Diving in Silfra with Arctic Adventures
Diving in Silfra has been on our bucket list for a while but knowing how cold the water is has always pushed us back a little. The dive is however frequently mentioned as one of the best fresh water dives in the world with an incredible visibility of approximately 100 m. So we couldn’t have the brakes on any longer when we got the chance to dive the Silfra fissure with Arctic Adventures; one of the leading dive companies in Iceland.
We joined the dive on a beautiful winter day in January. The weather was beautiful, but it was freezing cold and everything was covered in snow. Still, that didn’t stop us from experiencing the most famous diving site of Iceland.
Þingvellir National Park and Silfra fissure
Silfra is situated in Þingvellir national park, an easy 40 km drive from Reykjavik. Þingvellir itself is one of the must see places in Iceland. It’s situated in a drift valley between the Eurasian and the North-American tectonic plates. It’s not often you say that you have been diving between two continental plates. Situated on the North-Atlantic ridge, the valley (and the whole of Iceland) grows in size of about 1-2 cm per year. Þingvellir also plays an important role in the history of Iceland. It was the location of the first parliament of Iceland called “Alþingi” where laws were set and disputes settled. Alþingi is also thought to be the oldest existing parliament in the world, dating back to 930 AD.
The silfra fissure is full of crystal clear fresh water from Langjökull glacier. Technically speaking it’s a glacial river which explains the steady all-year-round temperature of 2°C. The flowing water ends in the nearby Þingvallavatn, Iceland’s largest natural lake.
Meeting with our instructors
We met with our dive instructors, Taz and Anna-Sara at the visitor center in Þingvellir. It was one of the coldest days of winter (-7°C) but luckily we had clear skies and most importantly…no wind! The wind can really exaggerate the rather mild winter temperatures in Iceland.
Prepping for the dive
After some paperwork at the visitor center we headed to the dive site where Taz and Anna went to great lengths to insure that our dry suits were both comfortable and correctly sized. Andri had to try at least three different suits to get the suitable size around his neck. You really don’t want a gush of 2°c water to fill your dry suit during the dive. So you better be patient and find the correct size. We also got elastic bands over the neck for extra safety.
The diving gear
We were given a thick fleece overall to were under the dry suit. This will insulate the air around your body keeping you warm, or at least not so cold, during the dive. Prepare to get wet on your hands and head as you will be wearing neoprene (wetsuit material) gloves and hoodie.
Next we put on our diving gear and fins. To dive in a dry suit you will need to carry a lot more weight and a steel tank (instead of aluminium) to outbalance the increased buoyancy of trapped air inside the dry suit. It comes down to about 16 kg that you will be carrying on your shoulders.
Despite a small group of four divers we were happy to have two guides for extra safety, one at the back and one at the front. There have been a few accidents in Silfra in the past years and the safety regulations have been strictly revised. Maximum depth is now 18 meters and cave diving is forbidden.
After our instructors had made a quick safety brief they showed us the dive route on an illustrative map of Silfra. It was time to head into the ice cold water. We were both a bit nervous, this was our first dry suit dive, which is a speciality dive of its own. Diving in the warm tropicals had been so effortless but now we were dealing with a lot more extreme conditions. Getting into the water wasn’t as bad as we had expected. Our bodies were very well insulated and no signs of water leakage so far.
After we were all about to get ready to start diving one of our guides BCD literally froze and we had to fetch hot water to be able to thaw the gear. While this sounds alarming you don’t have to worry since this is not possible while underwater as Silfra’s water never goes below zero. But during cold days like this one the gear can freeze before you submerge the gear. So it is especially important to check your gear on the surface before descending.
The dive itself is truly unique! The visibility is indescribable, you literally feel like flying the whole time. Unlike the tropics you won’t see the water teeming with life, at most you might encounter a duck or two swimming above you on the surface. But divers really don’t come her to witness exotic aquatic life, it’s the stunning lava rocks, basalt columns and caves, decorated with neon-yellow seaweed that will impress you.
During the dive there was a gentle current that slowly pulled us through the length of the fissure, making the swim pretty effortless. The only thing we had to get used to was the buoyancy control which is a lot trickier compared to wetsuit diving.
After about 40 min in the water were so proud and happy having finished this tough dive but still managing to enjoy the whole time! After removing the suits and slipping into warm wool sweaters we enjoyed some complimentary hot chocolate and cookies.
It was a beautiful day so we decided to make the most out of it. We took a walk around the national park, where the snow lit up the whole nature. As Þingvellir is one of the stops in the Golden Circle route it fit’s perfectly with the dive. The 300km route covers many beautiful landmarks in a short period of time.
Some of the highlights include exploding geysers, the impressive Gullfoss Waterfall and then of course Þingvellir national park. The photography opportunities in Iceland are unbelievable. As soon as you hit the road you’ll find yourself constantly pulling over for photos. At least that happens when we are driving around.
What to bring with you for a dive in Silfra?
Before joining a dive in Silfra you should definitely prepare yourself so that you will enjoy your day. Packing the correct types of clothing is one important factor. There is always a small chance of getting wet when diving in a drysuit (even though I was totally dry!). So you should keep that in mind and bring with you a towel and extra set of clothes just in case.
Layering is very important and you can have a base layer that goes under you dry suit undergarment. The colder the water the more layers you add and this means that for every layer that you add, you need to compensate for with additional weight. Your first layer should consist of thin woolen underwear and a pair of thick woolen socks. Fleece or other syntethic materials are fine as well but cotton is not recommended as it doesn‘t insulate as well. When diving in Silfra it’s usually with neoprene dry suits that fits well with 2-3°C warm water.
- You need to have a PADI open water certificate or compatible.
- It’s recommended but not necessary to have a PADI advanced and dry suit certificate.
- You need to be prepared to dive in a dry suit.
- To have dived the last 2 years.
- It’s not going to be like a tropical dive, but more challenging.
- Must be at least 18 years old.
If you don’t want to go “all in” and do the diving you also have the option to go snorkeling.
Arctic Adventures offers great selection of tours, you can combine the snorkeling tour with the golden circle or a lava caving trip. You can also check out their vide selection of tours in Iceland here.
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