Swimming Between Two Continents – Iceland

BY Lee Hubbard TIMEDecember 5, 2014 PRINT

I first heard about the Silfra Rift two years ago in a book called “Make The Most of Your Time On Earth”. It was an eye-catching name for a book and the inside lived up to expectations – it contained 1000 adventurous experiences to inspire the armchair traveller and one that reflects the attitude I aspire to live my life by. I was already planning to visit Iceland in the middle of winter (with the aim to see the Northern Lights first hand) and reading about Silfra made me want to go there too and it ended up being the highlight on my trip.

(Lee Hubbard, Global Grasshopper)
(Lee Hubbard, Global Grasshopper)

When I’ve snorkelled before it’s usually been in warm tropical water, with the sun on my back, coral of every colour below me, and a plethora of marine life – dolphins, whale sharks, turtles, amazing fish of every size and hue. Located in Þingvellir National Park, snorkelling at Silfra couldn’t be further from that – no fish, no coral and definitely no tropical water. On the bright side, the water temperature only varies about 3 degrees, even between summer and winter – the down side is that it is around 2 degrees Centigrade, and I’m a warm-blooded human and not a cold-blooded fish! Strangely though, after being kitted out with thermals, fleeces, and a dry-suit the only bits of your body that truly feel the cold are your fingers and your chin, so it really isn’t quite as insanely freezing as you first suspect.

And what is does have going for it though, is the opportunity for a unique snorkeling experience like no other I know of. Think of the clearest, cleanest water you’ve ever seen. The water at Silfra will make it seem like pond water – it is so astonishingly clear that visibility for divers is around 120 metres. As well as this incredible clarity of water, essentially run off from ancient glaciers, is the fact that the snorkel site is directly above the continental rift separating Europe and North America. The rift runs right below the Icelandic landscape, so you have the chance to float gently above it as the current takes you, essentially looking at two continents at the same time. Once you reach the end of your drift, you have what is locally known as “The Walk of Death” – once out of the water, trying to get your numb limbs to work, you’ll realise why as you struggle to get back to the warmth of the van as soon as possible. It took me a few hours, even under a geothermally-heated shower back in Reykjavik, to feel normal again.

For anyone with an interest in geology or plate tectonics I imagine this would be an interesting trip, although I would say divers or snorkelers looking for amazing marine life may need to look elsewhere. For casual tourists, the uniqueness of the site makes it worth a visit on any trip to Iceland. The dive company I went with even take a Christmas tree down into the rift in December for a seasonal shimmy – now that would be something to see!

Copyright © 2014 by Global Grasshopper. This article was written by Lee Hubbard and originally published on

Lee Hubbard
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