Þingvellir National Park, located on Iceland’s Golden Circle, is home to the meeting point of two tectonic plates: the Eurasian and the North American, which are gradually drifting farther apart. This natural phenomena is the reason why Iceland has so many volcanoes and is able to utilize geo-thermal energy. Pretty neat, right?
Guillaume and I were totally nerding out over all this science during our winter visit to Iceland. We even decided to snorkel the Silfra, a deep fissure that has formed between these two tectonic plates! It’s the only place in the world where you can snorkel/dive between two continents. Yay science!
Snorkeling the Silfra…. in Winter!
The water in the Silfra fissure is fresh glacial water, which keeps a temperature of 35°F (or 2°C) year round. Guillaume and I visited Iceland in November, which meant the frigid water was actually warmer than the air temperature! All of my friends back home thought I was crazy for even considering snorkeling in winter. To be honest… this was not the first time they had questioned my actions.
Guillaume and I met our snorkel guide from DIVE.IS at the Þingvellir National Park visitor center and began suiting up in our drysuits (a thick dive suit that is designed to keep you dry and warm). I had never worn a dry suit before. It was so tight, pushing my appendages through the arm, leg and head holes took real courage!
It was approximately 0°C outside. Within 15 minutes of doing the march of the penguins toward the water, my toes had gone completely numb and my lips were swollen.
“Do I look like Angelina Jolie?” I asked Guillaume, puckering up my lips.
He laughed… a little too hard.
We were briefed and then it was my turn to enter the water, which I was now dreading. Maybe I am crazy for doing this, I thought. I waddled down the steps and, to my surprise, the water actually felt warm!
“Okay, here’s THE moment.” Our snorkel instructor announced. “Look down.”
I dipped my face into the water and gasped.
The water literally took my breath away, and I’m not talking about the freezing temperature. Imagine the bluest, clearest water you’ve ever seen (over 100 meters of visibility), and you won’t even come close. The aqua-marine water in the Silfra fissure undergoes a vigorous 50km long filtration process that can take up to 100 years as it slowly percolates through subterranean lava fields (source).
We were told to taste the pure water. Guillaume took a mouthful. Now that’s high-quality H2O!
Floating through No-Man’s-Land
While snorkeling the Silfra, I kept twisting my neck to see both sides of the fissure, narrating in my mind: “To the east, we have the European plate, and to the west: North American.” Does that mean I was currently floating in no-man’s land?
After 40 minutes in the water, floating and occasionally kicking our legs to keep warm, we emerged. The world outside had received a sprinkling of snow. The color contrast came as a shock, and I preferred my blue underwater oasis.
Our snorkel guides offered us hot chocolate and cookies as we peeled off our dry suits. I felt elated after our short time in the water, almost in a dream state. I was also shivering, swollen, with snowflakes slowly covering my face and hair. I didn’t even want to ask if I looked like Angelina Jolie.
Is it worth snorkeling the Silfra in winter?
Absolutely! I’d do it again. Our guides even told us that they prefer winter snorkeling/dive trips. In the summer, the Silfra maintains 35°F, so you still have to wear a dry suit. The only difference is that you are sweating and very uncomfortable in the suit when out of the water. In the winter, you’re pretty much cold the entire time, but it’s bearable. The hot chocolate helps.
*Thanks to DIVE.IS for offering us this incredible experience. As always, the opinions expressed in this article are our own.