looks amazing! No fish? Easy floating? Yes please!

Elle Croft
Guest

Wow. This looks absolutely incredible! If I’d known this was in Iceland I would have done it for sure…well, next time huh?!

Jonathan Look, Jr.
Guest

I am planning to be in Iceland this summer but, NO! You have your fish phobia, I have a cold water phobia. Well, maybe not a phobia but a high discomfort level with the THOUGHT of being in water that cold. Doesn’t Iceland have some great geothermal spas?

Alex
Guest

I’m counting down the days until I dive at Silfra (20 to go!) I am what divers call a Warm Water Wussy though… so I am pretty concerned about the temperature. Ah well, everything is worth at least one try!

Maryann
Guest
Maryann

How did your dive go?

Kavi
Guest

This looks amazing! I would love to try it one day.

Wez
Guest

Loving the amazing blues around doing this dive, and it looks like a great experience. I’ve read Liz did it recently too and both your articles desperately make me want to go to Iceland, so hopefully I can make it out there soon. Thanks.

TammyOnTheMove
Guest

Wow, that is cold. I heard about the rift before, but had no idea the waters were so clear. It looks like a rift to a different dimension. Very mysterious, love it!

Celina Globetrotter
Guest

Wow, you are amazing! It was so cold!

Ruth (Tanama Tales)
Guest

This is so cool!! Something I will want to do but can’t because I don’t know how to swim. And before you ask, I can’t even float.

Ayelet - All Colores
Guest

It looks amazing. This bring up some concerns yet looks very tempting. I was relieved to read you mostly didn’t feel the cold, because 2 degrees is COLD.

Camels & Chocolate
Guest

I’ve been diving for five years and never even been in a drysuit! In fact, I get cold wearing a 7mm long wetsuit in 68-degree water, so I’m not sure I could handle this!

Katherine of Kapcha The World
Guest

Wow – this looks amazing. This is so going on my bucket list.

Glenn Meyers
Guest
Glenn Meyers

Amazing!!! Fantastic article…. makes me want to go there NOW

Agness (@Agnesstramp)
Guest

I wish I was there. I did the snorkeling once in my life in Egypt, but the scenery wasn’t that beautiful + the water in Iceland is crystal clear. Enjoy!

nomadic translator
Guest

I wanted to do this SO bad during my visit to Iceland, but since I went in the middle of winter (a few days before Christmas!), I was freaked out to be in such cold water. Yeah yeah, you get dry suits I know, but still! This girl from the tropics was scared to death 😛

So! I’ll have to do this next time I visit, which will be in the summer months 😀 much better then!

– Maria Alexandra

Passport Dave
Guest

Looks like an experience for sure! Adding this to my list of things to do! What are some other activities and experiences that Iceland has to offer?

Debbie
Guest

That looks incredible. I would try that for sure. The crystal clear water would be amazing!

Patricia Moore
Guest

Just looking at the pics makes me want to book a flight right away! Gonna add Iceland to my bucketlist 🙂

Backpack Babe
Guest

Gorgeous!! Definitely need to get out to Iceland, looks amazing 🙂 Thanks Kate

Spökenkieker
Guest
Spökenkieker

Very, very exciting experience! Hope the cold does not creep through the suit too much. I also wanted to snorkel in Iceland, but it was the enormous costs (€ 880 just for the flight!!) which scared the hell out of me and made me cancel this project. 🙁

Nevertheless: Warm hugs & best wishes from East Frisia! 🙂

FishPhobic
Guest
FishPhobic

I am desperately and dreadfully afraid of fish but I love water, adventure, swimming etc. I’ve been considering a trip to iceland. Is it true this dive is possible and there are no fish?

Do you have to be SCUBA certified?

When is the best time to go?

Repeat of fish question — really no fish? I never believed I could investigate under water because of the fish thing, this would be amazing. Please let me know 🙂

Lindsay
Guest
Lindsay

Were you able to touch both Europe and America at the same time while snorkeling?

Chelsea
Guest

How magnificent!! I’m traveling to Iceland in March and am considering this type of excursion more and more. Love how honest you were about the dry suit – this is great to know and I’ll be sure to pull my hair up. 🙂