Icebergs the size of skyscrapers drifting across blue waters, beautiful skies that shift unimaginable colours throughout the day, and an Arctic settlement filled with Inuit cultural heritage. This is Ilulissat Greenland, one of the most spectacular destinations on the planet. Although it truly is amazing, it’s changing at a rapid pace. Modernisation is creeping in; climate change is altering the face of the glaciers and land. Like elsewhere in the Arctic the future is uncertain, but the time to visit the UNESCO village of Ilulissat or Greenland for that matter is now.
Getting to Ilulissat
Most come here by plane as there are no roads to get here. Ilulissat’s tiny airstrip only allows prop planes to land here, meaning planes are small and seats are limited. This also means flights are very expensive.
The alternative is to hop aboard the AUL Passenger Ship that departs weekly from Greenland’s Capital, Nuuk. The ship makes a few stops in remote settlements making the journey to Ilulissat more special. This is how I arrived to Ilulissat and I highly recommend it as the coastal scenery is simply put, spectacular.
UNESCO Ilulissat Town
The UNESCO town of Ilulissat is a sleepy settlement located in the Arctic Circles Disko Bay. It’s also located beside one of the world’s fastest moving and largest ice fjords. This ice fjord covers the bay in front of Ilulissat town with gargantuan icebergs making an impressive sight.
Like most towns in Greenland, Ilulissat does not boast any major sights. You will however see the hunters carrying a reindeer carcass on their backs through town, howling sled dogs waiting for their next seal meal, the multicoloured weathered houses seemingly placed wherever, a historic town centre and the stunning natural scenery. Ilulissat itself is a sight to be seen.
In Ilulissat I stayed at the Blue Trail Guesthouse. Its located just outside the main town making it ideal for those who really want to immerse themselves in the Arctic wilderness. It also had great rooms and a fully equipped kitchen, not to mention its located right at the trail head of the epic Blue Trail Hike. Highly Recommend staying here!
Kayaking Amongst Giants on the Ilulissat Ice Fjord
Kayaking was invented here. Inuit Hunters traditionally made Kayaks from driftwood that floated here from Canada. They created the Kayak for exploration, but its main purpose was to hunt whales.
These days a company called PGI is keeping the kayak traditional alive by taking travelers kayaking into the Inuit hunting waters of the Ilulissat Ice fjord.
Leaving Ilulissat town you paddle your way past bright blue and translucent Icebergs while the odd curious seal pops up out of the water to see you. If you’re lucky you may see a whale as well!
Nearing the foot of the massive icebergs that are stuck because of their size you really appreciate how big the icebergs are here. I recommended getting a bag to keep your gear dry!
In Search of Whales in Disko Bay
Because of the rich mineral channels from the Ilulissat Ice fjord the krill and plankton life flourishes. This also attracts massive humpback whales.
Hopping aboard a whale tour with great Greenland from town you will be whisked away sailing in between the Icebergs of the Ilulissat Icefjord. It takes a skilled captain to be able to navigate through this ice flow as it changes every day.
South of the Ice fjord into Disko Bay, our boat found a crevasse between two large icebergs where multiple families of whales were feeding. The whales emerged one by one spouting water into the air and showing their massive size. I have never seen so many whales before!
Inuit Cuisine in Ilulissat
Inuit “Cuisine” traditionally consisted of mainly boiled or fire grilled wild meat. Common meals included reindeer, muskox, seal and the favourites being whales especially the skin of Narwhal or Beluga.
Ilulissat is a scene for a more modern take Inuit Cuisine. Taking traditional meats and local herbs with European cooking methods to create some pretty damn good dishes.
Located on a stunningly scenic hill overlooking the town, Hotel Arctic combines local ingredients and meats from around Greenland to create artistic, well-plated dishes.
I had the smoked trout from a nearby river for an appetiser and the seared lamb from Southern Greenland as the main.
The Tapas restaurant in Ilulissat takes only the freshest Ingredients from local hunters and stores. The master chef combines these to create a smorgasbord of small tapas so that you can sample all the fruits of Greenland.
Although I tried many of the tapas dishes my favourites included the pulled reindeer, Narwhal skin, wild mushrooms with arctic thyme and Mink whale.
Hunting for Seals in Disko Bay
Seal meat is a huge industry in Ilulissat. Hunting regulations in Greenland control the number of whales you can hunt, but with an endless surplus of wild seals, locals hunt them very often.
The meat is widely eaten amongst people here, but most Inuit will tell that the meat is mostly for their sled dogs. Sled dogs require a very heavy calorie-based diet and seal meat is the perfect source of protein!
Going out for a hunt with local Inuit’s is an exhilarating experience. As the boat slowly navigates through the ice the hunters sit on the front of the boat silently waiting with their rifle. Once a seal pops out from the water they all fire at once! When a seal is killed the hunter cuts it up on top of a sturdy iceberg.
Witnessing the Aurora in Ilulissat
Like in many places in the Arctic, when the sun sets and the sky becomes completely dark, the natural phenomenon begins. The Aurora Borealis lights up the sky with whipping trails of green and sometimes even red.
Here in Ilulissat, the Aurora cannot just be amazing, but seeing it from the mountains that overlook the Ilulissat Ice Fjord can provide an incredible vantage point. As the Aurora dances overhead, it lights up the white giant icebergs and dark blue reflecting sea. The nearby mountains loom in the distance and sled dogs howl. It’s a magical experience that can happen almost every clear night!
Guide to Greenland
Traveling in Greenland requires a lot of connections. Tourism has developed in some parts, but if you truly want to connect with the countries people, culture, and natural sights you will need help. Who better than a locally run company right in Greenland! Yes, Guide to Greenland has hundreds of day trips that will get you right in the wilds of Greenland with the locals. Check them out HERE!