Iceland is well-known for its amazing landscapes and natural wonders, from stunning mountains to jaw-dropping glaciers and more. Aside from that though, it is also home to some of the best dive sites in the world. Diving in Iceland allows you to swim between walls of tectonic plates, geothermal springs, hydrothermal shallows and so much more. It’s no wonder that many divers from all over the globe excitedly pack their scuba gear take an Iceland dive holiday now and then. But with so many exciting dive sites to visit, where do you even begin? Fret not because we have here, in no particular order, a shortlist of the ten best dive sites in “The Land of Fire and Ice.”
1. Silfra Fissure
This is perhaps the most famous diving spots in all of Iceland, attracting hordes of divers from every corner of the globe. However, don’t let this scare you or put you away because there are plenty of dive tours to choose from. It is situated in the Thingvellir National Park (about 45 minutes away from Reykjavik) and is the only diving spot where you can dive or snorkel right in between two tectonic plates.
The interesting part is that these tectonic plates are continuously drifting apart by a few centimeters every year, making it a “living” dive site. The change in the distance between the two tectonic plates may seem minute and insignificant, but not when you consider the fact that this shifting motion (along with the earthquakes) causes boulders and rocks to fall into the crack now and then, thus changing its depth profile. Besides, these movements lead to the birth of new tunnels and caverns and an evolving underwater landscape.
Another feature that this dive site boasts of is the unsurpassed visibility underwater. In fact, divers claim that Silfra Fissure has the clearest water on earth, with visibility going to as far as hundreds of feet ahead.
Strytan offers divers the opportunity to experience diving next to a hydrothermal vent. This is interesting since most hydrothermal vents are usually situated miles down in the ocean. The geothermal cones have been venting fresh water, rich with dissolved minerals, into the surrounding fjord for the last 11,000 years. The cones are continuously growing as the venting water deposits minerals onto the vent’s walls.
What is astounding is that there’s a lot of life on and around the vents at both the Big Strytan and Little Strytan. There are various marine flora and fauna that have developed and settled under this special environment. There are plenty of little creatures scurrying about, and divers might even see schools of cod wolf fish, starfish, nudibranchs, and clams all over the seabed. There are also various species of jellyfish swimming about. The vents and the aquatic flora and fauna offers great opportunities for using your diving camera.
3. Kleifarvatn Lake
Located about 30 kilometers outside of Reykjavík, Kleifarvatn is the largest lake on the Reykjanes peninsula, and with a maximum depth of 90 meters, is one of the deepest lakes in Iceland. It sits directly atop the mid-Atlantic ridge and is nestled amidst a stunning volcanic landscape complete with steep hills, eye-popping lave formations, and black volcanic rocks. If the scene above is enough to pique your interest, you’ll be very impressed with what’s underneath.
Many of Kleifarvatn Lake’s interesting features are due to its location is on the geothermally active area along with the diverging tectonic plates. There are underwater hot springs on the shore on one side of the lake, and in the center of the hot springs is a large crater that emits large quantities of warm water and gases. When the air bubbles escape the crater, the pressure they create causes the surrounding rocks to vibrate. Some divers even claim to have felt the vibrations even through their diving wetsuits or drysuits.
The marine life in Kliefarvatn Lake is mostly composed of large brown trout and char. Legends say that there’s also a monster serpent as large as a whale swimming about in the area through the evidence is mostly anecdotal and no actual sighting has been reported (still makes for an interesting dive though).
4. SS El Grillo
If you’re into shipwreck diving, then this is the perfect spot in Iceland for you to visit. The SS El Grillo was a British oil tanker that was sunk by German troops during World War II, and what made this attack interesting was that there were no casualties recorded. Since it sank the tanker has been slowly leaking oil. But back in 2002, the remaining oil in the tanker has been pumped out and since then the shipwreck was considered free of oil and safe for diving.
The SS El Grillo is nestled over a hundred feet below the ocean, and because of its sheer size (almost 500 feet in length), it will take multiple dives to truly explore the wreck. Having an underwater scooter can help make exploration quicker and easier. Because of this, divers are required to have an open water diving certification.
Located about an hour away south of Reykjavic is a Gardur, a perfect place for those who are looking for some saltwater diving adventure. The underwater landscape is filled with kelp forests and various species of algae which provides both shelter and sustenance for the different marine animals in the area such as flatfish, monkfish, scorpionfish, and others. You’ll also encounter cods, pollocks, and possibly some Atlantic Herring. While diving, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for humpback whales, minke whales, sperm whales, and orcas that may be passing by in the area.
6. Gullkistuvik Bay
Gullkistuvik and its nice beach are some of the most beautiful bays in Iceland. There are large boulders around the area that provides shelter for scuba divers and freedivers alike. The bay itself is quite shallow at around 5 meters in-depth, but this increases to up to 15 meters as you go out further. The current on Gullkistuvik Bay can be rather strong at times, depending on the weather, but it is manageable.
Diving underwater you’ll see a topography filled with kelp forests and large boulders. Hiding among these are various marine creatures that have made this environment their home. These include different types of flatfish, scorpionfish, sea urchins, sea slugs, sea cucumbers, and nudibranchs. Wolffish has also been occasionally spotted in the area.
Despite being Iceland’s most remote and sparsely populated region, the Westfjords still plays an important role in the country’s fishing industry. But aside from that, the coastal landscape is popular because of its many deep fjords and stunning white and golden sand beaches.
As with many other diving spots in Iceland, the Westfjords boasts of clear waters with excellent visibility. It also has a rich diversity of aquatic life, from monkfish to hard corals and more. During the summer season, whales and dolphins can be seen in the area. When diving is sure to explore the Norwegian Whaling sites where you can spot whale skeletons that have been sleeping on the ocean floor for centuries.
Nesgja is a shallow but amazingly beautiful freshwater fissure that is perfect for diving because of its crystal clear waters. This type of clarity allows for excellent visibility, allowing divers to see further than 100 meters around them. In fact, you’re having trouble seeing underwater here, the problem might be with your scuba mask and not the water.
One reason why such waters exist in the Nesgja is that the fissure is filled with glacial waters that have been filtering through lava fields for many years before it flows into the fissures. Bypassing through these porous lava rocks, any impurity in the glacial water has been filtered, leaving nothing but pure and clear waters to enter the fissure.
Another famous fissure for divers to explore is Davidsgja which lies close to the Eurasian tectonic plate on the northeastern shores of Thingvellir Lake. Although not as popular as the Silfra Firssure, Davidsgja has some interesting features that make it a favorite among the local divers.
Davidsgja has a fascinating underwater topography composed of monstrous large boulders and square slabs of rocks. Surrounded by solid volcanic stones on every side, divers can’t help but be impressed by this natural architecture. The excellent visibility underwater allows divers to explore this underwater city of stones easily, alongside dwarf char fish and giant trout. Be sure to bring your dive lights if you dare to venture deeper as the tall rock formations can block out the sunlight.
The small town of Grindavik in the southern part of Reykjanes Peninsula is home to an inland fissure known as Bjarnagja. The water in Bjarnagja is mostly fresh groundwater, but because the rift is located only a few hundred meters from the coast it also has traces of salinity due to the seawater.
This dive site is particularly popular for its overhead caverns and vertical rock walls. Add that to the dark blue waters and you get an altogether eerie environment for diving. The type of marine flora and fauna also appear to be appropriate for such settings, with eels and crabs lurking at the bottom. Avoid getting too close to the seabed though because although visibility is good underwater, it can quickly turn cloudy when the silt is disturbed.
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Diving in Iceland is undoubtedly one of the best experiences that any diver could have. If an Iceland dive holiday is still isn’t in your diving bucket, be sure to include it now. Visit the different dive shops or sign-up for a multi-day diving adventure and get a view of Iceland that not many people get to experience.
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