ONE of the most important things about Greenland is that most areas outside the towns have no Internet. If you load up with apps, it pays to use apps that will work offline.
Useful apps for general Greenland navigation and wayfinding include maps.me, which works offline.
There are a number of apps on the Apple and Google app stores that you can bring up just by entering ‘Greenland’. There is an information technology platform called Greenland, so you need to avoid those ones! One way to identify the ones that are about the physical place called Greenland is that they often bear the distinctive red and white Greenlandic flag, which looks like this:
Titles include Greenland, Greenland Travel and Explore, Greenland Maps and Direction, Greenland Travel Apps and Search Hotels Price Greenland. As noted, the apps that will run offline will be the most useful. A lot of these don’t get many reviews, so be sure to leave some!
When it comes to hiking in Greenland, the AllTrails app also has a great amount of detail on Greenland’s hiking trails, and on its regions as well. AllTrails Pro allows offline downloads.
As to how you get to Greenland, you either get there by cruise ship, or by plane from Iceland or Denmark. Air Greenland flies directly from Denmark. IcelandAir flies to Iceland from a number of destinations. You can then carry on to Greenland via Air Greenland and AirIceland.
The indigenous Inuit language Kalaallisut is the most widely spoken language, though many people also speak Danish and English. It is not difficult for an English-speaker to get around, at least so long as you stick to the towns and the touristy parts of the country.
There are few roads, but many airports, in Greenland. The biggest airport in Greenland, Kangerlussuaq, is actually in an out of the way place, though handy if you are embarking on the Arctic Circle Trail, which is one of the best known of several major hiking trails in Greenland. (For more on hiking trails, see Chapter 8.)
The other airport capable of handling large aircraft is Narsarsuaq, closer to centres of population in the south. In general, as there are so many airports and external and internal route, it pays to coordinate your activities with flights served by Air Greenland and AirIceland.
Both of these airports were built by the Americans in World War II, Kangerlussuaq in 1941 and Narsarsuaq in 1942. At that time, Greenland had become an American protectorate in order to keep the Nazis from landing on the island. After World War II, Greenland reverted to Danish control, eventually gaining autonomy but never becoming fully independent.
Though Narsarsuaq and Kangerlussuaq are now civilian airports, the island continues to host an important American facility called Thule Air Base, which was was founded in the early 1950s in Greenland’s remote far north at a spot known as Pituffik in Greenlandic. Thule is the old colonial Danish name for the locality, a name that survives in the name of the American air base though it is not otherwise officially used in Greenland anymore.
Only 947 miles or 1,515 km from the North Pole, Thule/Pituffik is definitely off the beaten tourist track, but Air Greenland does fly there occasionally in order to serve local indigenous communities, the base itself, and the odd occasional scientist or explorer. You can ride on one of the flights to Thule, though most people not associated with the base or with the local community will need a permit to get off the plane. Air Greenland’s website has a page which deals with Thule base requirements.
The most active tourist destinations in Greenland, including the most popular hiking trails, are all in the south-west, which is the mildest part of the island, a region where the icecap is a long way inland in these parts, up to 150 km inland in places Rocks, meadows and even small areas of forest are thus able to warm up during long summer days to a reasonable temperature, sometimes even into the mid-twenties. Even the winters are mild by Arctic standards most of the time, at least so long as you are on the coast.
There is also another, perhaps more adventurous tourist destination on the south-east coast called Tasiilaq, served by the nearby Kulusuk Airport, which you get to by flying north-eastward across the icecap from Nuuk or, alternatively, by flying westward across the so-called Denmark or Greenland Strait from Reykjavík, Iceland.
(You can fly nonstop from Reykjavík to Nuuk, as well.)
From Tasiilaq, which has a population of about two thousand, it is possible to do maritime activities such as whale watching and kayaking, and also to go climbing and ice-cave exploring in the nearby Schweizerland region, also known as the Schweizerland Alps, which tower up to 3,383 metres (11,099 feet) at Mount Forel. The name has Swiss connotations, but of course the landscape is a lot harsher than at equivalent altitudes in Switzerland.
The ice cap is very close to the sea at Tasiilaq; which has an especially harsh climate as a result, including the piteraq (‘that which attacks you’), a wind of supercooled and heavy air that plunges from the roof of icecap with extreme speed by the time it gets to Tasiilaq (up to 360 km/h or 200 mph) and bearing literally icy temperatures as well.
Common in East Greenland and another reason why most Greenlanders live in the west, the piteraq is technically known as a katabatic wind, a type of wind that is often visible as a sort of foggy waterfall of cold air descending down a mountainside, very much like the sort of thing you see if you leave the fridge door open on a humid day. Katabatic winds are common in mountain country, but usually not so extreme as in east Greenland. The only other place where such ultra-violent katabatic winds are encountered is Antarctica. So, Tasiilaq is for hardy souls.
Perhaps more intrepid still, further north on the east coast, is Scoresbysund, meaning Scoresby Sound, called the Kangertittivaq in Greenlandic. This is the world’s largest system of branched fiords, penetrating inland by as much as 350 kilometres or 200 miles, in round and approximate terms, from the open sea. If the fiords of New Zealand’s otherwise famous Fiordland National Park were that big, they would entirely cut the southern half of the South Island into a group of smaller islands!
There are many tour operators in Greenland, though it is hard to get a comprehensive list on one page. You can go on tours to places such as Scoresbysund, along with trips to other remote areas including the Schweizerland Alps, as well as trips up the south-west coast which include cruises on the Sarfaq Ittuk, a ferry that unites the communities of the south-west coast from Narsaq in the south to Ilulissat in the north, from which you can go even further on private tours to places such as Disko Island and onto the icecap.
But you don’t have to be on an organised tour to board the Sarfaq Ittuk, which is operated as a public service. I sailed on the Sarfaq Ittuk on my own, and I talk all about that in Chapter Twelve.
The island’s one national park is in the north-east, namely, North-East Greenland National Park. However, it seems that this area is so remote that the only people who go there are scientists.
Unless you are travelling at the height of summer, you might also get to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). You can get apps that will tell you whether the Northern Lights are active and even bring up an alert so that you get up to see them. These include Northern Lights Aurora Forecast, My Aurora Forecast and Aurora Service Europe.
The emergency number in Greenland is 112.
Useful websites include the official tourism site, visitgreenland.com
Also useful is guidetogreenland.com
Most of the population has now been vaccinated against Covid-19, and tourism is starting up again as of the time of writing (September 2021).
When it comes to medical matters, you must have proper travel health insurance.
Apart from that, my loyal travel companion was my medical kit, which along with sticking plasters, bandages and scissors contained the diarrhoea stopper loperamide, some ciprofloxacin antibiotics, packets of Gastrolyte rehydration solution and Tramadol, Tiger Balm, Vaseline for dry skin, tea tree oil, iodine and bandages, and, finally, plain old paracetamol. Not exactly a romantic set-up, but realistic, nonetheless.
And also, be up to date with vaccinations before you go, travel insurance of every kind, and travel advisories.
For more, see:
Go Greenland is available on this website, a-maverick.com.
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