Dive between continental plates in Silfra, Iceland: A guide to diving in the clearest water on earth

Dive between continental plates in Silfra, Iceland: A guide to diving in the clearest water on earth

Imagine being submerged in crystal clear water, gazing at stunning hues of blue and rock faces that look like they’re from the surface of Mars. Welcome to Silfra – a diver’s dream.

Located in Thingvellir National Park in Iceland, Silfra is a fissure between two continental plates: North America and Eurasia.

The fissure formed in 1789 by earthquakes accompanying the different movement of the two tectonic plates.

The visibility is more than 100m underwater, making it the clearest water in the world.

It’s a bucket list item for many divers and, for me, it was an experience like no other.

Why dive in Silfra?

Silfra is the most famous dive and snorkel site in Iceland, and it’s one of the top five dive sites in the world.

The dive is incredibly unique – it’s the spot where two continents meet and drift apart about two centimetres per year.

Silfra is also the only place in the world where you can dive directly in the crack between the two tectonic plates.

This is classified as an extreme dive, and it requires certification, experience and preparation before you can take it on.

The dive allows you to experience a completely new view of our planet. There is hardly any sea life in the water – very few fish, some birds may paddle on the surface – and algae grows on the rocks. That’s it. Don’t expect a hub of coral and fish.

Another unique aspect of this experience is that you’re diving in freezing water – it was only two degrees Celsius the day we went – and it requires a dry suit, which can be quite technical.

Dive between continental plates in Silfra, Iceland: A guide to diving in the clearest water on earth

What to expect: The structure of the Silfra dive

There is a morning and an afternoon dive available on most days of the week. I recommend the morning session, as it was done by 2pm and we had the rest of the day at our leisure.

If you’re going with a dive company, they will pick you up from Reykjavik an hour before your dive time. You’ll then drive to the site, with a quick stop for a snack and a toilet break on the way.

On arrival at Silfra, you’ll have a briefing about the dive and environment at the site (30 – 40 minutes), followed by gearing up (30+ minutes) and walking 100 metres from the car park to the dive site.

Each diver will have a one-on-one weight test with an instructor (groups are limited to four divers per instructor), followed by your first submersion under the water and skills testing.

Then you’re off for about 35 – 40 minutes of blissful floating in crystal clear water.

The maximum allowed depth of the Silfra dive is 18 metres. The average depth of the dive is between seven and 12 metres.

There is a break after the first dive – up to one hour to rest and recover. This involves walking 300 metres from the dive site to the car park, which can be a challenge carrying your weights and oxygen tank in addition to feeling cold and tired.

During the break you can go to the toilet, take off your wet hood and gloves and put dry, warm things over the top. You’ll enjoy hot chocolate and biscuits – they will taste amazing.

You’ll then get back into your gear and prepare for the second dive, which is shorter in duration (about 25 minutes) but feels a lot more relaxed because you know what to expect.

Once you’re done, your instructors will get you out of your gear quickly and help you get warm.

You’ll enjoy hot chocolate and biscuits again and have the time to chat about the dive with your group before you begin the drive back to town.

Dive between continental plates in Silfra, Iceland: A guide to diving in the clearest water on earth

Certification requirements for the Silfra dive

The Silfra dive is not something you turn up on the day and decide to do. There is preparation involved.

You must have your PADI, or equivalent registered body, open water diving certification. You’ll also need to have completed a dry suit diver course.

My partner and I did our dry suit diving course in Sydney, Australia with SSI a few months before to prepare. However, you can do the dry suit course in Iceland, up to the day before your dive.

Note: If you do the dry suit course before your Silfra dive, you will be in freezing water for two days in a row. These dives are tiring on the body, so prepare well for that.

Getting to the Silfra dive site

The Silfra dive site is approximately 60 kilometres (a 45-minute drive) from Reykjavik.

Dive companies, such as Dive.Is, will pick you up from the city centre and transport you to the dive site.

If you hire a car, it is possible to drive yourself to Silfra but we found it easier to be taken by dive guides.

Tips for the Silfra dive

There are a few things to plan for before diving in Silfra. Here are some tips to make the experience more pleasant:

Prepare for the cold

This dive is very cold and there is no avoiding it. I felt the cold in my index fingers, my feet and the small part between my nose and mouth. Despite the cold, it was worth it, but it’s an aspect you should prepare for.

Pack your thermals

You will need to wear thermals under your jumpsuit and dry suit. It’s also recommended that you bring thick socks, in merino or wool. I wore two pairs and my feet were still cold.

Get good guides

Although you must be certified as an open water diver and know about suiting up and gearing up, dive guides at Silfra will do almost everything for you. This is so you can enjoy the experience.

There will be shore support to help you dress and undress from your suit, warm you up and carry your weights, if required.

Allow time to rest

Don’t plan anything for after your dive – you’ll be exhausted. We were done by 2pm, had lunch and then slept for four hours. Also plan to get a good night’s rest the day before your dive as tours often start early.

Eat something light

Have a nutritious, light meal before your dive. We forgot about this, but luckily managed to buy some yoghurt and smoothies on the way. Don’t eat anything too filling or heavy – you’ll get the chance to eat well afterwards. The local lamb stew is suggested as a recovery meal.

Book with a reputable dive company

I highly recommend going to Silfra with a dive company to make the most of the experience. Dive.Is offered an incredible service, and we felt comfortable and cared for. The guides were exceptionally knowledgeable, and they put your safety first. If you’re considering Silfra, talk to these guys.


All images thanks to dive instructor Ants and Dive.Is.


Disclaimer: The writer travelled at their own expense.

Emma Lovell, She Defined author

Emma Lovell

Emma Lovell is a writer with a passion for travel, social media and adventure.

When she’s not travelling, she’s documenting her stories and planning the itinerary for her next journey.

Based on the Gold Coast, she loves getting to the beach and soaking up the best her local area has to offer.