Add It to the Bucket List: You Can Snorkel Between Two Tectonic Plates in Iceland
Iceland's newfound tourism popularity is well-deserved. Not only is the Nordic island nation home to majestic mountains, an abandoned airplane wreckage that even Justin Bieber's a fan of, 130+ active volcanos (including one that's about to host a concert), lava fields, and the Northern Lights (if you're lucky!), it's also a wonderful place to go snorkeling. Now, don't let the name "Iceland" turn you away. It is cold, but a dry suit keeps you warm (more on that later). One thing is for sure: You don't want to miss snorkeling the Silfra Fissure the next time you visit. Let me walk you through this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
After hearing that blissfully floating between two tectonic plates—the American and Eurasian plates, for those versed in geology—is an actual thing people can do, you couldn't tear me away from the prospect of making Silfra my maiden snorkeling voyage.
This is easy, for one major reason: Iceland is a destination that really knows how to do the whole tour group thing. With so many opportunities explore the country's natural wonders, it's best to have a knowledgeable trained professional to show you around. Most Silfra Fissure snorkeling tours will pick you up in Reykjavik, or, if you're driving yourself at a public meeting spot in Thingvellir Park (a World UNESCO Heritage site in which the fissure is located). My travel partner and I chose the latter and had no trouble finding Val from Iceland Adventure Tours, who turned out to be the best possible guide we could have dreamed of—after all, he did introduce himself as Val Kilmer.
What to Wear: Layers and the 'Dry Suit'
Once we made it to a parking lot-turned-suiting-area, Val pulled out the dry suits (cue ominous music). I'm not going to lie, you're going to need a lot of help putting it on, and you're going to feel a little silly. But all of that discomfort will float away as soon as you hit the water. The dry suits are specifically made so that you can only drift across the surface of the water—you would have to do a lot of work to get your entire body even a few inches underwater.
What to Expect: Temperature
The difference between what you're seeing above the surface and under is astounding. No plant life grows on the submerged rock and you'll almost never see an animal—aside from a steady stream of floating humans—swimming around in these waters. At a constant 35 degrees Fahrenheit, it's just too cold for more species to thrive in the Silfra Fissure. That being said, you'll stay warm and (mostly) dry in your suit. Expect your hair to get a little damp. Your hands are also going to get wet. The gloves they provide aren't completely waterproof, but are designed to trap a certain amount of water that warms to your body temperature as long as you don't wave them around in the water. Your face will become a bit numb, making it tough to keep the snorkeling gear in your mouth. But keep all of this in mind, and you'll be completely prepared.
The Underwater Sights
Silfra Fissure is home to some of the clearest water in the world, thanks to constant filtering by a lava rock. Get this: It's so clean that Val encouraged us to drink any that got caught in our breathing tubes. I can honestly say I've never been more hydrated than I was after this excursion. Drinking aside, you can easily see 300 feet below you into the underwater valleys, making for some dramatic photo ops. A note on that: Don't plan on bringing your own camera equipment (unless you're an experienced snorkeler, of course). Your guide will take plenty of photos while you're enjoying the sights. The hardest part will be trying to figure out which doggie paddler you are in the photos. Now might be the best time to add that the two tectonic plates are constantly moving away from each other at a rate of about two centimeters per year, meaning each photo is incredibly unique—even if you can't tell the difference.
After the Tour
The entire tour (minus suiting up and post-water refreshments Val had waiting for us) takes about 40 minutes and is truly one of the most beautiful things I've ever experienced. And if you're worried or scared about the whole "there is so much water below me, this is a panic attack waiting to happen," know that one of my biggest fears is open water. If I can do it, you most certainly can—and should (just look at those photos!). Just remember to ask for Val Kilmer.