Greenland Travel Articles
Explore the World’s Largest Island on a Greenland Cruise!
A Greenland cruise might seem like a surprising travel destination, but tours to the largest island in the world are steadily increasing as Greenland opens its doors to visitors who have nothing but praise and awe to share about their experiences in this artic island. Greenland’s name is a little deceiving; eighty one percent of the island’s surface area is covered with ice known as the Greenlandic cap, and nearly all Greenlanders live along the fjords in the southwest due to its milder climate. Descended mostly from the Inuit culture or a Scandinavian culture, the population of approximately 50,000 predominantly speaks the Greenlandic language. A minority of migrants speaks Danish.
Historically the island has been geographically and culturally an Arctic nation, although strong ties were forged with Europe when the island was established as a Norwegian Crown Colony in the 11th century. Sovereignty over the land was transferred to Denmark in 1814, and self-rule was granted in 1979. Queen Margrethe II of Denmark remains the head of state; a parliamentary democracy forms the core of the government within Denmark’s constitutional monarchy.
The same harsh weather that gives Greenland its unique beauty, also make survival for the island’s inhabitants challenging. But the Inuit have been able to prosper in the natural environment, with a traditional hunting culture that has proven successful for centuries. New hunting quotas, however, are threatening the traditional Inuit way of life in the northern Thule region – many have had to sacrifice elements of their culture to find cash-paying jobs. Only thirteen species of mammals make Greenland their home, and only six of those are land animals. Home to the largest national park in the world, it is a rare treat for the few travelers on a Greenland cruise who are allowed to explore the small strip of gravel that physically marks the North Pole. This is the farthest northern piece of land known to mankind.
The sheer remoteness and isolation of the island helps preserve Greenland as a land of mystery. Greenland has a challenging artic climate, but it offers vast tundra, glistening columns of ice and glaciers tempt trekkers and adventurous travelers to come tour the island and explore its natural beauty.
Greenland’s History: Ancient to Modern
The unique artic environment that makes Greenland travel so celebrated has also proven a challenge for both historic and modern-day Greenlanders. The tale of Greenland’s history is dotted with the reoccurring theme of incredible strength and endurance of its inhabitants, and their remarkable ability to turn an artic climate into their home. Unlike the majority of developing nations, Greenland’s ancient inhabitants were less concerned with conquering or protecting the large island, but rather concentrated their energies on survival. While there is still speculation as to the first people who made this region their home, the majority believes that the island’s first civilization appeared on Greenland roughly 5,000 years ago. They were made up of two tribes of a Paleo-Eskimo culture. Little is known about these first inhabitants. The Saqqaq tribe followed, leaving behind a great deal of artifacts. The Saqqaq would eventually die out for reasons unknown.
In the 10th century, Greenland experienced the arrival of its most influential cultures: the Thule. These people were respectively sophisticated and introduced Greenland to two of its most instrumental survival tools, the kayak and the dogsled. During Greenland travel today, visitors can still see strong influence from the Thule culture; the modern-day Greenlandic Inuit people are the offspring of the original Thule civilization, making them the most successful population to inhabit the island.
The European culture did not make its way to Greenland until the year 982 when Eric the Red, a legendary Viking, was exiled from Iceland as punishment for murder. He journeyed with his family and slaves in search of the land rumored to be across the oceans. After settling two colonies along the southwest coast of the island, he named the place Grænland or Greenland in order to attract more people to come settle there. The fjords of the south were lush and had a warmer climate than you will experience on a tour of the island today. The warmer climate allowed for successful farming and hunting. The settlements appear to have coexisted peacefully with the Inuit, who were beginning to migrate south around 1200. In 1261, Greenland officially became part of the Kingdom of Norway, which in turn entered into a union with Denmark in 1397. For 500 years the colonies endured, but then suddently vanished. Famine or the effects of the Little Ice Age, and even the possibility of a massacre by the Thule or pirates have all been speculations of their disappearance.
Denmark-Norway reasserted claims to the colony in 1721. Then in 1814 the Treaty of Kiel placed the island under the possession of Denmark. Norway tried to make claim based on the original establishment by the Icelandic colonists, but lost in court in 1953 officially giving control to Denmark. Although they were made an equal part of the Kingdom of Denmark, the Greenlandic people still balked at being under Denmark control. Twenty years later, Greenlanders gained independent rule save foreign affairs which would remain Denmark’s responsibility. Greenland later joined the European Union, only to withdraw in 1985 due to some stringent fishing quotas. Greenland’s modern-day politics and energies have widely been influenced by the whaling industry.
One environmental feature you are sure to witness during your Greenland travel is the island’s adundance of ice. Future plans are afoot to tap this resource. Current estimates attribute Greenland to containing one fifth the world’s drinkable water, which could possibly bring a more stable economic venture to the small population.
Learn about Local Culture on a Greenland Cruise
Descendants from the Inuit and Viking explorers, the Greenlandic people have maintained a predominantly hunters’ world. Hunting is a revered profession, and most resident’s still hunt part-time to supplement their diets. Several dozen in the more northern Thule region hunt full-time to support their families. During your Greenland cruise you will also notice that many Inuits ice fish, and the regional annual dog-sled races enjoy participation by nearly every team available. These traditional elements of Greenland have attracted travel to their island - contests such as dog-racing, hiking, and cross-country racing invite adventurous foreigners to the island.
In order to sustain a hunting way of life, it has become necessary for at least one family member to hold a cash economy job in order to pay for things like electricity and other amenities. Traditional foods such as seal, walrus, narwhale, and caribou are regular main courses in the northern regions, and many hunters still wear hand-made polar bear skins to stay warm. Many northern region hunters boast world-class skill with a kayak and in harpooning. As valued as this way of life is, the hunting profession is under severe strain due to pressure from environmental groups and new hunting regulations. Hunters in the region say it is very difficult now to survive on the quotas that have been established, especially due to the decline in the sealskin business; this market collapsed due to pressure from environmental groups. It is a difficult situation. While on one hand no one wants to upset or eliminate the traditional cultures of the Intuit, but it is equally important to protect the rare and endangered wildlife in the region. No one would dispute that Greenland’s treasures – both its cultures and its wildlife – are rarities well worth protecting.
During your Greenland cruise you will find that the people of the island are a modern people, enjoying a suburbia lifestyle. While there are certainly a number of Greenlanders practicing the ways of their ancestors – sporting superb hunting skills – but the traditional way of hunting have meshed with modern-day methods, using bullets and motorboats to aid in the hobby. Traditional dancing and music mark special occasions, but in everyday life, most dress according to modern day trends. Travel to the Greenland and you will hear the locals speaking English and Danish.
Founded on a way of life sustained by hunting and fishing, Greenland cuisine consists largely of wild game, fish, and whale. Produce is not very prominent, as the land does not provide the opportunity for commercial harvesting. On a trip to Greenland you will have plenty of chances to try the local dried cod, cubes of whale skin, dried seal and reindeer meat. These are fairly typical entrees served usually with condiments and desserts. Most small towns do not have cafés or restaurants available, but larger towns tend to offer more choices for dining out. Self-catering is very common for travelers on the Greenland tour. You will find multiple opportunities to purchase fresh fish or sea birds from local fisherman simply by wandering down to the waterfront. A supermarket or shop might also have a good selection of local meat and fish. Almost every town also has what is known as a "Brædtet", or a market place for hunters and fishermen. Typical selections at these markets include geese, ducks, other sea birds, arctic char, wolf fish, red fish, cod, halibut, reindeer, musk oxen, and lamb. Other larger marine options may include seal meat, minke whale, fin whale, and other narwhale. It may be difficult to decide what market would be the most appropriate to visit during your travels, dependent on your desires. Locals tend to have excellent recommendations as to finding the best cuisine opportunities in the area.
Geography Discover on a Greenland Tour
Greenland is the world’s largest island. It has about 25,000 miles of coastline to explore during a tour of the region, or roughly the distance of the Earth’s circumference at the Equator. Almost 81% of the island is ice-capped (covered by the Greenland ice sheet), making it practically uninhabitable in most of the region excluding the narrow, mountainous, rocky coast. Many travelers are surprised to learn that Greenland is roughly equal to three times the size of Texas. Towns and settlements are found only along the coastlines, with the majority along the west coast. The northern part of Greenland, or Peary Land, is not covered by an ice sheet; the air is too dry to produce the necessary precipitation. Scientists have calculated that if the Greenland ice sheet were to melt completely, then sea levels would rise more than 23 feet and Greenland would most likely become an archipelago. The highest elevation point on Greenland is Gunnbjom at 12,139 ft.
When visiting Greenland, you can easily see the Danish influence on the island. But while still under Danish rule, Greenland became a self-governing administrative division of Denmark in 1979. The Head of State is the Danish Monarch, Margrethe II, but the Danish government appoints a High Commissioner over Greenland to represent the Danish government and monarchy. If you travel to Greenland today the current High Commissioner is Soren Muller. Greenland has a thirty-one member elected unicameral parliament, led by the Prime Minister who is generally the leader of the majority party in the Parliament. The prime minister is elected to office by the parliament; Greenland’s current prime minister is Hans Enoksen. Greenland has a number of political parties that participate in government, the most popular of which are Siumut, Demokratiit, Inuit Ataqatigiit, and Atassut. The legal system operates according to the Danish laws, and Denmark is responsible for all foreign affairs, but includes Greenland’s participation in such matters. A High Court resides over matters in Greenland. The highest court authority is the Supreme Court in Copenhagen.
Greenland’s Artic Weather
Covered almost entirely by an ice sheet, Greenland summers afford residents the opportunity to enjoy a little bit of sun and some warmer temperatures, reaching the upper 60s. The summer months are the most obvious time to tour the island. While the sudden chill makes wearing a jacket in summer a necessity, residents are able to get outside and enjoy the nice weather. Winter brings another picture – a colder one – with temperatures dropping to -20°F in the north and routinely lingering around 5°F in the south. Up north, in the Arctic Circle, the sun disappears altogether for a time during winter. The weather in Greenland can be extremely unpredictable given the different topography of the area. Low pressures from the southwest combined with high polar pressures in the northeast make for instable conditions that can change suddenly. If you are taking a Greenland trip, be sure to be adequately prepared for all types of weather. Trekkers especially should never set out without proper communications equipment; a sunny afternoon can quickly turn into a brilliant blizzard.
Consisting of a harsh and cold terrain and climate, few species of wildlife are found in Greenland. However, the animals found in the region are very unusual and a treasure to witness in their natural habitat. Many people decide to take a Greenland tour specifically for the unique wildlife opportunities. In all, eighty-four species of birds regularly visit the area, and in the high Arctic, this number reduces to forty-seven. A limited thirteen species of mammals inhabit the island, and only six of these are land animals: lemming, ermine, Arctic hare, wolf, Arctic fox, and musk ox. The other seven – polar bear, narwhale, ringed seal, bearded seal, bow whale, hooded seal, and walrus – are marine mammals living on the ice and in the sea.
The most dominant “wildlife” seen in Greenland are the dogs kept in the towns by people needing dogsled teams to get around in winter. These animals are not domesticated pets as some may presume, but rather are very territorial and protective of their homes. During a tour of Greenland you are also likely to come across musk oxen. These large mammals may seem docile from afar, but the oxen are temperamental creatures and have been known to charge with little warning. For this reason in the Kangerlussuaq area, Norwegian wildlife authorities have set a 400-meter danger zone around the musk oxen. Polar bears are also wild animals that should be treated with great caution, however the likelihood of coming across one is extremely rare. The polar bear is mainly a seal hunter, residing predominantly along the eastern coasts where few settlements are found. For the most part, polar bears live on the ice, and can be spotted annually drifting down to the southern tip of Greenland on a broken off ice shelf. To view a polar bear, you should make special arrangements during your Greenland tour to visit the north or in the east at a particular time of year. But the chances of spotting these elusive and rare animals is exceptional. Whale watching is a popular option. Some seasons offer better opportunities than others to witness these large marine mammals.