Bucket List Diving: Iceland
By Mike Poggione
Iceland has been on my radar for a while. The idea of diving in Iceland was extremely intriguing to me. This past October my wife and I took some time off, got on a plane and headed to Iceland with passports, dive gear and hiking boots.
I got connected with Siggi over at Icedive.is. Siggi was a great find. I couldn’t have been happier. He was easy to communicate with through email. I found him through the Find a Dive Center search on www.TDISDI.com. He had some great suggestions about dive sites and really helped me plan a nice little dive trip.
If you’re going to go all the way to Iceland, but are just getting in just one day of diving, you’re going to go to Silfra. Siggi can help you with that too. It’s a very well-known dive. In fact I would bet if you’re reading this article you already know exactly what Silfra is. Therefore, I’m not going to spend any more time on Silfra now; I’ll come back to it later.
Getting there and getting around with dive gear
Traveling with a dry suit is not a big deal. It doesn‘t take up that much room in your luggage. My wife and I brought all of our dive gear with us. Between dive gear and then the regular cold weather gear and things we bought for hiking around Iceland we were still well under our baggage allowance.
I reserved a rental car and arranged to pick it up at the airport. This made things easier with the bags. If I had to get on a bus to get me to the hotel I probably wouldn‘t have been as keen on having the extra bag of dive gear.
It wasn‘t that much more expensive to get a rental car and in Iceland – you honestly want your own vehicle. For diving I would recommend getting a SUV/crossover. It’s not that you need that type of vehicle to get to the dive sites, it just helps having a little extra room to store your gear. Yes, you can take a tour bus to many of the cool waterfalls and other sites; however, the way to really experience the country is to drive around yourself.
One thing to note is just because you rent a car at a pre-determined time for airport pick-up doesn’t guarantee you’re going to get it at that time. I found that myself (and many others) needed to wait at the airport rental desk for vehicles to arrive. It seemed as more and more people arrived at the airport to get on planes, the more rental cars became available.
After patiently waiting for a while I went back up to the desk and let them know that I was able to drive a manual transmission. This allowed them to find a vehicle for me faster. Folks who could only drive automatics were still waiting when I left the airport. As it turned out, they gave me an automatic anyway. The lesson here is a patient traveler always has an advantage over angry tourists.
Another piece of advice I’d pass on is you can rent a WiFi hotspot ahead of time and pick it up at the airport’s Dunkin Donuts. It’s easy to do and very reasonably priced. I used www.iceland.trawire.com. Having that hotspot immediately after we got our luggage was extremely handy.
Some rental agencies also offer you the option to rent a hotspot with your car but, again, my experience waiting for our rental car was not isolated. I‘m glad I had that hotspot right away to help pass the time while we waited for cars to become available. In addition, there is free WiFi all over Iceland. So, if you‘re cool with waiting to get online for maps and stuff until when you’re at a restaurant (also leaving your phone open to the public) hop on that on that free WiFi.
Thinking about going to the Blue Lagoon?
Blue Lagoon is a famous geothermal spa and resort. If interested, read up on it beforehand. If you go there, then complain about it being too busy and full of tourists, you‘re a special kind of dumb.
You need to pre-book this experience and I do recommend it. My wife and I upgraded to the retreat package, it was a little more expensive but worth it. One possible downside to the retreat upgrade is that cameras and phones are prohibited. This is why you have seen a ton of pictures from the Blue Lagoon and hardly any from the Retreat side. I like the no camera/phone rule. I don’t need any more pictures of me in elite, hidden, exclusive resort spas making the rounds.
The Golden Circle is a 300 k/185 mi route through the three most popular natural attractions in Iceland: the Geysir Geothermal Area, Gullfoss Waterfall and Þingvellir National Park. My advice? Do it — just don’t try to do it all in one day. You don’t want to feel rushed. Break it into two days. Parliament Fields and the Thingvellir National Park are where the Silfra dive site is located. This means you‘ll see part of the Golden circle the day you go diving there.
Reykjavik is Iceland’s capital and largest city. This is where you can live it up. There are plenty of good restaurants. You can buy all the souvenirs you want. Don’t eat whale; you’re better than that. Spend at least a couple of days here. You won’t need your rental car in the city, everything is within walking distance. The Saga Museum has wax figures of Vikings and violence. If that’s your cup of tea, go there.
Being from Detroit I appreciate a regional hot dog (coney 4-EVA!). However, the fact I hate mayonnaise meant that the Iceland version was not for me. To clarify, they put fried onions, raw onions, a brown mustard and a mayo like sauce on their hot dog – Mike out! I did like their hot dog (pylsur is what they call it in Iceland) plain. It’s like a Detroit dog with the snap from the skin and because of the lamb has a unique but still familiar taste.
Diving in Iceland
Would you believe me if I told you Iceland was cold? Of course, you would… it’s called Iceland. What kind of dumb question is that?
I recommend having your own dry suit. You can rent dry suits, but I think any real diver appreciates why you would want your own. Fit is crucial and something you don‘t want to have to worry about.
Dry gloves are a must if you want to do any kind of dive with decent bottom time. The water is cold — 4° C/39° F. (maybe 40f if that number make you feel better) but there are a lot of things that will distract you from how cold it is.
I can’t overstate the importance of being experienced and comfortable in your dry suit. A dry suit (like any type of specialty gear) should not be something that you battle with, it facilitates the dive. It‘s gear you wear, it doesn‘t wear you.
Divers who are new to dry suits are often still fighting them. Get your SDI Dry Suit Diver course finished and then put in as much time as possible in your suit. Something I feel all divers need to embrace is getting certified at the beginning of the process rather than the end. Get the card and then dive-dive-dive!
Siggi made everything easy in terms of logistics. He picked us up at our hotel in Reykjavik. We were staying in the city center and, just like any city, parking and closed streets can make things complicated for an outsider. It was nice to just look out the lobby windows and wait for Siggi to show up.
Beyond Silfra, the sites that Siggi took us to were awesome. I know that everyone wants to check the Silfra box but, if you can squeeze in just a couple extra days of diving, I think you will find it totally rewarding. I got to dive over the top of active hot-springs, a fissure that opens to the ocean, a good old-fashioned lake dive with a nice little swim (and supposedly fish) all in a picture book setting.
The national park requires that you be a certified Dry Suit Diver. One of the things I did to make life easy for all involved is, using the cool email my Card feature from my TDISDI.com account, I just emailed my SDI Dry Suit Diver card to Siggi. This allowed him to take care of the registration ahead of time. At the actual dive site, the park ranger had us fill out a couple forms. This was nothing out of the ordinary and it took just a few moments of time
If you plan just one day of diving (and therefore Silfra), Siggi takes a great approach that I really appreciated. We did our first dive that day in the lake at Thingvellir national park. This allows time for you to get you buoyancy squared away and get all your other gear straightened out. It also allows time to get your head in the right spot.
As a bonus, it’s an awesome dive site. You’re in a lake that is supposedly murky. Then you turn a corner and see a blue glowing fissure (just like Silfra) and swim into visibility that is hard to believe. Simple words on a screen cannot do it justice. It’s an awesome dive by itself and it does help you appreciate Silfra so much more.
We were the only divers at Silfra that day. There were lots of cool looking vans with neat graphics of people diving on them, but they were all filled with snorkelers. Silfra has heated bathrooms and a little shelter area. However, you will mostly be using the benches that surround the parking lot to get geared up. Odds are that it will be cold, windy and maybe even raining. You‘re in Iceland; you’ll learn to deal with it.
Siggi timed it so that we got there between all the chaos of the snorkelers getting suited up. As a consequence, we had no one to contend with for the bathrooms. The bathrooms have signs posted saying that you’re not to use them for changing. We followed the signs, but rumor has it they are there for a reason.
Silfra has a nice metal staircase at the entry point. It’s just a short walk from the parking area. We had the place to ourselves so there was no waiting or rushing at the entrance. I’ve been told that this is not always the case.
Silfra was the last dive I did in Iceland, although it was not a case of saving the best for last. It certainly is a memorable site and might be the only one whose name I can pronounce. I have always had a theory that the most popular sites around the world owe their celebrity more so to their name than anything else.
The dive itself is quite shallow. I got to a maximum depth of 11 m/36 ft. In some spots you must come up to the surface to get over rocks. The exit also has a nice metal staircase. This time the walk will be a little bit farther back to the parking lot.
Overall it was a great trip. In addition to all the diving, we got to drive around and see the waterfalls, glaciers, icebergs, volcanoes and sheep. Pack a bag of jerky and granola bars in your luggage. Food there is priced like you’re on some frozen island in the middle of the North Atlantic with a climate and soil that is not the most conducive for farming.
To Do List for Diving in Iceland
- Head over to your friendly SDI Dive Center and buy a Dry Suit and dry gloves
- Get enrolled in the SDI Dry Suit Diver course
- Once you get your Dry Suit certification, then diving a whole bunch
- Contact Icedive.is and schedule some dives
- Fly to Iceland
- Go diving
- Drink hot coco
- Drive around and don’t hit any sheep