Destination Focus: Greenland

There’s more to this ice-covered island than meets the eye.

By: By Jimmy Im


One way to get to Greenland is to take a direct flight from Copenhagen, Denmark, or Reykjavik, Iceland. Air Greenland operates up to four flights a week in winter and up to eight a week in summer from Copenhagen to Kangerlussauq and Narsarsuaq.

From the U.S. clients can also fly Icelandair to Keflavik, Iceland seven days a week out of Boston, Minneapolis, Min. and New York (JFK). Additional U.S. flights are available out of Orlando, Fla. Thursday-Saturday.

Icelandair also flies to Keflavik from Halifax, Canada on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays and out of Toronto Mondays-Saturdays.

For the second leg of the trip, clients can fly from Keflavik to Nuuk, Greenland on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, May 29-Sept. 5. Both flights can be made the same day.

Arctic Circle Race

Restaurant Nasaasaaq

Hotel Sisimiut

Late March through early May in the Arctic is marked by long days, temperate climes and good snow cover — an ideal time for dogsledding and ski tours. Peak season, however, is from mid-July to early September, when days are even longer and flowers are in full bloom. Star seekers will appreciate a view of aurora borealis best during August to mid-November and mid-February to early April.

Greenland's terrain is ideal for skiing, fishing and long-distance snowmobiling // (c) Jimmy ImI’m shredding snow at 55 mph on a snowmobile in Greenland, bound by dramatic, snow-capped mountains, gliding over frozen lakes and zooming through the unadulterated, white landscape with not one building in sight for miles.

When my group of four stops for a short break, I remove my helmet and absorb the stunning scenery. I’m surrounded completely by soft, white snow, where ice flakes glint from the sun above, mountain peaks rise high to the east and a frozen lake glimmers in the distance. It’s dead quiet, a “roaring silence” as locals often say, something I would imagine similar to that of outer space; even the sound of my heartbeat is amplified. A soundless plane soars high above, trailing puffs of smoke against the blue sky, as if it were an all-white, Greenlandic rainbow.

It’s a magical moment for sure, a moment a camera can’t capture. We jump back on our snow scooters with two more hours to go for our cross-country trek. Sure, it’s an exhaustive, five-hour journey but the thrill and adventure outweighs the distance, and obviously, I’m not the only one who would agree.

Here, in Greenland, taking a snowmobile tour from the city of Kangerlussuaq to small town is quite popular and gaining more interest every year.

Greenland has never been the most sought-after destination, but things are changing. Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” brought attention to one of the largest islands in the world, moving viewers with the effects of global warming. Perhaps, the film’s most important contribution was its ability to show audiences that people do, in fact, live here (approximately 56,000). Since the film’s debut, hundreds of Americans (including Bill Gates and Matt Lauer) have trekked over to experience a myriad of activities, including skiing, fishing and, of course, long-distance snowmobiling.

The tour I participated in was a 100-mile straight shot, with several stops to absorb scenery and note nature highlights like fjords and avalanches. Travel agents need not fear; the tour can be taken at a much more leisurely pace, with overnights at luxury tents along the route. While the winter months, from November to April, are the best times to travel, hiking this same trail is also popular during the summer when the snow has completely melted.

What modern amenities Greenland lacks — such as spas or the use of BlackBerrys — it makes up with its heritage. The Greenlandic lifestyle is rooted deep in culture, whether it’s an afternoon kaffemik, a traditional gathering with friends and lots of coffee and cake at a family’s home or participating in pastimes like fishing or boating. Visitors can expect to interact with locals for any adventure, including dogsledding tours through the mountains.

Propped comfortably on a seal skin-covered sled, I was dragged behind eight to 15 Greenlandic dogs, a cross-breed of wolf and dog, feeling like a kid all over again. There are also plenty of snowmobile or ski rentals if adrenaline-pumping rides are more your speed. Whatever your clients desire, it’s the natural setting that serves as a base for all things Greenland.

While the more cosmopolitan Nuuk (the smallest capital in the world) and Ilulissat (home to the Ilulissat Icefjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site) are more frequently visited, the small town of Sisimiut is generally regarded as the “real Greenland,” thanks to its strong traditions, iconic activities and its central location on the west coast of the country. From here, it’s easy to reach other destinations — either by plane or by sea, as there are no highways or trains connecting towns or settlements — to discover all that Greenland offers.

A trip to Greenland wouldn’t be complete without a voyage to the Arctic Ocean. At the harbor in Sisimiut, visitors can take a sea safari to explore the ocean on a charter boat. While whale spotting is more prevalent in the summer, winter voyages are chock-full of seals, sea eagles and, perhaps the most obvious, icebergs. We journeyed an hour into the sea, our boat cracking through sheets of sludged ice while fantastic fjords served as a dynamic backdrop, and came face to face with a giant iceberg buoying on the dark surface.

Hotels in Greenland have a strong B&B mentality and are mostly family-run. The four-star Hotel Sisimiut is a comfortable, 38-room property, most recently renovated with the addition of two floors in 1999.

It’s crystal clear that Greenland, with its strong cultural ties and numerous activities, is well on its way to becoming a favorite travel destination.