Does it feel like everyone you know right now is going to Iceland? Well, there’s good reason for it. Iceland is amazing. There is no other country that I have been to (yet!) that I would compare to Iceland. I went with my Mum in January just before moving to Australia. It was cold, but everything was covered in snow and looked magical.
We stayed in Reykjavik at the Marina Hotel and were lucky to be upgraded to a suite, which was stylish and modern but comfortable. The rest of the hotel was like that too. And most importantly when it’s sub-zero degrees, it’s a short walk to the centre of Reykjavik and right next door to some great restaurants and bars.
We weren’t particularly prepared for the trip, having booked it last minute, but after doing some research on our first night at the hotel, I booked in to snorkel the Silfra fissure the following morning with Dive.IS. There’s nothing like booking a spontaneous snorkelling trip in glacial water to kick off a holiday. My Mum wasn’t tempted to join, so whilst I jumped on a tour bus the following day to embrace the unknown, she happily wandered off to have many a coffee (her favourite past time) and hunt down the Penis Museum that she’d been talking so fondly about like an excited school girl.
The Silfra fissure is in Þingvellir National Park, which is an hour away from Reykjavik. I spent most of the journey there questioning why I had booked the tour and Googling different permutations of: ‘death’, ‘glacial water’, ‘hypothermia’ and ‘lost limbs’. I do not cope well with the cold and was so nervous on the journey there that I barely spoke (if anyone on the tour happens to be reading this, then yes, I was the weird silent girl sat at the back of the bus looking like she’d seen a ghost). However, I am very much into my diving and given that the Silfra fissure is considered one of the best dive sites in the world, I felt I needed to embrace the opportunity. And boy, am I glad I did.
The Silfra fissure is between the North American and Eurasian continental plates, and it’s the only place in the world where you can dive or snorkel directly between two tectonic plates. The water was 2°C when I was there in January, but it can be as ‘warm’ as 4°C! So yes, you are essentially snorkelling in ice. We wore dry suits with warm clothes underneath, so the only parts of our body that were exposed to the water were our face and hands. I’d been advised to keep my hands out of the water for maximum warmth, so that’s what I did for most of the snorkel. The water visibility is over 100m and the bright blue-green colours beneath the surface are incredible, even more so with the contrast between the ashen scenery above the surface (at least in Winter). It was kind of eerie, but also fascinating. We stayed in the water for around 40 minutes but were given the option to get out after 30 minutes if we wanted. Strangely, after all the apprehension prior to getting in the water, I was the last one from our group in the water and they practically had to drag me out. We were greeted by hot chocolate and cookies back at the van and the guides from Dive.IS kindly helped us remove our dry suits. If you are reading this post with the intention of snorkelling or diving the Silfra fissure: yes, it is a cold, but the cold is manageable, and the whole experience is totally worth it.
The next adventure on our list was The Golden Circle Tour, which is one of most popular tourist routes. The first stop was the Geysir geothermal area, which are mud pits that erupt with huge spouts of water every few minutes. Then we went to the Gullfoss waterfall and back to Thingvellir National Park for a short walk. The Golden Circle Tour is a great way to see different sights in Iceland in one day.
Finally, we did what pretty much every person who visits Iceland does: a Northern lights tour. We were picked up at our hotel at 9pm and jumped on a big bus, with some experienced Northern Lights hunters leading the way. They found the Northern Lights pretty quickly and we all stood outside the bus for a good hour or so watching the green colours dance around the sky. Seeing the Northern Lights seems to be totally hit or miss and I know people who have tried many times to see them with no such luck, so we felt incredibly lucky to see them on our first attempt. Most tour companies will take you again for free if you don’t manage to see them though. It’s worth noting that most photos of the Northern Lights are usually a deeper green than when you see them with your own eyes due to the long exposure settings used to take the photo e.g. the photo captures in one shot what we would see over, say, 30 seconds.
Iceland is just beautiful. It’s very safe and I wouldn’t hesitate to go as a solo female traveller, but be warned, it is expensive (as in almost £20 for an average ham and cheese sandwich expensive). Just wanted to let you know so you don’t have a heart attack when you arrive. There are a million more things that I want to do there though and I will definitely be heading back at some point.