Greenland, so visible on the world map but ignored by civilized man until 100 years ago, is an extraordinary destination essential for anyone who wants to know the pristine nature of the Arctic and its population perfectly adapted to polar climate.
As a travel destination we must differentiate between the two Greenlands: winter Greenland (February, March and April) and summer one (May to September). The first, before and after the polar night, is the one with dogsled and hiking on skis; the summer one, after the thaw, is the hiking and kayaking in a bright "green land", but always surrounded by ice!
By zones, from Thule, the cradle of Inuit tradition in northern remote regions; the South, encompassing hiking and kayaking among icebergs; the East Coast, backcountry skiing paradise; Nuuk, the modern capital; Ilulissat and its gigantic icebergs; the inhospitable Inlandis or polar ice cap... Please remember, not all of Greenland is the same!
South Greenland (Narsarsuaq airport) consists of a maze of huge fjords, islands and peninsulas that connects the inland ice of Greenland to the Sea, leading to a surprising variety of terrain in just 200 miles of coastline. Essential places like the Big Walls of the Tasermiut Fjord, the Uunartoq island hot springs or the Qaleraliq glaciers fronts, combined with small populations and the remains of the Viking presence in Greenland, make the South the benchmark for hiking in Greenland during the summer.
Furthermore, the presence of much ice floe from both North sea ice and glacier tongues assumes that, for many, it is the best area in the world for kayaking among icebergs: summer temperatures are milder and, the most important, the routes are protected from the open sea.
Not having a link road between the towns, each Inuit family has their small boat to move from one place to another and this is also the way to get to know South Greenland: several-day circuits with an hour journeys by boat to reach fixed camps that are used as a logistical base for the hiking trips in completely isolated areas.
Ilulissat (4,500 inhabitants), located in Disko Bay on the west coast of Greenland, is the third largest city in Greenland and has become a major tourist destination in the country for two reasons: firstly its proximity to the Ilulissat Icefjord, glacier which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004; and secondly, for being the largest dogsled concentration within Greenland, which is the main means of transporting people in winter.
The tourist infrastructure in Ilulissat, including high standard hotels and different ranges of boat excursion among the gigantic icebergs released by the Ilulissat Icefjord (this is the most active glacier in entire northern hemisphere) are guaranteed a comfortable stay in which you should not miss Knud Rasmussen Museum, a pioneer in Arctic exploration born in Ilulissat.
Above all, it is during the winter and spring when the movement of the sled dogs, which are exactly the same as those used by Rasmussen to cross de Northwest Passage for the first time in the early twentieth century, shows the most interesting side of Ilulissat.
Nuuk. The capital of Greenland (17,000 inhabitants) is a thoroughly modern city in the Arctic and this paradox is precisely its main attraction: university, buildings and buses less than 2000 miles from the North Pole! In addition to the Government of Greenland, whose parliament can be visited, Nuuk is known for the Greenland National Museum and its Qilakitsoq Mummies, only comparable to the Nanortalik Open Air Museum at the southern end of Greenland.
Without dogsled or traditional methods of subsistence, economic activity in Nuuk is focused on administration and trade. From a tourist point of view there is a wide range of activities, both cultural (for instance Greenlandic gastronomy, taking "kaffemik" with a Inuit family or, for example, visiting the National Costume Workshop) or more adventurous (boat trips among icebergs by Nuuk fjord around until the old Inuit settlement Qoornoq). We would say that, as a travel destination, Nuuk is the urban counterpoint to a stay in the most "natural" parts of Greenland, either in combination with the Ilulissat area or southern Greenland.
Thule. Travelling to remote northern Greenland during the spring (February, March or April), after four months of polar night at 77º N and before the thaw, means witnessing a trip back in time. There is no other place in the world to live so intensely the authenticity of those great Arctic men who still using the same techniques of transportation and protection against cold which conveyed to Robert Peary to conquest the North Pole in 1909.
The only way to undertake this challenge is to participate in an expedition of several days to the edge of the ice in dogsled, where for thousands of years the rite of searching the narwhal has been repeated by kayaks made of wood, bone and sealskin. With temperatures of minus 30 degrees, dressing like them and sharing shelter in Inuit tents pitched on the sleds, the traveller collaborates with their "guide" and fellow sled while the caravan moves from one region to another, cutting above the ice when they see appropriate or doing route under high cliffs and hanging glaciers in a landscape of giant icebergs caught in the ice... Thule: the purest Arctic experience – undertaken alongside true residents of the Arctic.
East Greenland. Divided into zones of Tasiilaq, formerly Ammassalik (Kulusuk Airport) and, further north, Scoresby Sund (Constable Point airport), this is the most mountainous part of Greenland whose few inhabitants, isolated from the world until a century ago, have retained their traditional style of life, including the use of sled dogs to go hunting during the long winters. As for Scoresby Sund, this is the world's largest fjord, with exceptional icebergs and polar wildlife. To visit and enjoy all this becomes a reality during a week on board of a sailing boat with stops for hiking excursions in the most interesting areas.
Ammassalik is possibly the best part of all of Greenland for backcountry skiing before the arrival of summer, either on day excursions with nights back in a comfortable bed or in a consignment of several days dragging a "pulk" (sled) by glaciers and mountains that give access to unsurpassed views of both the Inlandis as well as the sea ice. Besides the dogsled itineraries, Ammassalik is getting well known for undertaking Heli-Skiing with a base on the island of Kulusuk.
Ice Cap. Inland Greenland consists of an immense desert of ice, the Inlandis, with a length of 2,400 kilometres from north to south and reaching a thickness of 3,000 meters. This huge mass of ice, inhospitable by definition, is however attractive to many people, precisely because of the challenges of experiencing its realities. The way to "attack" the Inlandis is either by raids of several days or, on a scale of extreme polar expedition, making the crossing from side to side of the island.
Shorter trips are usually made by climbing up with skis to the plateau and returning by helicopter, both on the East Coast and in the South of Greenland or Thule. Regarding to the crossing of Greenland from one coast to the other through the ice, both from East to West and South to North, is a hard feat whatever the means of transport: walking with skis and dragging a pulk (sled), with dogsled or even on a "comfortable" sleigh pulled by a kite, the famous "Inuit Windsled" that upended all distance and autonomy records in polar expeditions.