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When we were in Iceland last summer I saw ads for Air Iceland Connect with service to multiple destinations in Greenland and I thought “Boy, that sure sounds like a good time.” Then after we had such a great time on our Laugavegur and Tour du Mont Blanc hikes I started searching for other long-distance hut hikes around the world. Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail came up and I thought “Boy, that sure sounds like a great time.” Papa agreed (that’s Greg) and we asked a couple of friends to join us for the hike, and away we went.
Greenland is far closer to North America than Europe, but it’s actually within the Kingdom of Denmark, and therefore European. The capital is Nuuk (Hello, Nuuk!), the population of the entire country is around 56,000, and nearly 90% of those people are Greenlandic Inuits, or natives. It’s a massive country, with a massive ice sheet, and few settlements, making it the least densely populated in the world. Of the top twenty most populous towns, only thirteen have populations over 1000, and only seven of those are over 2000. Greenlandic is the official language but many Greenlanders speak Danish as well, and English is fairly common. We never had any language trouble per se, but we definitely encountered our fair share of locals who(m?) we couldn’t interact with past smiles and gestures. Socially Greenland has a lot of issues- they’re ranked #1 on the planet in suicides, and we heard from both locals and Danish transplants alike that alcoholism and unemployment runs rampant, and I recently read there are high rates of HIV/AIDS. Oh, and the smokers… my god I’ve never seen so many smokers in my life. Tough crowd.
Geographically Greenland is one of the most amazing places we’ve ever been, and we had the best weather. It’s rugged and wild, and seemingly untouched. You can hike, camp, climb, dive, fish, hunt, ski, and sled. She’s got mountains, tundra, fjords, lakes, midnight sun, northern lights, polar bears, whales, and muskox. If you like glaciers and icebergs, you can like, forget all your other dream destinations. This is it.
All that said, unless you live in Iceland, Greenland is neither easy nor cheap to reach. It took us two full days to get to Ilulissat (Ill-loo-luh-set). We couldn’t fly there standby so the Warckens actually paid for flights. Well, we flew standby from Aberdeen, SD to Minneapolis, MN, and used points for a confirmed flight from Minneapolis to Reykjavik, Iceland on Icelandair, then we paid cash for Air Iceland Connect from Reykjavik to Kangerlussaq, and cash again for Air Greenland from Kangerlussaq to Ilulissat (I’ll include prices at the end). After a 45 min flight to MSP, and a 6 hr layover, and a 5 hr 30 min flight to KEF, and a 10 hr layover, and a 2 hr 40 min flight to SFJ, and a 2 hr 30 min layover until our final 45 min flight to JAV my eyebrows were ready to melt off my forehead. But that last flight into Ilulissat made the whole ordeal physically and financially worth it. I mean, if you like glaciers and icefjords (WE DO). We were like school children, up and down the aisle trying to find the best view from both sides of the plane. There were only six of us on the flight so we had our pick of seats, and the FA gave us cookies and coffee and opened the cockpit so we could talk to the pilots and look out the front window. Greg said it was the best day of his life, and I agreed.
The older we get the harder it is to recover from jet lag, so we gave ourselves a week cushion for some quality time and to get our hiking legs under us before we were to meet our friends in Kangerlussaq for the hike. I searched visitgreenland.com for inspiration and I’m pretty sure after the first iceberg picture I decided we had to go to Ilulissat. The Ilulissat Icefjord is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and reason enough to make the journey to Greenland. It’s thought the iceberg that sank the Titanic originated from Ilulissat, and once you see the chunks of ice floating around Disko Bay it’s easy to imagine. After sleeping 12+ hours we wanted to take it easy on our first day in country, so we set out for a walk and some groceries.
We were both very glad to have flown all the way into Ilulissat, and after our walk the previous night extra glad to have a roof over our heads. There were a lot of tents just outside the UNESCO boundary, but we figured we’d be sleeping in one soon enough. Greenland is all public access, so with a map and compass you can hike and camp wherever you want. There are also lots of huts around the Ilulissat area which as I understood are free to use as long as they aren’t occupied by hunters. Greg made us a delicious breakfast of fried eggs, fried salami, and pan-fried Scott toast which is the best (thanks for teaching us that one, Scotts!). The salami was the cheapest meat available and I was a bit skeptical when Greg wanted to fry it, but I’ll be derned, it was great. God I love breakfast.
After enjoying the sunshine on our porch we walked to touristville to inquire about a boat to Disko Island (they have narwhals!) or Rode Bay (you can hike back!). Disko was sold out, and Rode Bay was available just once a week but they happened to have availability on our anniversary (August 10. Please, no gifts). The lovely ladies at Disko Line, the boat company, let us know it’d be much cheaper to book online than in their office, and gave us directions to the nearest wifi. Greenland has not jumped on the free wifi bandwagon so don’t think you’re going to be posting selfies every ten minutes. They still charge by time (remember internet cafes?!) and it costs about $8/hr. What are we, millionaires?! Still, it was cheaper than paying $13/each to book in person. Thanks, Disko Line ladies! We booked our boat, updated social media, checked on the Cubs, and set out for the Blue Trail.
Oqaatsut to Ilulissat
We were up at 05:00 for pan toast and leftover spaghetti, and a walk to the north harbor to catch our boat. There are seemingly as many taxis in Greenland as there are residents, and of course they’re very pricey. The three mile ride from the airport to our hostel was just under $20 so we were happy to walk the 1.5 miles to the harbor, as well as everywhere else in town.
‘Rode Bay’ is actually called ‘Oqaatsut’ (Oh-kaht-suit) and it took a slow hour and fifteen minutes to get there, through iceberg-laden waters. Thankfully I remembered a handful of ginger capsules before we left so I didn’t attract any Greenland sharks with my typical puking off the back. We walked to the H8 restaurant to catch the Orange Trail back to Ilulissat.
Time for our whale safari! We booked with World of Greenland because that was the first company we found, but there were cheaper options just two doors down so always shop around! That said, WoG was great and the boat was super nice and the crew very friendly and there was free coffee. We drank the price difference worth. We were the only Americans on board and I was #sorrynotsorry to mention Maui to anyone who would listen. I mean, if you love humpback whales, YOU HAVE TO GO TO MAUI. Still, it was obviously a beautiful day and any whales we saw were just a bonus to the icebergs. A couple on board told us if we loved this tip, WE HAVE TO GO ON AN EVENING SAIL AROUND THE ICEFJORD (we tried when we got back, everyone was booked).
Ilulissat to Kangerlussuaq
We woke up at 10:15 to someone knocking on our door. Check out was at 10:00- OOPS. Gary moved into view from our window overnight. We had a 15:15 flight to Kanger and debated going back to the icefjord beforehand, but decided to go sit at the airport instead. No security or passport stamps in Greenland. Another gorgeous flight over the fjord, my mind reeling with future hiking ideas.
Where Ilulissat has about 5000 people, Kangerlussuaq only has about 500 and just one taxi. There is a local bus in Kanger but it wasn’t running that late on a Saturday so I went to the airport hotel and asked a bartender to please call the taxi for us. We stayed at the Kangerlussuaq Vendrehjemmet (youth hostel) which is near a mini mart and a Thai/pizza restaurant, but a bit of a walk from the airport. They have a sister hotel in Sisimiut which is where we’d be ending our hike so it was easy to arrange the two stays.
Kangerlussuaq is the main hub for flights into and out of the country, and the airport was built by Americans after WWII as part of the Sondrestrom Air Base. The town is about 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle and is composed of few people and a lot of empty buildings that appear to have been barracks back in the day. I’ll be derned, though, every one of those few people gave us a wave when they drove past. I credit the American influence. Kangerlussuaq is a necessary and convenient stopover for other Greenland destinations and doesn’t offer much in the way of tourism other than 4wd trips to the ice sheet and organized hunting excursions. If you ever feel like you need to shoot a muskox, Kanger is the place to go. It’s a super sleepy town, and a decent place to unwind before or after a big hike. Which, after a large plate of panang at the Thai/Pizza Restaurant, we got right down to.
Sugarloaf Mountain is a popular hike in the area and is about six miles from town.
We saw our first group of muskox as we finished the hike. So weird! I never dreamed we’d see muskox! Our friends flew in the following evening and after one night in Kanger we started our hike on the Arctic Circle Trail which obviously warrants a blog post by itself.
We would recommend Greenland on Ilulissat alone, and we’re already talking of going back one day. Have to see how our Gary is holding up!
- Icelandair MSP-KEF one-way: 47,536 Citi Thank You points (worth $475.36)
- Air Iceland Connect KEF-SFJ round-trip: $1286.28
- Air Greenland SFJ-JAV round-trip: $929.10
- KEF-MSP one-way: $93.36
- restaurants: $152.99
- groceries: $97.91
- transportation: $61.79
- tours: $498.03
- wifi: $16
- lodging: $889.03
Grand Total: $4024.49 + 47,536 points
That’s for the first nine days, eight nights. Like I said- neither easy, nor cheap. I’ll include the costs for our hike in that post. It’s important to note that unless you’re using a Greenlandic or Danish credit card, you’ll be charged around 5% for every card transaction. We were sad to have paid cash for almost everything we purchased there, but we did earn a few points for booking things online:
- Chase Total Rewards: 1,777
- Citi Thank You: 7,962
Check out our Instagram for more Greenland pics and get motivated, people! Happy travels.
Check out our post on the Arctic Circle Trail!