Iceland: Snorkeling in Silfra in Winter (with kids in tow)

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One of the activities for which we were most excited while we were in Iceland was snorkeling in Silfra. The Silfra fissure lies between the North American and European tectonic plates, and is the only place where you can snorkel in the water between the moving plates. The water goes through a nearly-100-year filtration process through all the lava rock, and is thus some of the clearest and purest in the entire world.

You know how sometimes really exciting opportunities are super built up, and maybe even because of the build up, they just don’t live up to expectations? This was not one of those times.

Snorkeling in Silfra was one of the top travel experiences we’ve ever had.

Trading Off Snorkeling in Silfra with Kids

The history and culture of the place is incredible. Silfra falls within Thingvellir National Park, which was the founding place of the Althing – the Icelandic parliament, which is the oldest parliament in the world. The geologic formations are also awe-inspiring.

We’d read a bit about both the historical significance as well as the ecological/geological importance and knew we wanted to make snorkeling in Silfra happen, but we weren’t sure how to do it with our kids in tow (you must be at least 12 years old to swim in Silfra). So I did lots of research and found a dive company that provided two runs per day for snorkeling in Silfra. It was tight, but we had just enough time to quickly switch off.

                                                               

So we took turns taking the kids around the Thingvellir historical and cultural sites, and going snorkeling in Silfra. It took a bit longer than it would have otherwise, but not a ton, and it was 100% worth it.

            

How Cold is It to Go Snorkeling in Silfra in Winter?

I get cold very easily, so I was really concerned about the snorkeling in Silfra while in barely-above-freezing waters in the middle of January in Iceland. Turns out, it was cold, but definitely tolerable.

The company was great about providing information beforehand (wear wool or thermals, no cotton, etc.) and providing all the gear necessary. We suited up in “dry suits,” which are warmer and more protective than wet suits. They were definitely a bit uncomfortable and heavy, but became manageable once we were in the water.

What to Wear when Snorkeling in Silfra

Even knowing we’d have the suits, I was I was really concerned about what to wear when snorkeling in Silfra. Here’s what I’d recommend:

  • Wool or thermal base layer (here are my favorite wool base layers: woman’s top and bottom, men’s top and bottom)
  • Wool socks – double pair if you run cold
  • Looser pants and wool sweater on top
  • Warm coat
  • Warm Hat & Gloves

Turns out the coldest part of the whole experience was when we had to change into the dry suits. You must remove all outer layers of clothing and just leave on a close-fitting base layer. At this point, you’re obviously not in the water to keep you a bit warmer. It also takes some coordination to pull the suit on (which is easier but also colder if you remove your gloves).

For this reason, it’s especially important to have good base layers, which will keep you warm and dry when you’re changing. It’s also important to have those warm outer layers. That way to keep you plenty warm beforehand, and to warm you back up when you change back). I was mostly thinking about being cold during the actual snorkeling, but hadn’t considered how tricky it would be to pull on snug-fitting jeans over the top of base layers with slightly-numbed fingers.

Do I Need to Be a Strong Swimmer to Go Snorkeling in Silfra?

My husband and I are both good swimmers, but we’re certainly not winning any races or anything. I was curious how skilled you need to be. The current sort of pushes you along so we did very little actual swimming – it was 95% just floating down the incredibly clear water. Because of this, you don’t need to be a super strong swimmer in order to go snorkeling in Silfra. That said, there are a few curves, and you should be comfortable doing a bit of swimming if needed in the event the current shifts. So basically, no need to be an Olympian, but you should definitely be comfortable in the water.

How Long Will I Go Snorkeling in Silfra?

We each got to spend about 40-45 minutes actually in the water. Before that, though, it took about an hour to put on all the equipment, get briefed, get settled with our groups, etc. As I mentioned before, the coldest part was waiting outside BEFORE getting into the water. Once we were in, it was magical. It was peaceful and quiet floating along, and we got to mostly relax and look at the beauty underwater. I felt a little uncomfortable/nervous right at first, but relaxed within a few minutes.
Dan managed to keep himself right at the very back of his group (which can get tricky with the currant). Because of this, He was the last one out and had the most time in the water. We saw amazing rocks, colors, and, of course, the deep rift between the plates. It’s incredible to think how they are still moving, and how our earth is structured. We’d taught our kids about the plates, and we knew they existed, but it’s something else to actually see the division.

 

The water was so clear and magical, and tasted delicious, too. It was amazing seeing all the colors underneath, and seeing where the plates connected. And our kids were happy running around, and even learned a little about the park in the meantime.

All in all, if you visit Iceland, definitely make snorkeling in Silfra a priority. It’s possible and magical even in winter and with kids in tow and you won’t regret it!

                      

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