There is something you can only do in Iceland, something that should be on your bucket list. Silfra is an amazing place, unique, magic..

Dive between two tectonic plates in Silfra !!!

You like diving? Or snorkelling? Discover Silfra, rated among the best diving spots in the world. Unique and Magic are the words that describe best this amazing place.

Silfra in Iceland on our “bucket list”

We, Denis and me, have the basic diving certification, we are PADI recreational divers. It would never have occurred to me that it would be possible for us to immerse in 2°C water in the sub-artic lake Thingvallavatn in the Silfra part without a special certification or training. ( A common prejudice  being that you can not dive in a drysuit when you are not an  advanced or certified diver). So you can imagine my surprise when the diving center minibus picked us up in Reykjavik to get us to Silfra! Denis decided to surprise me – as he likes to often do – and to offer me this incredible dive, on my list of things to accomplish before I die.

silfra diving snorkeling tectonic plates iceland

Once past the surprise and the 40 minute drive to get to the site of Silfra, located in Thingvellir national park, I started to panic. “No but wait, how will we get into the water? In wetsuit or drysuit? But I do not know how to dive in a dry suit! ”

Can you dive in a dry suit as a beginner?

One thing to know is that it’s impossible (at least for the common man escluding this Danish gentleman who dives under the ice without any suit brrrr) to dive in a wetsuit in cold water without risking hypoglycemia and worse. So the drysuit is compulsory. With a drysuit, you are fully dressed, and you just need to add a kind of ski suit and on top of it, the last layer, the dry suit. Normally, water is not supposed to get into the suit and you should stay warm and dry while you’re in the water.

The only problem is that your buoyancy is very different and very hard to adjust once under water, so you tend to go up and down instead of remaining stable. This dive is quite technical and when you are not used to it, it can quickly become a hassle. It might be fun only for the dive instructor who sees his group play block breaker.

diving in iceland in silfra tectonic plates

Suddenly, I panicked and I started to wonder how I was going to control my buoyancy. But, the dive instructor reassured us and told us it was totally worth the shot. And that we would get used to it. We were supposed to do 2 dives in the lake Thingvallavatn in the Silfra area, and the first was to practice. So I thought that in case of problems I would perform better during the second dive.

Putting on the suit was a different story. You must get your head and your arms through a kind of elastic rubber,  feet being already in suit. After those steps, we doned the gloves and chose our diving hoods, fins and mask. Bundled up in our drysuits, fins, gloves, in hand, we put on our BCDs with the weights and the tank. After a short hike from the parking spot to the departure point. About 3 minute walk, but with the kilos on the back, I would say it took us twice to get there! I was already wet before getting into the water 🙂

diving in silfra dressing up dry suit iceland A group of snorkelers was with us, they were equipped almost like us except they did not have BCDs and tanks of course. .

The first sensations in 1-2 ° C crystal clear water

After putting on flippers and mask, we are finally in the water. First sensation? It’s refreshing after sweating as not allowed! Second sensation? “Whaaaaat !! I am not sure I want to get my head into the water with only a hood? ” Indeed, only your head and your hands will be entitled to feel the exquisite subartic crystal clear water of the lake. During the first minute, my brain was like frozen, then I  got used to it. Though, I may have lost some neurons in the process, but nothing too visible :-).

After these difficult first seconds, there comes the big show, the unique show for which you are happy to have endured all these challenges and you can start to enjoy …

diving silfra dive iceland tectonic plates

Damn, no, no, I am going uuuuup! so I am quickly using my deflator (the small thing to deflate your BCD) !! Too late, I am already almost at the surface,whatever, I will start over the descent…Mmmm ok not too fast, i don’t want to sink either!

Diving in a dry suit is a challenge but it’s possible

The first 15 minutes, adjusting you buoyancy underwater is a quite difficult because your drysuit is full of air and if you deflate too much, you’ll sink, and if you inflate a tad too much, you go up. I must admit this dive is technical and if you are not confortable with “regular” diving, this dive might be a little difficult. Being a good diver, having a bit of scuba diving experience would be recommanded to fully enjoy the experience. One woman in our group of divers (4 of us) booked this dive and had a PADI refresher course before coming to Iceland.  This was certainly not enough as she could not stabilize at all underwater, and I don’t think  she enjoyed her dive.  Anyway, for Denis and I, after the first tricky moments, it was going pretty well.

From the moment we managed to stabilize our buoyancy underwater, we really enjoyed! It was not easy because there is a lot of the hilly relief of Silfra. But scuba diving between two tectonic plates is a really amazing. The visibility was such that we could see 70 meters in front of us, and my god, the brightness and the colors  … Pure magic .

Did you know ? (click here)
For the past decades, Thingvellir National Park has been a popular travel destination for Icelanders and foreign guests alike. Since 2000, the total number of tourists in Iceland has tripled, reaching 807.000 people in 2013. 72% of all visiting tourists in 2013 came to Thingvellir National Park. These numbers are expected to grow significantly in the coming years (The Icelandic Tourist Board, 2014). The high number of visitors could increase faecal pollution in Lake Thingvallavatn if proper infrastructure is not installed. In recent years, scuba diving and snorkeling in Silfra has become increasingly popular. The fissure is known for it´s crystal clear conditions and unique geologic formations. According to records given to the author of this study from Thingvellir National park authorities, 15.126 scuba divers and/or snorkelers visited Silfra from March of 2013 to March of 2014. This corresponds to more than 40 visits every day of the year. No hard evidence was found in the study that suggested that anthropogenic pressure was influencing microbial diversity in Silfra. However, Silfra was found to show the highest biodiversity of all sampling locations in this study. It is not known whether the high number of visitors at Silfra is a contributing factor to these results or whether it is having negative affect on the ecosystem. Further studies will be needed to conclude if anthropogenic pressure is affecting Silfra and/or other fissures in Lake Thingvallavatn´s basin. In addition, no legislations exist in Iceland that oversees the import of scuba diving equipment, while strict legislation applies to import of various fishing gear and sporting equipment for horses (Matvælastofnun, 2009). Used scuba equipment can be brought to Iceland from abroad and used in marine and freshwater ecosystems without being decontaminated first. This increases the risk of introducing new species to vulnerable ecosystems in Iceland.

 

silfra iceland dive in thingvellir scuba

Denis had foreseen a clear, sunny day, so that the water and rocks colors could enjoy this light. A picture is worth a thousand words, see for yourself.

dive silfra iceland

We spent about 45 minutes underwater at a relatively shallow depth (between 5 and 15 meters deep). But with a lot of relief, we often had to readjust our buoyancy.

A breathtaking 45 minutes dive

The dive ends in a kind of “beach” where is the scale ladder. This beach is not made of sand but a very singular kind of mud, whitish, which you should not try to stand on, because it’s extremely soft and the movement of this mud will blur the water for a while. I say that because I chose to deflate my BCD while passing over this mud because it was really shallow and I wanted to stay underwater. So I adjusted my buoyancy and I sank, touching the white vase. I think my friends snorkelers and divers were not so happy after me because of this massive underwater cloud I created…

dive in silfra iceland scuba dive team

Come step back to the mainland. After 45 minutes spent in the cold water, we can say that is a little put out even if it does not get wet. The weight of the equipment, the effort of swimming and just the emotions, we were exhausted! Anyway, had to go out and repeat the 5-minute walk to the dive truck to change.

The cold shower

I didn’t not yet mention that at some point, I was downright soaked and my drysuit, not being tight enough let lots of water get into it, water which of course could not go out of the dry suit… brrrrr. I had water everywhere, and I could feel the iced shower getting in through my neck, as my suit was a little loose, whenever I was turning my head too much. I can tell you that I have turned my head much less after that!  But despites my efforts to prevent water from getting in the drysuit, I could sometimes feel small water influx slipping down my chest and getting to my feet.

This does not happen often, do not worry, but you should know that even if it does, it is quite surmountable, and it’s not that bad, at least it had my blood circulating very well.

At the end of the dive, we still had to walk for like 5 (feeling like 10) minutes, with the 10 kilo tank, the 10kg equipment,  the 14kg of extra weight, and I think that I had at least 2 liters of water in the shoes … The walk was rough. And once arrived at the minibus, we thought we just had to change air tanks, but then the dive instructor tells us we will not dive again, because the woman in our group who had been struggling with her buoyancy, did not wish to scuba dive anymore.

budget dive in silfra iceland

What a disappointment!  Of course we were tired and despite the challenging experience of the dry suit, I only wanted one thing, going back into the water !!! It was so beautiful! But the good team spirit prevailed I guess and we got back in the minibus to go back to Reykjavik after getting some refreshments at the courtesy of the scuba dive center.

The cherry on the cake ; an unexpected proposal

Denis asked me to marry him during that dive (yes underwater! With the help of the dive instructor and his little whiteboard, while I was trying not to move too much so that the water does not get into my drysuit). And if I did not mention this earlier in the post, it’s simply because I wanted to describe you this unbelievable diving without disturbing your reading with too many emotions. One of the most important events in my life took place there. We recommend this dive to any diver or snorkeler to go to Silfra not only for the beauty of the place, but for the dozens of different sensations you’ll experience in between the eurasian and american tectonic plates … Attending the birth of a future (very distant) ocean is an unforgettable and unique experience. Silfra, thank you for this magic moment, we now share a story that will remain forever etched in my heart.

dive in silfra iceland thingvellir

The photos were generously offered by our instructor Byron. These are his photos, absolutely amazing. It was almost impossible for us to achieve such a result with the GoPro !