Wait. Snorkeling in Iceland?!
I almost couldn’t believe it when I stumbled across the Dive.IS site (thank you, Pinterest!). After reading a little background on Silfra and Þingvellir National Park, where their snorkeling tour takes place, I was one hundred percent into it. The pictures were absolutely unreal, with gorgeous blue tones cast on all the rocks and pristine waters in every image. When else would I get to snorkel in between two continental plates? I’m always down to try interesting and off-beat activities, so this seemed perfect.
Of course, as the trip approached I started getting pretty nervous about snorkeling in hella cold water. I am the girl who is always cold. I wear a scarf anytime I leave the house, I always have a pair of 180s earmuffs tucked away in my purse in case it’s windy and I usually have an extra jacket with me no matter where I go. It wasn’t a complete surprise that I wanted to go to Iceland for New Year’s — I’m happy to travel nearly anywhere, I love holiday travel and the country looked like a beautiful destination — but I did voluntarily sign up to snorkel in near-freezing temperatures. I started to question my life choices a bit.
My first few days in Iceland were beyond spectacular that I really didn’t even have a spare moment to worry about the snorkeling tour. But the morning arrived, and as I rode through the park and then walked from the parking lot to where the Dive.IS van was stationed, I could feel a nervous sensation in my stomach. A little part (okay, maybe a somewhat medium-sized part) of me wanted to sit it out and keep my big, fluffy jacket and wool hat on and wave from land at all the snorkelers. As someone who doesn’t handle cold weather well, I was starting to feel that maybe this was just a poorly-thought-out, incredibly hasty decision.
Luckily, instead of gearing everyone up right away, one of our guides, Reynar, walked us to where we’d be entering the water and talked to us about what we’d wear and also about the history of the land. Those 5 minutes learning more about Iceland and Þingvellir actually calmed me down quite a bit and got me super excited to snorkel! We all then walked over to the vans with the equipment and it was time to strip.
Obviously, because of the temperature, a wetsuit would be no bueno — for cold waters, divers and snorkelers wear drysuits. It’s comprised of a few different parts, but basically it insulates the body while also being water- and leak-proof. One of the guides described it as essentially a waterproof “sleeping bag with arms.”
As recommended in my confirmation email, I wore a toasty base layer and 2 pairs of socks. The first piece I put on over this was the insulating layer which was basically a warm adult onesie. On top of the insulating layer, I put on a yet another onesie — this one was waterproof and covered all of my body except my hands and head. Because it has to be snug (particularly around the wrists and neck), the guides hustle around to help everyone get into them individually. The lead guide, Chris, helped me out, and also assisted me in putting on the hood and gloves. By the end of it, I looked and felt just like that kid from A Christmas Story. A mask with attached snorkel and flippers complete the look, and once everyone was ready I toddled over with the group back to the water.
I was huddled together with about 7 other people, and our snorkeling guide, Adrien, helped each one of us get our flippers and masks on (actually quite a challenge when you’re wearing a large, waterproof onesie). After all of the nervous anticipation, getting into Silfra was incredibly easy. A stairway leads you right down and you just sort of plop in, and the drysuit keeps you afloat like a Weeble Wobble.
Surprisingly the only part of my body that ever felt cold were my my forefingers. The drysuit did a pretty stellar job of keeping my body nice and comfortable. Water naturally got on my face but I just didn’t notice it, and the insulation isn’t as warm by the feet but again, it didn’t bother me. Because the gloves are made of a wetsuit material, water will enter them and this made my hands feel a little chilly. Fortunately, it was easy to keep them out of the water and behind my back like Adrien suggested, so they didn’t get too wet.
Also, let’s face it: it’s relatively easy to forget that you’re swimming around in 34 degrees Fahrenheit water when what you’re looking at is so dern beautiful. Seriously, the waters are sparkling and clear and everything I was looking at was a varying blue hue. There were incredibly shallow areas where I could literally reach my arm out and touch the rocks right in front of me, and there were chasms that stretched down so deep that it merely looked like an abyss of indigo.
The best part was that there was a very small current taking us in the direction we wanted to head, so I barely had to kick my legs or do any work at all. Make any lazy American joke that you want, but for the most part I think I just sort of sprawled out and enjoyed the scenery as I slinked by on the surface. It was completely hypnotizing.
Snorkeling in Silfra is an incredible, one-of-a-kind tour that I am thrilled I got to go on during my trip. Sure, I had been a little worried at first, but everything ended up better than I could have ever imagined. After I headed back to the van to start removing gear and slip back into my own clothing, I realized how happy and proud I felt — I’d just snorkeled in Iceland, in near-freezing temps, in between continental plates. I smiled and headed back to the car in my big, fluffy jacket and wool hat, with ice crystals formed at the ends of a few strands of my hair.
Do you think you would give snorkeling in Silfra a try? Have you ever been in a drysuit? What is one of the most extreme activities you’ve ever done when traveling?