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What is Snorkeling? A Beginner’s Guide

|October 18, 2019
Wailana is a writer & editor from Hawaii, and loves exploring new horizons. Her work has appeared in Lonely Planet, BBC Travel, among others.

Snorkeling in Iceland is one of the most rewarding activities you can do year-round at Silfra Fissure. It’s totally safe and almost anyone can do it.

Snorkeling in Iceland is one of the most rewarding activities you can do year-round at Silfra Fissure. It’s totally safe and almost anyone can do it.

Snorkeling in a clear water

Before you jump in the water, though, there are a few basic things you need to know before you try to snorkel.

If you’re a total beginner, this guide on what is snorkeling will be really useful to you. You’ll learn the four essentials to get you snorkeling like a boss.

What is Snorkeling, Anyway?

Snorkeling is one of those things that you either know a lot about it or can’t tell the difference between snorkeling and scuba. To get you started, we’ve broken it down for you:

Snorkeling meaning: Snorkeling is an underwater activity that involves a breathing tube. A mask is a common add-on so you can actually see underwater. It’s designed so you can explore underwater canyons and vivid green moss without having to worry about breathing — it’s all sorted out for you.


Inside the Silfra Snorkeling Tour | Arctic Adventures


Plus, it’s so simple — almost anyone can do it. All you need is a mask and snorkel tube, then it’s time to hit the water.

In Iceland, snorkeling is mainly done at Silfra Fissure. Silfra is a water-filled crack between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Nowhere else on Earth can you snorkel between two continental plates!

Sign at Silfra Fissure in Iceland

Silfra Fissure was recently named as one of the top activities in the world by TripAdvisor.

So now you know what is snorkeling, here are a few great ways to get the most out of the fun:

What you need to know before Snorkeling

So yeah, almost anyone can try snorkeling. But to make the most of it, you should get some basic preparation under your belt.


Learn how to swim. Though you don’t really need to swim at Silfra Fissure, because the glacier water gently guides you along its current, it never hurts to know how to swim!

Master the art of freestyle, as that kicking technique will be your best friend while you’re snorkeling. Iceland’s swimming pools are great places to practice.

Knowing how to swim means you’re just more flexible, mobile, and safer in the water.

Learn how to breathe

Breathing through a tube is not exactly like normal breathing! You’ll have to get used to getting less air than usual. You’ll need to keep your breath at a steady pace. Practice keeping your breath calm and stable.

Snorkeler at Silfra Fissure during winter

You can try breathing at home. Make sure you’re in a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted. Then take a large breath, and imagine filling your lungs up with air.

Picture filling up your diaphragm (in the middle of your torso), then chest, then the top of your torso. Your lungs are more likely to be filled up to capacity. This will help train your lungs to expand with air properly.

Conserve your energy

Moving through water, as you probably know, can also be a challenge if you’re not used to it. Snorkeling can take a lot out of you. While you’re swimming, you will use muscles you might not have used before. Kicking around in fins can also be a bit difficult if you’ve never done it before.

Snorkeling at Silfra Fissure in Iceland

Of course, don’t kick around too hard, or you might risk damaging the underwater nature. Stay eco-friendly!

The important thing to remember is to stay relaxed, and keep your body and breath steady and calm. The slower you go, the more fun you’ll have and the better experience you’ll have overall.


Snorkeling at Silfra is something absolute beginners can do. It’s so safe and easy, and needs no preparation!

But if you DO want to practice to be a bit more comfortable in the water, we get it. The best way is to head to your local pool and take a few practices swims. Bring your snorkel mask and tube and try breathing. You’ll want to keep your arms still while your feet do most of the work, propelling you forward.

Guided snorkeling tour at Silfra Fissure in Iceland

While you’re snorkeling, you might get water in your tube. Simply blowhard and clear out all the water. You might also get air in your mask. Simply press your mask against your face, blow it out through your nose.

If you feel pressure in your ears, simply pinch your nose slightly and blow out. It will equalize the pressure and make you more comfortable in the water.

Snorkeling Gear – What is a Dry Snorkel?

When you book a snorkel tour with us, we provide all the gear you need to snorkel.

Snorkeling equipment

Snorkeling Equipment: There are 3 types of snorkels – basic, semi-dry and dry snorkel.

  • A basic snorkel is a basic breathing tube that forms a J at the mouthpiece. 
  • A semi-dry snorkel is a basic snorkel that has a simple splash guard at the top of the snorkel.
  • A dry snorkel is a basic snorkel with a dry top feature that prevents water from entering the opening.

Your mouthpiece should be made of silicon. It should not move as your jaws relax.

As you put your mouthpiece in place, the tip of the snorkel should be over the crown of your head when facing down in the water. This way, the tip of the snorkel reaches its highest point and avoids water splash.

At Silfra, we’ll outfit you with your snorkel mask and tube, as well as an undersuit, dry suit, hood and gloves, and fins.


How to put on snorkeling gear?


Please bring: To keep yourself warm in the 2 degrees Celsius, please wear some thin thermals and warm socks as your base layer, under your toasty dry suit!

Snorkeling Do’s & Don’ts

DO Listen to your instructor

Before any snorkel tour, you’ll usually get a safety briefing. Follow your instructor’s guidelines as closely as possible. They know the surroundings and safety issues intimately.

DO Always be aware of your surroundings

We know Silfra is gorgeous and you should definitely take in the whole magical experience. Just be careful not to stray too close to the rocks that you might scrape against them. There is usually enough space, but it’s a good rule to keep in mind, just in case.

Group of people going to snorkel at the Silfra Fissure

DO Defog your mask

Make sure you defog your mask so the gear won’t fog up while you’re snorkeling due to the sudden temperate change. You can do this in a few ways:

  • Baby shampoo
  • Anti-fog from a dive store
  • Old-fashioned spit in the mask and rub around, wash it out and all ready to go!

Snorkelers under the water at Silfra Fissure, Iceland

DON’T strap the mask over your ears

The mask straps should go above your eyes, not over your ears. Make sure there aren’t any twists on the straps. Find some more tips on what not to do in Silfra in the video below with our snorkeling guide.


What NOT to do in Silfra?

6 Reasons to Go Snorkeling in Iceland

Iceland, it’s fair to say, is not the first place that people think of when they hear “snorkeling”, but it should be. There is so much you can do in Icelandic waters that aren’t available on other vacations.

There’s nowhere else on the planet where you can swim between tectonic plates, nowhere with water so pure and clear that you can see for 120 meters; and nothing like swimming near a volcano or between continents.

Here are 6 things that make snorkeling in Iceland one of the most magical experiences you will ever have…


Snorkeling is traditionally associated with the tropics, as you negotiate sand, try to spot pretty fish, and share space with countless sunseekers.

Snorkeling tour in clear water of Silfra Fissure, Iceland

Try to put that all out of your mind when you think of Icelandic snorkeling. Firstly, the landscape is stunning and distinctive (there’s a reason why the country has played other planets and mythical lands in TV and movies). This is a country of pure, clear water; possibly the freshest air you’ll ever inhale; and breath-taking glaciers and volcanos. So even before you put on your flippers, snorkeling in Iceland is different.

Once you enter the water, you’ll be transported to a part of the world that only a handful of people experience – tranquil, otherworldly and most of all, clear. Speaking of clear water…


The visibility in Icelandic waters is second to none. At an astounding 70-120 meters visibility (depending on the day), Icelandic water is quite possibly the clearest on Earth. To put that into perspective, most dive sites around the world average 10-30 meters of visibility at best.


Silfra Fissure - Snorkeling between continents in Iceland


Unlike in warmer climates, Icelandic water is untouched by visibility-blurring phenomena like plankton, light sands rising to the surface, and industrial pollution. In some cases, Icelandic water is purified further after filtering through basalt rocks.

Some swimmers have said that this clarity makes the water feel like air; and that traveling through it, able to see as clearly as on the surface, is like flying.


Many of the best snorkeling sites in Iceland are freshwater. This usually means that swimmers will encounter nothing stronger than a stream or river current, as their snorkeling area is relatively sheltered from the might of the ocean.

Yes, there are more extreme Arctic adventures in Iceland, some even involving water and rivers (river rafting and climbing inside a volcano for instance), but, once you can swim independently, snorkeling is easy, even meditative.


The Silfra Fissure is a rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. It’s a (relatively!) recent rift, which took place in the 18th Century as a result of an earthquake. In fact, it’s the only place on the planet where you can swim between two tectonic plates – or two continents, and people travel from all over the world to experience it.

Snorkeler enjoying the tour at Silfra Fissure, Iceland

It’s beautiful both on land and in the water – resembling a mountain that’s been cleaved in two and then filled with the purest, bluest water on Earth.


Yes, you will technically be in the Arctic and that is not quite the same as snorkeling in the tropics: To use an informal description, the water has a mild chill. It will be above freezing at around 35 degrees Fahrenheit, and easily comfortable enough to snorkel or dive in for 30-40 minutes (the typical swim time). That said, you will be wearing a dry suit, gloves and hood, with only your hands and face exposed to water.

You’re unlikely to get completely wet (a dry suit serves the opposite purpose of a wetsuit!), but even if you do, the worst that should happen to you is a bit of coldness and some mild discomfort. It’s a good idea to bring a towel and change of clothes, just in case this unlikely event comes to pass. If nothing else, bring spare socks!


Iceland has a wealth of stunning, natural attractions and theoretically, you can drive to a swim site yourself, but we wouldn’t recommend it. A local guide will know the best places to go, the best practices, what to do in case of emergency and other key details. They’ll also provide that precious, precious dry suit!

Enlisting the help of an experienced guide, especially when snorkeling, outsources the research, worry and logistics of your Arctic adventures, leaving you free to (ahem) soak up the natural splendor. You can find out more about snorkeling and diving in Iceland on our tour pages.


Ready to try snorkeling? Why not book your first snorkeling tour in Silfra today?


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