Day 1: Keflavik, Iceland / Tasiilaq, Greenland
Our representative meets you on arrival at Iceland’s Keflavik International Airport and accompanies you on the transfer to the domestic airport in nearby Reykjavik. Those who have arrived prior to Day 1 will depart with their Expedition Leader from the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina and transfer to the domestic airport. Here, the group will board a late-morning flight to Kulusuk, Greenland, two hours away by air. (We recommend arriving in Iceland 1-2 days prior to our departure to allow for any unexpected delays, and to explore a bit of this up-and-coming adventure destination.) From Kulusuk, we make a short, scenic transfer by helicopter to Ammassalik Island, landing in Tasiilaq, the small administrative center of East Greenland. Though it's just a 10-minute flight, it offers a preview of the magnificent scenery to come, with icebergs drifting below us and perhaps even a chance to spot a whale from the air.
Tasiilaq's charming collection of brightly painted wooden houses hugs King Oscar’s Bay, surrounded by pointed peaks iced with glaciers. The vibrant town of 2,000 is a hub for outdoor adventure, from hiking and kayaking in summer to dog sledding and glacier skiing in winter. Most of East Greenland is uninhabited, however, except for a handful of small subsistence hunting communities. Greenland's east coast is often called "the back side" by those on the west, where most of the population, its capital and institutions are located. East Greenland's people had no contact with the outside world till the turn of the 20th century, and that isolation has fostered a distinct and resilient culture. Our introduction to Greenland begins here where Arctic wilderness and traditional lifestyles meet. We convene at our hotel for lunch and a briefing on what to expect during our Arctic adventure. This evening we gather with our Expedition Leader(s) for our group welcome dinner.
Day 2: Tasiilaq—Whale Watching
Though the interior of Greenland is covered by an ice cap nearly two miles thick, a few habitable areas exist around the bays and islands along the coast. The region we visit enjoys a surprisingly mild climate in summer, earning it the nickname “Arctic Riviera.” Our exploration starts with a half-day whale-watching excursion in the open waters of the Greenland Sea. Traveling in an enclosed private motorboat, we cruise in search of fin, minke and humpback whales, and seals. The icebergs alone are worth the journey: these are ocean-going slabs of ice, some of which have been drifting for months or even years, driven down the coast by the strong southerly Greenland Current. Glaciologists believe that some have even come from northern Canada, hundreds of miles away. Once they reach the outer edge of Greenland's fjords, they collide with ice that has broken off the Greenland ice sheet to form gigantic composites, sometimes mingling with the brash ice to create vast, frozen mosaics.
We'll also explore the area around Tasiilaq on foot, hiking into the Valley of Flowers above the scenic bay that fronts the town. Bring your camera: the ice-clad gneiss and granite peaks provide a backdrop for a vibrant landscape of waterfalls and small lakes fringed by arctic wildflowers in season. Time permitting, we may also have a chance for a cultural encounter or two, plus a visit to Tasiilaq's small history museum.
Day 3: Tasiilaq / Base Camp Greenland
After breakfast, we depart via boat or helicopter to our exclusive wilderness Base Camp, located on the east side of Sermilik Fjord. Our destination is close to the small hamlet of Tinit, which we'll visit at some point during our stay. The village is one of the most scenic outposts in East Greenland, with a spectacular view of Sermilik Fjord, littered with huge icebergs, and the ice sheet beyond. Behind the town, glaciated peaks rise over a mile high, jutting up like sharp black teeth. Tinit is home to fewer than 100 hardy people crafting a subsistence fishing and hunting existence around challenging weather and constantly shifting ice conditions.
We'll keep an eye out for whales as we travel, as they are frequently seen in these waters when ice conditions permit. The area is filled with evidence of ancient habitation, including graves and ruins of old Inuit sod house foundations, and we find it an evocative place to learn more about Inuit history and lore. Reaching our destination at Base Camp Greenland, we find ourselves in one of the most remote places on Earth. After settling in to our deluxe private cabins, we sit down for coffee and refreshments. Later we’ll convene for an orientation to our environs, followed by dinner and a lecture that will further acquaint us with the remarkable natural history of the region. Through presentations and cultural visits during our stay, we learn about Greenland’s cultural heritage, natural history and aspects of modern life. Traditional Inuit identity is at the forefront in East Greenland more than most other places in Greenland, and this will be an opportunity for an authentic encounter with this vibrant, enduring culture that remains largely in harmony with nature.
Days 4–6: Base Camp Greenland—Exploring Sermilik Fjord
The landscape along Greenland’s isolated and rarely visited east coast is wild and magnificent. Great fjords indent the coastline, penetrating far into sheer-sided mountains capped by the world’s second-largest ice sheet and Sermilik Fjord is the mightiest of them all. Our base camp provides a safe and comfortable outpost from which to explore this vast expanse of wilderness that lies just below the Arctic Circle. Though we are profoundly secluded, the wider region is dotted with a few isolated villages where Greenlandic Inuit people practice subsistence lifestyles in this stunning yet uncompromising Arctic environment. In varied encounters, we learn about their culture, still based on fishing and hunting, and discover how they are retaining their traditions while adapting to contemporary life in the 21st century.
On Zodiac excursions we observe the rugged and ever-changing shoreline, navigating among a flotilla of icebergs in an array of wild shapes, some as big as buildings. We’ll look for whales and seals, both of which are present depending on ice conditions. Guided sea kayaking outings are also an option for exploring the waters around us. We spend plenty of time ashore, too, with walks and hikes for varying ability levels. Explore the mountainsides and wander near glaciers that wind down from the Greenland ice sheet. This huge ice mass—second in size only to Antarctica—stretches more than 1,500 miles from north to south, is more than 10,000 feet at its thickest point and covers 80 percent of the island. We learn about the crucial role it plays in regulating the earth’s climate, and see with our own eyes how rapidly it is being affected by climate change. Amid fields of Arctic cotton grass, we look for Arctic fox and enjoy birdlife, including eiders, loons and possibly peregrine falcons.
The long hours of summer daylight allow for extensive exploration. But ultimately it's time to retreat each evening to our base camp, where we enjoy excellent meals prepared by the camp chef. After dinner, we gather for interpretive presentations by our naturalist Expedition Leaders who share their extensive knowledge of Greenland's geology, glaciology and human history. And, though the sun gleams in the sky much of the night here near the Arctic Circle, a good night's sleep is in order to refuel for the next day's adventures. Given that our wilderness cabins have real beds with full bedding (no sleeping on the ground in tents for our guests!), you'll be sure to get it, wrapped in the profound silence of our wild surroundings. Guests on later-season departures may even have a chance to glimpse the northern lights, if the aurora is active in the darkening night sky.
Day 7: Base Camp Greenland / Kulusuk
This morning we bid farewell to Base Camp Greenland and make our way back to Kulusuk. Weather and ice conditions dictate which transportation mode we will take, but both offer spectacular views. By helicopter, we survey huge U-shaped valleys gouged by glaciers, beneath pointed peaks. By boat, we make our way through the imposing fjord system, keeping an eye out for whales and seals and marveling at the ever-shifting tableau of drifting ice. Once we arrive in Kulusuk, we check in to our hotel and enjoy a last chance to soak up the beauty of this stunning region. Celebrating an extraordinary adventure of discovery, wild beauty and camaraderie, we'll enjoy dinner on our last night together in Greenland.
Day 8: Kulusuk / Reykjavik
Though today is devoted to journeying back to the urban world, it is filled with magnificent Arctic scenery on view from the air. We meet our plane for the return flight to Reykjavik's domestic airport. On arrival, we transfer to our hotel near the harbor and enjoy a farewell dinner in downtown Reykjavik.
Day 9: Reykjavik / Keflavik / Depart
This morning a transfer is included to Keflavik airport for your departing international flight.
Please Note: This itinerary is meant as a guideline and can change due to weather and ice conditions. On some occasions, adverse conditions may require us to deviate from our intended itinerary, in which case we will provide the best available alternative. And we’ll make a great adventure of it!
Physical Rating: Moderate