Imagine being on an island in the North-East Atlantic Ocean, less than 300km from the Arctic Circle. It’s 8 am, you feel the frosty wind biting the skin of your cheeks and still, you’re putting a dry suit on, hypnotised by the blue transparency of Silfra fissure water. Ready? From the moment you put your head under the surface, diving in Silfra is 35 minutes of pure underwater magic.
Wonders of the Thingvellir National Park
Three things attracted me to the famous dive spot of the Þingvellir National Park (written in English Thingvellir). Silfra fissure is on the shore of the Þingvellir Lake. It is one of the much-loved places for a weekend getaway as it is only a 45 minutes drive from Reykjavik.
First, it is a unique historical place: Þingvellir means the “Parliament fields”. The first political assembly was held here in 930. For this reason, the site is a registered UNESCO World Heritage. Þingvellir National Park features a rift valley and the largest natural lake in Iceland. It is such an amazing place that I could understand why people decided to gather there from this very early era. Even the Icelandic government chose it to celebrate the independence of the country in 1944.
Secondly, the opportunity to scuba dive between the American and European tectonic plates sounded like such an adventure that it didn’t take me long to start preparing my trip. Finally, when I saw the first pictures of Silfra with a visibility of more than 100m, I knew I had to book my flight tickets right away. Great visibility is one of my favourite things as this is what makes you feel like you’re flying when you are diving.
Before flowing to Silfra Fissure, the water coming down from the Lángjökull Glacier is filtered for 30 to 100 years, hence its absolute transparency and incredible visibility underwater. Whenever you are thirsty during your dive, do not hesitate to take a sip – you are simply diving in mineral water! Nevertheless, do not forget the water is 2°C in winter and 4°C in summer.
Thanks to the continuous flow of water, Silfra never freezes and then can be dived all year long. Yet, you need to know that during the winter months you will need to pray for good weather, otherwise, you won’t be able to do more than one dive in the blizzard.
How to survive the cold of a dive in Silfra?
As you can easily understand, wearing a wetsuit is not optional here. The drysuit is the only way to go. Be aware you need to be drysuit certified to scuba dive in Silfra.
Besides, do not forget that at such a low water temperature you need to be careful with the type of regulator you are using. It has to be specifically designed for such use to avoid the first stage to freeze and then to get your regulator in free-flow mode. Some regulators work for temperate waters but not necessarily for extremely cold waters, so check the specifications of your gear. I was using Aqua Lung Legend Glacia regulator which has been designed for ice diving.
Regarding your weights, do not forget it is a freshwater dive so do not hesitate to drop 2 to 3 kg off the usual weights you use with a dry suit.
Here are the additional accessories which made the difference in my ability to stay warm and toasty while diving in Silfra:
- Thermal undergarments: I was wearing 3 layers including my Sharkskin
- Double-layered thermal socks: Fourth Element Arctic socks
- Gloves: Aqua Lung 5mm gloves
For all these reasons, I was happy I made the choice one more time to bring all my scuba gear with me. Anyway, with only 15 kg of diving equipment, dry suit and bag included, I still had spare kilos in my hold luggage of 20 kg. I only needed a small backpack with me on the plane as I was only going for a 3-day weekend in Iceland.
Diving in Silfra: magical contrasts in blue, black and gold
I can tell anyone now: Silfra should be at the top of your scuba bucket list and this is why I added it to my list of the best diving in Europe. Water is freezing cold but from now, every time someone asks me the usual question “So where is your favourite place to dive?”, I will now include Iceland in my reply.
The most important moment of the dive was actually the beginning. When you put your head in the water and suddenly your eyes can’t believe what they see! The way the golden light is distributed and reflected on the rocks in such blue transparent water is nothing like I have ever seen before. Everything is emphasised by dark shadows as the sun was very bright that day, giving an even higher contrast to the rocky underwater landscape.
I had the impression during the dive of having a liquid mirror above my head, or if you prefer it was like flying over a lake, except here everything was upside down. As a result, it is a delightful playground for underwater photographers and videographers. The 100m visibility allowing to shoot from a long distance. Shots of tiny divers lost between the huge rocks of Silfra Canyon and especially the part called Cathedral make incredible images.
During the dive, you will alternate between deeper parts, no more than 15m, and very shallow paths just below the surface which link the different parts of the canyon. Scuba divers need to make sure to always control the speed of their ascent and purge their BCD and dry suit each time.
The total dive time in Silfra is approximately 30 to 35 minutes. I thoroughly recommend doing the 2 dives to fully appreciate the wonders of this fantastic scuba diving spot. The dive ends in a lagoon, where silt particles at the bottom are so thin that you should be extra careful not to get too close to it, even by frog kicking carefully with your fins.
After each dive you will have to make your way back, walking 250m to the car park with all your scuba diving equipment on so take it easy! After a dive of 30 minutes in 2°C water, you need to give your body a rest. Another tip: don’t be surprised if you need warm water to remove your gear, the water remaining on your gear such as the buckles of your BCD can instantaneously freeze because of the wind.
Who to dive in Silfra with?
If you want to live the same adventure, I warmly recommend you to contact Dive.is. to go diving in Silfra. The kindness and professionalism of their instructors and divemasters, the quality of the rental gear and the perfectly timed organisation made my day.
At the end of our diving excursion day, our dive guide took us for lunch to taste the speciality of Reykjavik: the hot dog! He was kind enough to bring my buddies and me to the best shop in town on the harbour for this well-deserved treat!
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