Secluded coves, far-flung seaside villages, and awe-inspiring landscapes shaped by aeons of unforgiving Arctic winds and a harsh climate, denote what is arguably one of the most dramatically beautiful corners of our planet. Greenland is as visually stunning as it is hard-to-reach, most especially by road, hence the popularity and need of expedition cruises. If you dream of exploring it, and trust us you should, you’ll need to get there by ship.
This is the world’s largest island, one which is governed by Denmark but remains highly autonomous. It is so large that it actually makes up almost 97% of Denmark and the country’s claim over it arises from Viking explorations of the area more than a thousand years ago. With only 56,000 odd inhabitants, and given the fact that much of it – almost 80% – is covered in ice all year round, this is the world’s least populated regions. Most inhabitants live along the slither of coastal land which remains ice-free all year long.
Greenland – The Wild Arctic Frontier
For wildlife and wilderness lovers, Greenland is a stellar Arctic choice. Polar bears and musk oxen roam free, as do walruses (albeit at a slower pace) and immensely cute puffins and caribous. Harp, hooded and bearded seals delight in the frigid waters, as do several species of whale, including beluga, orca, humpback and the majestic blue whale. Greenland is, without a doubt, one of the best whale-watching destinations on the planet. In a land overwhelmingly dominated by ice, it is immensely amazing to discover just how much life thrives here.
UNESCO-listed Ilulissat Icefjord, the biggest glacier outside of Antarctica, is the country’s crown jewel. Yet on a Greenland Arctic expedition, only one of many highlights you’ll treasure.
Greenland – Culture
The local culture is an intoxicating mix of tradition and modernity. Native Greenlanders, descendants of the Inuit people of the Canadian Arctic, have been inhabiting these lands for more than 4,000 years. Remnants of the Norse and Dorset cultures which came and went persist to this day, making this a culturally enriched destination to explore. More than three-quarters of the population is indigenous, with only 12% or so hailing from mainland Denmark. Although tourism is starting to play a bigger role in Greenland’s economy, fishing, hunting and whaling have traditionally been the nation’s breadwinners. The people of Greenland reflect their historic trades, and you’ll find them to be a hardy, resilient, and hard-working culture. They maintain their shamanistic beliefs, and still carve tupilaks, or spirit objects, to appease their gods.
Few ‘lights’ are as impressive as the Northern Lights and a winter Arctic expedition in Greenland to view them is a bucket-list-worthy as any trip can get.
In summer, activities abound for expedition cruise passengers as they meander among icebergs on kayaks, fish in ancient fjords, and get a close-up look at the ice cap by husky-led sled or snowmobile. Hiking and mountaineering trips tickle the fancy of the most active, whilst outings aboard Zodiacs satisfy the curiosity of those who want to reach deeper into the glacial channels.
Those with a bit more time and lust for remote lands would get their thrills on a Three Arctic Islands expedition, which takes in the rugged coastlines and highlights of Norway, Greenland and Iceland, all within a 2-week jaunt around the Arctic. In just over a week, you could take in the sight and sounds of Western Greenland, the most visited part of the whole region.
For outstanding adventures in one of the most remote and fascinating places on earth, you simply can’t sail past Greenland. Arctic adventures to sooth the wanderlusting soul, immersive cultural experiences and a smorgasbord of wildlife watching…are just the tip of the iceberg.
Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 13 years. She’s tour guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and is now in the midst of a 5-year motorbike odyssey from Germany to Australia.”