If you’re heading to Iceland, there’s probably a 99% chance that you’re planning to explore the Golden Circle. Well, I’m here today to introduce you to another must-do while visiting the land of Fire & Ice that may not be on your radar (yet): snorkeling between continents at the Silfra fissure.
That’s right: snorkeling between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates in near-freezing water. Sounds kinda nutty, right? Fear not! This post will demystify the experience by letting you know what to bring, what to expect, and why it is completely worth it.
I chose to embark on this journey with Tröll Expeditions, on their Golden Circle & Snorkeling at Silfra tour. So, I’ll be detailing all of our stops from this day to give you an idea of what to expect! (P.S. Click here to read Part 2 of my time with Tröll Expeditions!). However, if you want to skip right to everything Silfra-related, then check out the table of contents below. Now, without further ado:
Table of Contents
- 0.1 The Golden Circle Tour
- 0.2 Final Thoughts
- 1 Related
The Golden Circle Tour
So by now, I’m sure the majority of us have some kind of familiarity with the Golden Circle as a must-do for most visitors to Iceland. In case this is the first time you’ve heard the term, the Golden Circle is basically a loop outside Reykjavik that’s full of gorgeous waterfalls, geysers, and more.
There are apparently lots of hidden wonders to be found if you drive it yourself – especially in the summertime – but our tour took us to two waterfalls, a geyser, Icelandic horses, a farm-hotel, a small town with hot bubbling black sand, and (of course) snorkeling at Silfra.
On the morning of our tour, I was picked up in a cozy yet roomy minivan by our friendly guide, Ronan (originally from France). Our group lucked out since it was just 4 of us that day – which is not a norm for Iceland tours – and we all got to know each other relatively well. Plus, we got to make some bonus stops since everyone was on-time at each site!
Before heading to our very first stop on the tour, we got some pastries at a bakery just outside of town. Per Ronan’s suggestion, I tried kleinur and “lava bread” – basically a twisted fried pastry and then rye bread infused with volcanic ash. Believe it or not, I got addicted to that lava bread. And as luck would have it, I couldn’t find it ANYWHERE in the city during the rest of my trip. Sad!
Now, onto the actual tour. Since we had a wonderful guide who decided to give us 4 bonus stops, I’m going to list these in order of when we visited each place.
Bonus 1: Faxi Waterfall
Our first stop after the bakery was actually one of our bonuses: Faxi Waterfall. Interestingly enough, Faxi Waterfall is located on private land, but it happened to be open at the time that we visited. The waterfall was smaller than I had anticipated from photos, but it was still interesting to see. Fun fact: the waterfall has a special water-staircase built next to it, to help the salmon be able to reach and mate upriver.
After this mini-waterfall (in comparison) was our first real stop: Gulfoss waterfall. Gulfoss was mighty, intimidating, and gorgeous. It was also interesting to see from a different perspective, as the lookout point was actually above the entire waterfall and gorge. It was super cold and snowy while we were visiting, but the startling beauty of Gulfoss made it worthwhile.
Quick note: be very careful when walking along the paths above Gulfoss, because the only thing keeping you from slipping and falling is a relatively flimsy rope barrier. You should be fine as long as your tread carefully and watch where you step!
Bonus 2: Meeting Icelandic horses
After visiting Gulfoss, we made a stop that was very near and dear to my animal-loving heart: visiting Icelandic horses (NOT ponies!). The Icelandic horse is (obviously) native to Iceland, but what you may not know is that no other breed of horse may be brought into the country; and if an Icelandic horse leaves Iceland, it can’t come back.
These horses in particular were so friendly – almost too friendly at times if you’re not careful! A lot of the Icelandic horses are really used to being around people, so don’t be surprised if they try and “nuzzle” you – a nuzzle in this case being more like an accidental head-butt. One of them almost took out my jaw, but I wouldn’t have it any other way honestly.
Geysir Geothermal Area
Our second planned stop was to the Haukadalur valley area, home to multiple geysers and other geothermal activity. One of these geysers is actually Geysir itself, also known as the first geyser known to modern Europeans. Despite Geysir’s impressive history, the more reliable – and thus more popular – geyser in the area is Strokkur. Strokkur erupts every 5 – 10 minutes, anywhere from 50 to 130 feet into the air. With my luck, I got to Strokkur right after it had erupted. So, I waited with both arms in the air – one hand holding my phone, one holding my GoPro – to ensure I’d capture its next eruption! It was a pretty cool experience that I now have on-camera, so I’d say it was worth the wait and lactic acid-buildup in my arms.
Bonus 3: Efsti Dalurii Farm-Hotel
Our third bonus stop was really an ice cream stop at its core! Efsti Dalurii is a farm and hotel all-in-one, and you can even pet their calves before getting a scoop of fresh ice cream. It was a cute experience, but since I’m not sure what the calves will be used for when they get older, it’s hard to see it all through completely rose-tinted glasses. My hope is that the animals at this farm – and other Icelandic farms – are treated better than the factory farms in a place like America. If anyone has thoughts or insight on this, feel free to leave a comment below.
Regardless, I had a delicious coconut ice cream and an overall positive experience at this cute place and I’m happy that we made the stop.
Bonus 4: Laugarvatn
Laugarvatn was our last bonus stop before heading to snorkel at Silfra, and this town’s claim to fame actually resides in the geothermal springs under the surface of its lake. These same springs make the sand literally bubble before your eyes! We noticed little mounds of sand piled up along the shore, and Ronan informed us that the locals actually cooked food in the boiling sand. It was really cool to see! When I come back to Iceland, I plan on visiting all the hot springs possible.
Snorkeling at Silfra
This tour certainly saved the best – and coldest – experience for last: snorkeling at the Silfra Fissure!
Here’s a little background about the Silfra Fissure and why it’s so cool:
- The Silfra rift is centuries old, and was formed by the earthquakes that accompanied the divergent movement of the two tectonic plates. So, the snorkeling (and diving!) site at Silfra is in the exact spot where both plates – and continents – meet and drift apart.
- Silfra is the only place in the world where you can snorkel (or dive!) directly in a fissure between two tectonic plates.
- The water below the surface is simultaneously crystal clear yet gorgeously, vibrantly blue. Silfra is actually considered to have the clearest and cleanest water in the world (due to a mix of glacial meltwater and freshwater) and you can literally drink it as you swim through the fissure!
Preparing for Silfra
Leading up to the snorkel experience, I was weirdly nervous! Perhaps this was because I hadn’t found many firsthand accounts online…after all, the first two pages of my Google Search were mostly promotions for the various tour groups offering the experience. So helpful!!
What I did know ahead of time: we would be wearing dry suits, and the cap we’d have to wear would possibly pull at my baby hairs (the horror). I had the bright idea of trying to wear a little black cap to create a barrier and avoid this, but I actually had nothing to worry about.
I did make sure to bring my GoPro and its waterproof case, as well as a microfiber towel for drying off after snorkeling. You may also choose to bring a change of clothes, but mine were fine afterward. If you plan on bringing a GoPro or waterproof camera of any kind, make sure it has a wrist strap of some kind! If it falls down into the fissure, it’s as good as gone.
Here’s what the dressing process looked like for snorkeling:
- Strip down at least one layer if possible. We all were wearing thermals of some sort, so I took off my sweater, jeans, and shoes for this step but left my trusty thermals and socks on.
- Put on two different “dry” layers for snorkeling: the first was a zip-up one-piece meant to go over your thermals, with feet and arm holes. The second one though…the second one requires help, probably from your guide! This top layer was our actual dry suit that would keep us afloat, but it was so tight at the extremities (namely hand and head-holes) that it was hard to believe it would actually help us! Also, your feet are covered completely since the suit comes with built-in boots, which is nice.
- Get suited with a neoprene hood and gloves for your hands. Take note, especially if you have hair that’s any more than a few inches from your scalp: be VERY careful getting the hood on and taking it off! This is where I thought a few of my hairs would bid me adieu, but I got lucky because I remembered to be super delicate as I pulled the hood on. Also be aware that the hood and gloves are wet-suit material to allow some water to get in and warm to your body temperature. In other words, your hair and hands (and face) WILL GET WET. Not soaked, but definitely wet.
Once we were all suited up, we were fitted for flippers and given our snorkels before walking about 5 minutes to the submersion point. Ronan had given us a brief overview of where we’d be snorkeling and where not to turn as we swam (since one outlet led to a giant lake – yikes), but the most important thing here is to follow your guide. Don’t go ahead of them unless they give you permission; and even then, be sure to keep them in sight just in case!
A few other tips that Ronan gave us involved how to adjust our masks without accidentally removing the air-tight swim hoods; how to kick our legs in a frog-like manner to swim more easily in our dry-suits, and how to roll into a “safety” position on our backs.
The Snorkeling Experience
Okay, so after all of that prep work, I’m happy to report: the actual process of snorkeling was so freakin’ surreal. After we started swimming, Ronan led us through the fissure and took photos of us throughout the experience (photos are included in the tour at no extra charge!). Soon enough, he stopped to show us exactly where the continental plates were. Although they were technically too far apart to take that iconic “between continents” Instagram photo, Ronan showed us a spot that was close enough to the real thing – at least, for a photo opp. 🙂
As you’ll see from the following photos, the difference between how the water looks from above the surface versus below is simply insane. The blue was more vibrant and stark than nearly anything I’ve seen in nature, and the green undertones served as the perfect backdrop for these stunning hues. Really, pictures can just barely do it justice, because it’s a blue that you can’t truly capture on-camera (without enhancing the photos).
At this point, you may be wondering what the temperature is like. I’m not gonna lie: it’s cold. Very cold. The good news is, your body covered by drysuit doesn’t even feel the cold, and your head/hands/face adjust to the water surprisingly quickly! It’s honestly like getting into a cold pool in summertime: you just have to jump right in.
Additionally, the drysuits actually made the experience feel rather ethereal and pleasant since we were floating on top of the water so effortlessly. After a while, you kind of become one with the water…the brilliant, clear, blue water – which you can also take a sip of if you’re feeling thirsty! Just beware of drinking too much, because you cannot pee in the drysuits. I repeat: you CANNOT pee in the drysuits! Ronan was sure to emphasize this beforehand, and I was so nervous (as a chronic pee-er #NoShame) that I only took a couple of sips during our snorkel. But for real, that water is delicious and the purest water I’ve ever tasted.
Now, back to reality: getting out of the water and arriving back at the “camp” to take everything off is a little brutal. This could also be because I have generally subpar circulation in my extremities, but I think this was the coldest that my hands have ever felt and I was struggling hardcore.
Thankfully, there was a team ready to help us all change quickly. Once we got the top layers off, we were able to go back into the truck’s heated changing area to finish redressing.
Even better, we were given cookies and hot chocolate afterward to help distract us from our wet hair and warm up. I’m definitely glad that I brought a towel to help my hair dry up a bit faster, as my hair is already curly and thin – not a good mix for Iceland’s winter climate! I forgot to do this since I was wearing two little braids under my beanie, but you may want to consider bringing some conditioner and a comb to revive your tresses if they’re prone to breakage. Wetness + freezing temperatures do not bode well for healthy hair.
Overall, the entire Golden Circle was lovely and I highly recommend it. However, Silfra snorkeling definitely stole the show as a true bucket list item. Truly, I would do it again simply to relive that blue wonderland. Next time, I may even try diving if I’m certified!
If snorkeling at Silfra wasn’t on your radar before, and especially if you like to do something that’s a little different from the typical tourist experience, then you should absolutely give this tour a try! And if you want a personalized, wonderful experience with an attentive guide, I absolutely recommend Tröll Expeditions. Click here to read Part 2 of my time with Tröll Expeditions, where we explored Iceland’s south coast!
Disclaimer: This tour was provided to me by Tröll Expeditions in exchange for blog content. All opinions are 100% my own!