Iceland has a lot to offer in the winter months besides just the Northern Lights. As sighting the Northern Lights is at night only and heavily depends on your luck, make sure to fill your days with activities that are suitable in all weathers. Diving or snorkeling in Silfra Fissure, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, should be added to your bucket list. Yes, you heard me right, you can snorkel in the winter there and it should be added to your bucket list.
Maybe you are hesitant to snorkel in icy water and skeptical about what you may see as we were before. Don’t. We are so glad we did it!
Silfra lies at the rim of the Pingvallavatn Lake (a rift valley lake) in the Thingvellir National Park. This experience is so unique due to Silfra’s exceptionally clear fresh water, its geological significance and rare opportunity to swim between continental plates. Silfra is spring-fed by melted snow from Langjokull, Iceland’s second largest glacier, about 30 miles north. The water temperature is around 36-39F (2-4C) degrees year-round. The highly filtered groundwater offers incredibly high visibility of 230-260 ft (70-80m) underwater. This high visibility allows swimmers to clearly see across 300 feet into the abyss submerged in the crystal blue fresh water.
You will need to follow a professional guide for this adventure. Among a few tour operators, we picked Iceland Advice. They appear to be less commercial. Group size is small – 6 max. The afternoon time slot suited our schedule. Good reviews. Reasonable price including free photos taken by the guide.
Equipped with Warm and Dry Suits
We took the 2:30PM tour among a group of six as the tour promised maximum. Our guide Weston, a Maine native and a cold-water diving expert, was thorough in explaining what to expect. In this drysuit snorkeling tour, everyone is equipped with three layers of clothing and accessories:
- Inner layer: base layer/long underwear and warm socks of your own. We wore them underneath before arriving.
- Middle layer: a warm suit (like a light-weight sleeping bag) the tour provides. This layer keeps you very warm.
- Outer layer: a drysuit the tour provides. This layer keeps you dry and buoyant. If you have never wore a dry suit before, it is a funny feeling because you will feel like a rubber duck.
- Accessories they provide: a hood, a pair of gloves, a mask, a snorkel and a pair of slippers.
Weston then thoroughly “sealed” each of us around the neck and wrists to further tighten the drysuit’s opening points. It is very important to be dressed and “sealed” correctly to prevent water leak which is the key to keep you warm and mostly dry under the drysuit. However, do expect your hands and part of your face to be submerged in cold water. Didn’t feel too cold for me because my body was warm. But couple of people in our group did seem to be bothered by the cold hands.
As we stepped off the drop-in platform, this amazing blue abyss appeared in front of our eyes. Hard to describe the view and the sensation with words. You must experience it for yourself.
We were in the water for around 40 minutes exploring and swimming. For the most part, we drifted with the current toward the lake. Not much effort needed. When we took a turn to swim toward the end point, we had to swim a little against the current. As we navigate among the rocks, the fissure changed from deep to narrow to deep. We could probably see 300 feet in depth or distance. The water is very clean so it is safe to drink whatever is caught in the breathing tubes. Even though there is no fish to watch, Weston put on a beautiful show with his graceful swimming style among rock into the deep blue. He wore weights and dove underneath to take photos for us and even blow bubbles to create more interesting perspectives.
After finished swimming, we returned to the parking lot to change back to our own cloth. Just like getting dressed, we needed help to get undressed out of these tight suits. Hot chocolate and cookies are our rewards. What a fantastic experience! Thanks to Weston.
Last words of advice from me: take your time in the water, especially at the beginning deep part, to enjoy the clearest water, the most dramatic depth, and its mind-blowing beauties.