Kulusuk: Sneaking Into Greenland

Over the last decade, Greenland has opened up to increasing numbers of tourists. The Danish territory, with new powers of political autonomy as of 2009, inspires adventurous travelers with its extreme weather and dramatic geographies. Greenland is also incredibly expensive to visit, as there are no roads connecting towns and settlements along the coast. To get from town to town, one must either fly very pricey Air Greenland or travel by boat.

The easiest and least expensive way to visit Greenland is to book a day tour from Iceland to the Eastern Greenlandic island of Kulusuk, which is a 110-minute flight from Reykjavík‘s domestic airport. The day trip is not cheap. It runs €533 ($654) though August 20, and from August 21 through September 8 it is priced at €477 ($585). The day trip gives participants a guide-accompanied walking tour from the airport to the village, about an hour of free time wandering around the village, a tour of the village church, a brief discussion of Greenland and a viewing of a folk dance performed by a Greenlandic man, translated by the guide. The tour itself lasts around five hours.

The tour finishes up with a boat ride through an iceberg-laden bay back to a bit of shoreline adjacent to the airport. This boat ride, an inarguable highlight, costs an extra 150 DKK ($25).

The tour guide is an Icelandic man who’s lived in Greenland on and off for years. At the start of the tour, he gestured toward the glaciers and peaks across from the airport and told us that there were countless mountains and lakes in Greenland that had neither name nor number. Greenland is the world’s 12th largest territory, and the guide’s teaser of an introduction hit home just how vast a place Greenland is. The guide also provided information about Greenlandic life and culture. To my neophyte ears, his summaries struck me from time to time as a bit too absolute for inclusion in such a brief tour.

We made our way slowly to the village of Kulusuk. With around 300 inhabitants, the village is a small yet frankly fascinating place. There are brightly colored houses, a supermarket stocked with Danish goods, a post office and a church. The terrain is rocky. A picnic table at the top of a hill within the village permits a gorgeous panorama, which includes views of enormous icebergs. There is also a souvenir shop on the island, manned during my visit by the son of the tour guide. Villagers mostly leave visitors alone, though a few salutations were exchanged.

The tour is offered from early June through early September through Air Iceland. Though expensive, I found it to be worthwhile as a very basic introduction to Greenland. At the same time, I concluded the tour wanting more information about Greenlandic life and culture and craving more opportunities for exposure and immersion. By the time the Air Iceland plane had landed back in Reykjavík I had already plotted a visit to capital Nuuk for a blast of “urban” Greenlandic life.

For passport stamp collectors, this day trip is a special joy. Though there is no official passport control between Iceland and Greenland, vanity entry and exit stamps are offered free of charge to passengers.

[Images: Alex Robertson Textor]