West Greenland Cruise via Iceland

Cruise West Greenland: A region steeped in ancient indigenous traditions

By Peter Sacco

Aboard the MS Sarfaq Ittuk, cruising in West Greenland.
Aboard the MS Sarfaq Ittuk, cruising in West Greenland.

Greenland is one of the most stunning, rugged and inspirational travel destinations on Earth, and though parts of the country do enjoy a steady travel industry, it is an undeniably remote location. With a sled-dog population that rivals its human occupancy,
Greenland offers splendid glaciers, the sublime aurora borealis and a fascinating cultural experience, along with features comparable to other world-class travel destinations.

An enthralling and mystical history shrouded in shamanism and ritual sacrifice? Check.

Scenery worthy of a National Geographic montage? Check.

A variety of wild excursions that will keep the heartiest adventure transfixed for months? Check plus.

“For people who have been everywhere, Greenland is about as wild and isolated as you can get without completely abandoning civilization,” Says Max Johnson, Greenland enthusiast and President, and Owner of the Great Canadian Travel Company.

“Greenland is an amazing country,” says Johnson, “Most of us just fly overhead while sipping a glass of wine on our way to Europe, but as a destination it offers pretty much everything you could ask for. Stunning scenery, a great history, awesome architecture; you name it and you can find it in Greenland.” As President of the Great Canadian Travel Company, Max Johnson has sailed with the M/S Sarfaq Ittuk a multitude of times, and is a frequent visitor to Greenland.

Ferry in Disko Bay, Greenland.
Ferry in Disko Bay, Greenland.

The Opportunity of a Lifetime

As travelers, we consider ourselves free spirits. We like to think that, given the right opportunity, we will drop everything, pack the bare essentials, and hit the ground running.

This summer, The Great Canadian Travel Company will challenge our resolve.

This innovative tourism and adventure outfitter will offer The Classic Greenland Coastal Voyage, a 10-day, 9-night excursion that will bear wayfarers from enchanting Reykjavik, Iceland, on to Greenland and up the western coast.

From Sea of Ice to Shining Sea of Ice

The adventure begins with your arrival in Reykjavik, Iceland, where you spend two nights at one of the Center Hotels, all of which offer clean comfortable rooms and a welcoming local atmosphere.

While in Reykjavik, a full day Golden Circle tour will be offered. This popular tourist expedition loops past Iceland’s three most iconic spectacles: rumbling Gullfoss Falls, the ancient parliamentary site of Thingvellir, and the spectacular hot springs at Geyser, before heading back into Reykjavik for the night.

Hiking in West Greenland.
Hiking in West Greenland.

“The Golden Circle Tour is just an absolute must,” says Johnson, “I’m talking about witnessing the best of natural Iceland, which is truly stunning, and then being back in Reykjavik in time for dinner. Gullfoss is really something else, the aura of the falls just leaves people speechless.”

One of the world’s most fabulous waterfalls is displayed at Gullfoss, where the Hvita River tumbles over 100 feet into a deep gorge, leaving the surrounding plains shrouded in mist.

The “Parliamentary Plains” at Thingvellir were in use for nearly 1,000 years, and gave birth to the longest still-standing parliamentary institution in history.

The last stop along the Golden Circle Tour brings you to Geyser. These dramatic hot springs bubble over to shoot hundreds of feet into the air.

The vibrant culture of Reykjavik itself is not to be overlooked. The capital and largest city in Iceland, Reykjavik boasts many fine museums, art galleries, and restaurants.

For your fix on history, visit the Reykjavik Maritime Museum, a modern waterfront building housing a plethora of Ancient Icelandic maritime artifacts. With a present, past and future deeply anchored in the icy ocean, the enthusiastic workers at this museum will be more than happy to show you around

On to Greenland

Fish is what sled dogs are fed in Greenland.
Fish is what sled dogs are fed in Greenland.

Having experienced the best of Iceland, it is now time to witness the wonders of the Greenlandic Coast!

Your flight from Reykjavik will land you in Ilulissat, Greenland; the third largest city in the country, it boasts a modest population of nearly 5000 people. Translated directly from the Greenlandic word for “icebergs”, Ilulissat is Greenland’s most popular tourist destination on account of its close proximity to the spectacular Ilulissat Ice fjord.

Clinging precariously to the rooftop of the world, Ilulissat is a variant adventure kingdom. Here, north of the Arctic Circle, you will spend three days exploring the dazzling terrain around Disko Bay.

Whale and wildlife watching is a popular pursuit, as is deep-sea arctic fishing. A helicopter tour of the nearby ice cap is available, offering breathtaking aerial views and a surreal perspective of the coast.

Take advantage of an optional full-day, guided excursion to near-by Eqi glacier. Here, the gears of climate change grind away before your very eyes; watch as tons of ice break from the glacier to plummet hundreds of feet into the icy waters below. Needless to say, very few people are given the opportunity to get up close and personal with a calving glacier in the Arctic Circle.

“It is the single most prolific calving glacier in the world,” says Johnson, “Every day icebergs equal to the size of Manhattan break off of the main glacier.”

The Voyage is priced at $3659 per person, double occupancy, and includes round trip airfare between Iceland and Greenland, 3 nights accommodation with breakfast in Reykjavik and Ilulissat, Greenland, one night’s accommodation with breakfast in Nuuk, Greenland, arrival transfer, and one local tour in Iceland. It also includes accommodations aboard the M/S Sarfaq Ittuk in a twin berth cabin while you sail along Greenland’s Western shore.

This once-in-a-life-time opportunity will allow adventurers an unprecedented view into traditional Greenlandic village life while impressing upon all the rugged beauty of this unforgiving coastline.

Throughout June, July and August, travelers will have 12 opportunities to embark on the Classic Greenland Coastal Voyage.

Inuits in West Greenland.
Inuits in West Greenland.

Perhaps just as compelling as Eqi Glacier is Disko Bay’s close proximity to several remote “old world” Greenlandic villages and settlements. Here people live just as they have for centuries, coexisting seamlessly with the harsh climate and the sea. Things have changed slowly for these villagers, if at all, and their secluded outposts are shrouded in mysticism and ancient tradition.

Indigenous Greenlandic culture can be witnessed here untainted by the outside world. Having beheld the simple but passionate existence of the indigenous people, you’ll hike back to civilization feeling humbled and appreciative.

These activities can be arranged through your hotel or by speaking with the staff provided by the Great Canadian Travel Company. Tourism is Ilulissat’s primary industry, and if all else fails information is readily available at the Ilulissat Tourist Information building in town.

All Aboard The M/S Sarfaq Ittuk!

After your stay in Ilulissat, Its time to embark aboard the M/S Sarfaq Ittuk; get cozy, this craft will be your home for the next 36 hours.

A cruise ship? Not quite. For the local people living in isolation along the Western Coast, the M/S Sarfaq Ittuk doubles as a necessary means of public transportation. The 249-passenger ship provides a vital link to civilization for many of the towns and villages that pepper Greenland’s sparsely populated West Coast.

Aboard the M/S Sarfaq Ittuk, you will get the opportunity to mingle with local villagers as well as other international travelers touring this remote land. The ship’s on-board restaurant and lounge serves good, hearty food in a humble environment reflective of the ships dual purposes.

“The beauty of the M/S Sarfaq Ittuk is the role it plays in the everyday lives of the local people.” says Johnson, “This ship is real life for them; what better way to immerse yourself in the local culture?”

Destined for the nation’s capitol, Nuuk, the M/S Sarfaq Ittuk will stop at several small coastal hamlets along the way.

Already glued to the rail in awe of the staggering cliffs and ice-capped spires, you will jump at the opportunity to disembark and explore the tiny cultural havens of Aasiat, Manitsoq, and Sisimiut.

All three villages offer a glimpse into the daily life of rural Greenlanders. Listen as locals heatedly debate a proposed aluminum smelting plant in Manitsoq, or look on as local fishermen in Sisimiut weave through the icebergs in pursuit of seals and walruses. This is an opportunity to indulge in life’s simplest, and often most forgotten, pleasures; the villagers here live life in the slow lane, concerned only with the most basic needs of existence.

View from the ship's desk.
View from the ship’s desk.

Homeward Bound

Morning will find you floating gently in the harbor outside of Nuuk. From here you will transfer to you’re hotel, and have the day to explore the city.

Nuuk hosts a variety of activities for tourists, which comprise an increasing amount of the local economy. Whale watching and tours of the ice fjords can all be arranged in town at a variety of outfitters.

If you’re interested in ending you’re trip on an adventurous note, it might be worth you’re while to visit the Nuuk Tourist Office for a full list of potential outings.

In town, the Greenland National Museum retains an extensive collection of art and archeological artifacts, and is a good place to garner information about near by ruins and graveyards.

The following day you will fly to Reykjavik, where you will connect to your homeward flight.

Reservations and additional information is available from The Great Canadian Travel Company, 800-661-3830, www.greatcanadiantravelcompany.com

Peter Sacco

Peter Sacco is an editorial assistant at GoNOMAD.

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