Although most people consider the best diving to be in the tropics, there are many exceptions. In fact many of the top rated dive sites around the world are found in colder waters. Colder waters offer a completely different diving experience to diving in the tropics. A big difference is that it is less about the reefs and small fish, and more about the larger pelagic fish and geological formations. Out of all the cold water dive sites in the world, none can compare to the crystal clear, cool waters of Silfra in Iceland.
Silfra is located in Pingvallavatn Lake in the Pingvellir National Park in Iceland. It is a rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The plates are drifting around 2cm a year apart from each other, which builds up tension between the plates and the land above, which results in a major earthquake around every 10 years. When these earthquakes happen new cracks and fissures open in the national park, however Silfra is one of the largest and offers the best diving. The water in Silfra comes from around 50 kilometers north of the dive site. In the past glacial melt water would run directly though a river into Pingvallavatn Lake, however a few thousand years ago a volcano erupted nearby which led to lava blocking the river when it cooled. Since then the water trickles underground though porous lava rock before it gets to the lake. This process can take between 30 to 100 years. Because of the slow filtering of the water, Silfra offers some of the best visibility in the world. Average visibility is well over 50 meters and often reaches well over 100 meters. Also because of this very slow filtering Silfra also offers some of the cleanest water in the world, and with a year round temperatures of 2-4 degrees Celsius you quench your thirst mid dive!
Silfra is regularly voted as one of the best dive sites in the world, as there is nowhere else in the world you can be swimming between 2 continents. Silfra itself has been divided into 3 sections. Silfra Hall, Silfra Cathedral and Silfra Lagoon. The highlight of the dive for most divers is in Silfra Cathedral, which is a 100 meter long fissure where you can see from one end to the other. In many photos it appears shallow, but this is an illusion because of the crystal clear waters. It actually drops down to 63 meters at its deeper point, however diving to this depth is rarely done because only highly qualified divers can go to this depth, and technical diving has not taken off in Iceland yet. Because of the visibility it is possible to see rainbows on the rocks underwater! This happens because the water is so clear it refracts light from the sun in the same way that crystals do.
It is suitable to dive year round, and as it holds the same temperature year round the conditions stay the same all year. During the summer bright green algae coats the rocks, and you can visit the park during the ‘midnight sun’. On the other side you could choose to go there during the winter, and watch the sun rise at midday or look out for the northern lights during the long periods of darkness.
To be able to dive in Silfra you need to go with a tour operator. Apart from Silfra there is lots of other great dive sites in Iceland, many of the dives are unique to Iceland such as Strýtan, the only place known to man where you can see geothermal chimneys within the limits of recreational diving, or Lake Kleifarvatn where you can dive directly into underwater hot springs! Iceland doesn’t just offer world class diving, it is also a beautiful and diverse country, with hot springs, volcanoes, large national parks, waterfalls and fjords. A great dive operator in Iceland is Dive.is, the first PADI 5 star IDC center in Iceland. They offer a variety of expeditions so you can pick and choose what sites you want to see.
‘World Class Dive Sites – Silfra’ was written by Mike