The incredible experience of diving between two continents
It lets you be in two places at the same time: North America and Europe. This is one of the greatest draws of the Silfra rift, a Mecca for scuba diving in Iceland. Another is the chance to submerge yourself in a labyrinth of water so pristine that visibility can reach 100 m.
Silfra is a stretch on the open wound in the Earth’s crust known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. This extensive 15,000 km canyon separates the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates, and most of it is underground, except for at the islands of the Azores and in Iceland, where it comes to the surface and can be observed (and accessed) by humans.
In Silfra, you can dive wearing a dry suit, rather than a wetsuit.
The relief of the rift alters at a geologically frenetic speed. Terrestrial forces separate the tectonic plates at a rate of 2.5 cm per year. This creates accumulated tension, which is released, approximately every 10 years, through an earthquake. Every time this happens, new caves, crannies and passageways are created.
This geological frontier, accessible only underwater, is reached via the second biggest lake in Iceland, the Þingvallavatn, in Þingvellir National Park, 60 km from Reykjavik. This park is the only place in the country that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site; a cultural one, since it is where the first Icelandic Parliament, the Alþingi, was founded, in 930, considered the first parliament in the world. That is where Icelanders used to go to discuss laws and judge anyone who broke them. Men condemned to death were decapitated at a nearby waterfall, while women judged to be immoral or witches were drowned in the nearby lakes, known at that time as the ‘drowning pools’.Nowadays, scuba divers go there to brave the 2 °C waters and, in dives that last 30–45 minutes, they explore the nooks and crannies of an underwater labyrinth, comprising tunnels and caves, illuminated by the colours of external light reflected on the volcanic rocks. While the rift can reach as deep as 63 m, divers normally go down to about 18 m.
The rift began as an underground cave, which progressively ‘opened up’, due to earthquakes.
The dive is split into three sections. The most daring (you can avoid this point during an excursion) go head first into the ‘toilet’, a vertical tunnel, 16 m long, from which the diver is ‘ejected’, by the water current through the Silfra Hall. The Hall is a calm lagoon, about 200 m long, and the precursor to the most spectacular section of the rift, the Cathedral. This is a semi-upright cleft, 100 m long, which you can see from beginning to end with one glance. Finally, divers reach the Lagoon, where the water, if possible, is even clearer than at any other point.
The water is so pure that divers can drink it during their immersion. Foto: Nudiblue/Shutterstock
Every particle of H2O that reaches this place has undergone a journey that took 30 to 100 years, from the nearest glacier, Langjökull. 50 km north of Þingvellir, you will find the second biggest glacier in Iceland. As it thawed, it used to feed the lake, via a river. But, several thousand years ago, Skjaldbreiður volcano began erupting, and the river was buried. When the ice melts, it keeps flowing along the same bed, which is now covered with highly porous volcanic rock. During its journey, the water is filtered and cleaned, for years. Combined with the icy temperature, it becomes the clearest water on the planet.
From May to August, when light bathes the Icelandic landscape for nearly 24 hours a day, you can explore Silfra under the midnight sun. Another unique experience.