Soaring above a bay full of thousands of massive icebergs in a bush plane,hiking along ancient Inuit paths past colourful villages, searching for families of whales, kayaking through Ice fjords and venturing to one of the largest disappearing glaciers in the world. These are just some of the amazing experiences to be had around the UNESCO town of Ilulissat on Greenland’s North.
Tourism in the Arctic is a new idea and because of how remote it is, getting here has kept the tourist crowds away. Instead, you will find the hardcore travellers. The one’s who venture to the ends of the earth hunting for their next great experience. And I can assure you once they venture into Ilulissat and join in on the authentic activities, they will never forget it. From the howling sled dogs, dazzling northern lights, hospitality from the Inuit locals or the stunning scenery, Ilulissat, Greenland is the next big travel destination!
Flying above the Arctic in Ilulissat
The landscapes around Ilulissat are breathtaking, but from the ground, it really is difficult to get an overview of it. Greenland is also much uncharted making even getting to say the Inland Icecap difficult as it would require an expedition. Luckily there is a solution and an exciting one at that. A small company called Air Zafari has taken the initiative of send tourist high above in their small fleet of micro flights.
In the late afternoon when the sun began to set, I set off to Ilulissat’s miniature airport and climbed aboard one of these flights. The captain let me sit up front with him giving me the best view in the plane. The flights only seat about six passengers and it is cramped, but that’s what makes it so special. Using headsets and mics to communicate our captain explained the flight to us and off we went.
Ascending above the town of Ilulissat you begin to see over the nearby mountains and into the Inland Icecap. It’s amazing to see the vast and deep crevasses edged into one of the biggest Ice Sheets on the planet. After the Icecap we ventured into the Fjord to spot whales swimming amongst gargantuan Icebergs in the golden light hours of the day. It was a beautiful experience and a must for anyone coming to this corner of the world.
Check out the Ilulisaat Flying Tours HERE
Searching for Whales in the Ilulissat Ice Fjord
The massive ice flow in the Ilulissat Fjord means plenty of minerals and krill. Krill being the main source of food for the whales brings in hundreds of these massive creatures. Taking a trip weaving in between the icebergs in search of Whales will be one of the most memorable experiences you will have in the Arctic.
We left shortly after lunch, the whales apparently like to feed on the southern end of the Fjord which because of the amount of ice takes about an hour’s journey. The trip is delightful as it doubles as an ice Fjord tour.
When we reached the south end of the Fjord it opened and so many whales could be seen. Countless puffs of air from their blow holes, the odd tail flapping up and descending into the depths. Many of the whales even came right up to the boat showing their immense size. There really is something magical about sitting in silence amongst the ice and watching one of the nature’s largest and most intelligent creatures, it was blissful.
Look for Whales and Ice in Ilulissat HERE
Eqi Glacier Expedition
Eqi Glacier is one of Greenland’s largest flowing glaciers. It stands in some area almost 100 m high! Being about 80km north of Ilulissat it requires an entire day’s journey to visit. This is because navigating through the ice fjord out of Ilulissat and north into the fjords is very slow going.
The full journey in the slow boat takes upwards of 12 hours to complete. So thus, we left in the early hours of the morning. Navigating through the fjord in the early morning light was stunning albeit.
Several hours in the ice disappears only to be replaced by massive islands of red mountains. Following this Martian-like landscape the odd multi-story iceberg drifts by. Closer to the Eqi Glacier Fjord the landscapes get more bizarre. The ice transforms into circular frozen shapes all the way to the red earth shores, I have never quite seen a place like this before. At the foot of Eqi, we stopped in an hour of silence. During this hour every few moment’s ice broke off from the top and into the sea creating mini-tsunamis. The scene was stunning.
Check out the tip to Eqi Glacier HERE
Hiking from Oqaatsut to Ilulissat
This 32km hike will take you along the hunting paths between the town of Oqaatsut and Ilulissat. Being 32km one way you either need to take a boat there and walk back or stay overnight as it is a very long day’s walk. I opted for taking the boat to Oqaatsut and trying out seal meat at the dock restaurant in town before setting off for the afternoon.
The trail leads through the quaint town of Oqaatsut before climbing north to the graveyard. From here it follows the shoreline before steeply ascending onto a rocky outcrop that overlooks the bay. From here it’s a long walk around the Fjord all the way to Ilulissat airport. The hike is filled with scenic views over the iceberg-filled fjord, and you will see plenty of interesting rock formations covered in crazy coloured lichen. You may even get a chance to seethe rare arctic fox!
Within Ilulissat you will find many other day trips. One is the Blue trail which loops around the Ilulissat Ice Fjord. On way you will pass by some incredible scenery and unique flora/fauna.
A great place to stay before you hike is the Blue Trail Guesthouse, set on the entrance to the trail this comfy guesthouse is affordable, spacious, clean and really gives you a remote feeling as its just outside of the town limits. Highly recommended!
Sunset Ilulissat Ice Fjord Cruise
Hiring a small private boat is the best way to see the Ilulissat ice fjord during sunset. You get the freedom to explore as you wish and stay for the many different shades of light as the sun sets. If you are as lucky as I was the sea will be as still as glass reflecting off of the monstrous icebergs in an amazing array of colour.
I found it better to explore one area rather than push further into the Fjord.This way you truly can appreciate how beautiful arctic sunsets are. If you are super lucky like me, you will get to see whales surface every now and then as well as the odd curious seal.
My all time favourite tour! the Ilulissat Sunset Photography Ice Fjord Tour
Kayaking amongst Giants
Cruising around in a boat through the ice fjord is great, but if you want the traditional experience then it’s no better done than in a kayak. Kayaks were invented here in Greenland for means of hunting.
Leaving in the late afternoon my group geared up in some Arctic dry suits and boarded our kayaks nearby to the old historic town of Ilulissat. Kayaking from here we passed by several rolling blue icebergs and clear black ones. My guide explained the ways whales were hunted by Greenlandic folk in the old days this way.
Nearing the 60m tall bergs that are stuck in the fjord it felt other worldly, still and quiet. Listening to the ice shift and periodically crack was eerie but beautiful. This was easily one of the best kayaking experiences I have done, and to top it all off our guide brought a bottle of whiskey and chilled our drinks with some ancient glacier ice.
Hunting for Seals around Ilulissat
A favourite past time for the Inuit of Ilulissat is hunting seals. Seal meat is often consumed here, but for the greater purpose it is the main source of protein for their sled dogs. In the Arctic the more sled dogs you have the higher status you obtain!
I was lucky enough to tag along with a group of hunters. We left in the early frigid hours of the morning dotting in between icebergs peering out periodically from the warmth of the boat’s interior looking for the odd group of seals.
Every so often we would spot a seal and a volley of rifles would fire from the boat. Today was the crafty seals lucky day as it was an unsuccessful hunt, but the experience of being with these Arctic hunters was wonderful. To blow off some steam from the empty hunt we loaded the rifles and had some fun target practice trying to dismember some of the more phallic shaped icebergs!
Join me on my next hunting expedition in the Arctic Here! I will be heading to Uummannaq on dog sled!
Watching the Northern Lights in Ilulissat Ice Fjord
This is why so many come to the Arctic, for the chance to witness one of mother earth’s most spectacular phenomenons, the northern lights. In order to get a glimpse of this spectacular array of lights, you must wait until the sky is completely black. In late summer this wasn’t until about 11:00 pm.
When the sky was black, I followed the wooden hiking path on the north end of town which leads to the Ilulissat Ice Fjord. Nearing the end of the boardwalk I climbed one of the rocky outcrops to gain a view over the ice and mountains.
Shortly after setting up my camera the show began. Waves of green and red whipped across the sky so fast that it was difficult to capture a good photo. I never imagined that the northern lights would move this fast!
The lights continued for about 30 minutes and just as they mysteriously appeared, they vanished into the night sky. The contrast between the black mountains, reflecting icebergs and intensely coloured northern lights was spectacular, a sight that I will not easily forget.
Check out the Disko Bay Northern Lights Tour HERE
As the old saying goes “if you have been everywhere, there is always Greenland”. Guide to Greenland is my official partner company with Uncharted Backpacker. They arrange all my remote expeditions to the Arctic flawlessly! Check out their site for some amazing up and coming adventures!
There is almost no guide books out there! so hurry quick and don’t forget to pick up your Greenland Guide Book HERE from Uncharted Backpacker!