It is difficult to not fall in LOVE with ICELAND, land of Fire and Ice with its bountiful of natural wonders. Here’s our top 3 must do’s without which we feel a trip to Iceland is incomplete!
1. Snorkeling in Silfra
Snorkelling to most means reeves and colorful life forms. Silfra though, is unique and truly one of its kind. Check this out – You are swimming in a fissure formed by the separation between the North American and the Eurasian plates. Lying at the rim of Lake Þingvallavatn, the fissure is fed by melting water from Langjökull glacier, Iceland’s second largest glacier. The water trickles into the underground porous volcanic lava rocks from where it travels a good 50 kms over 30-50 years to end up in the fissure!
The water is numbing cold throughout the year and you need 3 layers of insulation before venturing! The first layer is thermals and woolen socks (woolen socks that we bought were 71% wool pretty warm). Second layer is a snug fitting bear suit with a thermal layer on the inside. Third and final layer is the dry suit with attached shoes which is a little challenging to get into, you literally have to jump a few times to get in it. Warm and snug at the end of the ritual, we grab our fins and snorkel for a short hike across the street to the starting point.
The fissure is classified into three sections – Silfra hall, Silfra cathedral and Silfra lagoon. The starting point has a platform which takes you underneath the water. A 30 meter swim and you reach the Silfra hall. The view below is crystal clear. All you see below is large boulders – brought in by the occasional earthquakes caused by pressure in the moving plates. I don’t recollect seeing any life form though. Flapping steadily we reach a point where the rift gets so narrow that you can touch both the continents at once – yay!
Ahead of us we see the entrance to the cathedral – a column of vivid deep blue water! The cathedral is 100 meters long with a clear view end to end! The deepest point here is around 20-30 meters. This is the most mesmerizing part of the whole rift. You just can’t stop marveling at nature’s beauty below. If there is a Bondi blue, there should be a Silfra blue! Do no forget to drink water as much you like, natural filtering by the porous volcanic rocks makes the water as pure as it gets.
By now, the constant paddling can tire you a bit – just flip over to take a break – the dry suit is buoyant enough to keep you afloat. As we reach the end of the cathedral, we take a sharp left to enter into the last section of the rift – Silfra lagoon. The water suddenly changes color from the deep blue of the cathedral to a turquoise blue. Amazing contrast! The visilbility is such that you can clearly see the exit platform at the end of the lagoon. Here on we snorkel leisurely to reach the end point. What an experience! This one would certainly be etched in bold blue – Silfra blue!
2. Northern Lights
We ended Day 3 of our road trip in BORGARFJÖRÐUR – a cute town in the eastern most tip of Iceland with a population of 70. This was our best chance of catching the Northern lights and we decided to have an early dinner and take some rest before heading out for the nite!
Our guesthouse, Blabjorg Guesthouse, was just the perfect place to relax with its outdoor wooden hot/cold tub, steam, sauna, and jacuzzi. I tried the cold bath for a respectable 2 seconds, before hopping on the hot tub. After indulging ourselves a bit, we went to our room for a quick nap.
We stepped out at around 10:30 to what was a clear starry sky with a faint white strip of what looked like cloud in the sky. Debating whether it were the northern lights instead, it changed shape and a few more strips appeared all over the sky, removing any shred of doubt of what we were looking at. Excited, we headed to a hillock nearby away from light. The black canvas above was being painted with intermittent white and very faint green strokes – not the neon-ish green color we had seen in pictures. But hey, who was complaining, we were experiencing them Lights!
Then all of a sudden from the horizon, arose a thin long strip of vivid green light. This was followed by another longer strip and another and in a matter of seconds the entire sky was lit with bright green light transforming into different patterns each more brighter and bolder than the previous. It was literally like watching a celestial light show the highpoint being a spectacular dance of green and pink lights across the sky.
The show went on for about an hour and ended as abruptly as it had started. Smiling at our lucks, we headed back to celebrate with some wine, but nature had a last act for us – a crescent blood moon rising over the horizon just as we stepped into our guesthouse!
3. Take a Bath in Geothermal Pool
You cannot go to Iceland and not take bath in a geothermal pool – naturally formed water bodies heated by volcanoes. After all, its part of the great Icelandic tradition of outdoor bathing!
Despite of being the most famous geothermal pool in Iceland, we actually skipped Blue Lagoon based on online reviews of the place being overhyped and crowded. Instead we picked another pool in the East Region, Mývatn Nature Bath, about 3 kms off Ring Road 1 near Lake Mývatn. This nature bath is the smaller sister of Blue lagoon, much less crowded and does not need advance reservation. We paid about $30 for entry + beer.
Even the short walk from the showers to the pool is agonizing in the bitter cold. But step into the water and the feeling of warm water makes you go aaah! Such a welcome relief after a really long day on the road. The water is shallow and has a distinct smell of sulphur to it besides being soapy to touch!
We blissfully lay in the water like rhinos, in one of the many enclosures around the edge where you can have your own private space with a beer stand! The hardest part is getting out of water, you wanna stay in for eternity.