Iceland adventures abound. Because many people fly into Reykjavik for a short stay, and many others choose to hang around this area for the duration of their trip, a plethora of activities — from whale watching and surfing to ice trekking, cycling and horseback riding—are available in this part of the country.
In planning our trip to Iceland, we happened across the Black & Blue Combo Day Trip, a tour offered by Arctic Adventures. (This tour is also heavily promoted in materials throughout the country). Our interest was piqued by the interesting combination of trekking through the Gjábakkahellir cave, a lava tube in Þingvellir National Park, and snorkeling in Silfra, a drastic departure from any snorkeling trips in tropical destinations.
According to the Arctic Adventures website, this day tour, which is supposed to last seven hours, begins with the cave tour followed by a packed lunch followed by the snorkeling excursion. Though transportation is provided from Reykjavik, we had our own vehicle, so we made arrangements in advance to meet the tour at the Þingvellir National Park visitors center before 10:00, when the tour was supposed to begin.
Several tour guides came and went while we waited for ours. For nearly a whole hour, we sat around, drinking coffee and chatting, antsy that we could be hiking or doing something else on our own. At 11:00, the guide finally arrived, and our tour began.
Instead of the “black” portion being the first half of our tour, we started with the “blue,” which actually ended up being a snorkel tour in Þingvallavatn, Iceland’s largest lake. Because the water is only about 40F, a dry suit, gloves and face mask are required, and all of this gear is supplied by Arctic Adventures. I had a problem with some of my equipment and had to change my entire get up, which was quite an operation, and because I’m so small, they had to make a neck tightener for me so that water wouldn’t leak into my suit (my face mask was also a bit too big).
We eventually waddled down to the steps that led to the water. Þingvellir National Park has ridiculously pesky flies that swarmed us and it was hard to pay attention to our snorkel guide. Finally, the briefing was over and we jumped into the frigid water (and yes, the dry suit did wonders to keep me warm, though I could definitely tell there was a bite to the lake). It’s worth noting that there are very high standards when it comes to the tour guides in Iceland, and our snorkel guide was PADI certified — a certification well beyond what was necessary for snorkeling.
The water was crystal clear, and spaghetti-like algae floats in the light current. It was stunning to see the sun shine straight through the water to the bottom. Being a scuba diver would have been advantageous, as I would have liked to have seen the sides and bottom of the lake closer up than I could in snorkel gear. Rumor has it that occasionally a trout floats through the area, but we weren’t lucky enough to see any fish. The snorkel tour is a little over a half hour long, and our group followed the guide along a pre-determined route with another guide holding up the back. My flipper fell off halfway through the tour, but I was in the middle of the group and nowhere near a guide, so I paddled on with one foot for the duration of the tour. At the end of the tour, there is a short period of time where people can float around on their own, but I was struggling with my flipper so I didn’t get to see much. My dad, who had mentioned his dry suit was too tight, immediately got out of the water at the end because he could barely breathe and was turning blue.
After our whole group got out of the water, we waddled back down to the vans that held the gear to undress so that the next tour group could put our gear on and head out to go snorkeling.
Lunch was a packed meal as we anticipated, and then we headed out for the “black” portion of the trip. Our guide for this part of the tour introduced us to the history of the lava tube (which was 9000 years old and 400 meters long) and handed out hard hats and headlamps before we ventured in. This part of the tour was much more interesting to me because we could stop and ask questions in order to understand what was surrounding us. I really felt like our guide was passionate about it, which she demonstrated by pointing out details tucked into the crevices that we wouldn’t have noticed had we sped ahead like many people in the group.
The walk through the cave required careful footwork and a bit of rock scrambling. We stopped frequently to look at and appreciate the formations and colors of the cave. Ice had formed in the cracks of the rocks, and it looked like diamonds and gold. At one point, we all sat down and turned off our headlamps to experience complete darkness and silence, which I always find to be a bit spooky but exhilarating at the same time.
Our tour ended much earlier than we anticipated (the whole thing only took four hours versus the seven as advertised on the website), so we had the afternoon to ourselves after our excursion. For those with their own sets of wheels, it would be easy and convenient to spend the afternoon exploring Þingvellir National Park after the tour.
> Dress appropriately for the snorkeling excursion. Wool socks, warm clothes and no jeans are good options. In the cave, a wind breaker, sturdy shoes and gloves are good. Avoid wearing loose clothing.
> The snorkeling, while unique and interesting, is laborious and takes a lot of effort for the time in the water. If you’re specifically looking for a one-of-a-kind snorkeling tour, this is an excellent choice, but if you’re just interested in doing something to pass the morning, you might want to consider other options.
> The guides were personable, helpful and spoke English very well. Each guide was well suited to her specialty and passionate about the portion of the trip she led.
> When you snorkel, be first or last in the water so you have the most freedom for movement, otherwise you’re confined by those in front and behind you.
> Though an underwater camera sounds awesome in theory, the one guy on our tour who had one said the gloves were so bulky he couldn’t use it anyway.
> Arctic Adventures has all the equipment you need, but if you’re particularly small or tall, check in advance to make sure there is appropriate equipment for you to use. We were surprised when our caving guide asked to carry someone else’s bottled water so she would have it on her in case of an emergency.
> Pick up is available. This is a huge bonus for those without their own car.
> In the cave, spend time to look around and shine your headlight in every corner to get the most out of the experience.
Arctic Adventures provided my Black & Blue Tour at a discounted price but all opinions are my own.
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