Vacation in Lights: 10 Days in Western Greenland

Fabia and John Mahoney on a boat tour of Greenland's Ilulissat Icefjord in August 2008.
Fabia and John Mahoney on a boat tour of Greenland's Ilulissat Icefjord in August 2008. (Mahoney Family)
Wednesday, July 22, 2009; 3:16 PM

Fabia Mahoney of Bethesda is the latest contributor to Your Vacation in Lights, in which we invite Travel section readers to dish about their trips. It's a big, confusing travel world out there, and you can help your fellow travelers navigate it. You won't win a million dollars if your story is featured -- in fact, you won't win anything but the thanks and admiration of our readers. To file your own trip report, see the fine print below.

THE TRIP: 10 days in western Greenland.

WHO: My husband, John, and me.

WHEN: July 30 to Aug. 10, 2008.

WHY: We'd been to Iceland twice and on one trip had flown to Kulusuk in eastern Greenland on a one-day guided tour from Reykjavik. So we were ready for more Arctic adventures.

PLANNING: We chose the Great Canadian Travel Co. in Winnipeg, Manitoba, to create a tour for us. We selected the Taste of Greenland independent tour of three Arctic Circle towns and added two days in Nuuk, the capital.

COST: Greenland, like all of Scandinavia, is expensive. To travel more cheaply, stay at hostels, smaller hotels or B&Bs, and select a tour that goes by sea instead of by air.

ITINERARY: Air Greenland had discontinued its direct flights from BWI, so we flew Scandinavian Airlines from Dulles to Copenhagen (eight hours going east), then hopped an Air Greenland jet for four hours going west (yes, retracing our steps) to our first stop, the curious tourist town of Kangerlussuaq. We then took a prop plane to the isolated town of Sisimiut. After that, another short flight to Ilulissat, known as the Town of Icebergs and a major tourist attraction on Disko Bay. Then we were off to Nuuk, followed by our final two days back in Kangerlussuaq.

GETTING AROUND: There are no roads connecting the towns. One gets around by plane, ferryboat, helicopter, sleds (in the winter), hiking or cruise ships.

THE LANGUAGE: The native language is Greenlandic, but most commerce is conducted in Danish, since Greenland is a self-governing dependency of Denmark. However, it seems that everyone in the tourist industry speaks English.

HIGHLIGHTS: Icebergs, icebergs and more icebergs. On a morning boat trip from Ilulissat, we sailed among hundreds of towering hunks of ice, each one a different size, shape and color. Another boat tour (this one 12 hours) took us to a calving glacier that, our guide said, had given birth to the berg that sank the Titanic.

SLED DOG LIFE: One of our tours introduced us to the life of the sled dog. My animal-loving self was not prepared for the sight of hundreds of sled dogs chained (although on long chains) to the ground in people's back yards or in open fields. We soon discovered that this was a part of life in Greenland. The dogs are a special breed, almost wolflike, and spend their entire lives outdoors. Idle during the summer, the dogs soon return to the job they love, pulling "sledges" for their owners and tourists.

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