I’ve been to the National Park of Þingvellir countless times. I’ve marvelled at the massive stone wall that is the edge of the American tectonic plate, gotten to know the dark history of executions in Drekkingarhylur (meaning “Drowning-Hole” – I’ll let you draw your own conclusions) and climbed in the rocks below Öxarárfoss waterfall, but I’ve never even noticed the large, water-filled crevice of Silfra. It doesn’t look like much from above, but recently I found out what an incredible phenomenon it is on a snorkeling in Silfra tour. It has become incredibly popular in recent years, and you can both snorkel and dive there.
Silfra is one of many fissures that cut through the beautiful landscape of Þingvellir as the American and the Eurasian tectonic plates pull away from each other and stretch out the area in between. The water in Silfra originates in Langjökull, Iceland’s second largest glacier, and it takes decades for it to seep through the lava fields of the Skjaldbreið volcano all the way down here.
Glacial melt water is usually quite murky, but having been filtered through the lava for ages, the water in Silfra is incredibly clear. The visibility is more than 100 meters, which makes it pretty much completely unique.
When I got to Þingvellir, friendly guides helped me to put on the super-fabulous drysuit. They were warm, laid back and professional and made me feel totally at ease with being about to get immersed in near-freezing water (it’s about 2-4°C!). I got into the water and was pleasantly surprised to find that I couldn’t feel the cold at all, except for my fingers and my mouth, which was the only bit of me exposed to the water. Not bad!
Like I said, I had never noticed Silfra at all before. It’s not until you’re in the water and looking below the surface that you can see what a completely different world it is down there. The underwater landscape is magnificent and serene, with huge blocks of lava rock and dark depths between. You can really feel the tectonic power – how your surroundings are slowly being torn apart – and the blue color of the water looks amazing, especially paired with the yellow ochre of the local algae.
When snorkeling in Silfra, there’s a slight current in the fissure so I floated effortlessly on while enjoying the gorgeous sights below. I felt perfectly relaxed and every now and then I had a sip of refreshing lava-filtered glacial water. In the end my fingers and lips were getting a little numb so I was glad to get out of the water, but it was a perfect amount of time to comfortably enjoy Silfra. Afterwards, we were joined by Alfreð the duck (or was it Daisy?) for some cookies and hot chocolate before heading back to Reykjavík.
Silfra really took me by surprise. I never knew that something this unique and so unlike anything I’ve ever seen existed so close to me, lurking just below the surface.