Travel Greenland on a Shoestring Budget

“Greenland isn’t the cheapest country to visit, but don’t let that stop you”, writes guest blogger Frederik Hoelge who travelled to Ilulissat, Kangerlussaq and Nuuk. Between the ice and the whales, the country offers some of the most amazing nature you will probably ever see. Here are six tips on how to experience more and spend less.

1. Skip the hotel

If you are anything like me you are going to Greenland to see whales, icebergs and all the other stuff in the nature. You are not going to stay in your hotel room, so don’t get one. If you are hardcore, bring a tent and live for free in the wild. I am not, so instead I went for the hostels. They have double rooms (bunk beds!). They aren’t fancy at all, but you get a decent place to sleep and a fantastic place to meet other travellers who will love to share their best tips about Greenland.

I slept in the hostels in both Ilulissat and Kangerlussuaq and they were fine. They aren’t super cheap but they are affordable at around 500 kroner for a double room.

2. Eat at home

Another advantage of living in a hostel is access to a kitchen. So get the knives out and prepare your own food. The price of eating out in Greenland ranges from fair enough to very expensive, but unless you go for one of the gourmet options like Nipisa in Nuuk it probably won’t be particular memorable.

Food in Greenland can be quite expensive especially if you crave for vegetables or beef steaks. So skip those and go to ‘Brættet’ in the morning.Brættet is where local hunters and fishermen sell their goods and everything will be fresh and cheap. If you go late everything will be sold out though and the selection will vary from day-to-day.

Another possibility is to go to the harbour and buy fish directly from the boats. People we met at the hostel got very cheap cod and even free redfish. Finally you must eat a lot of lumpfish roe. It is so inexpensive during the Spring season that the sour cream will be more expensive than the roe.

3. Get a map

Organised trips in Greenland are expensive as there are only a few operators. The easiest way to save on tours is to arrange them yourself. Ilulissat have some very well marked trekking routes in the U.N. World Heritage Site. They are easy to walk along without a guide. We enjoyed them immensely for the views of the ice and the flora in the fells. I would recommend buying a book about Greenland so you can read about whatever you find interesting. Bring your own sandwich and a thermos of tea and some snacks for the walk.

In Kangerlussuaq, which will be your main point of entry to Greenland if you arrive by plane from Copenhagen, the interesting areas aren’t quite as well-marked. My girlfriend and I met a friendly guy in the hostel who lent us his map. We figured out a nice route and saved 600 kroner each on the hike to Garnet Rock looking for the semi precious garnets and musk oxen. We neither found gems or oxen on this trip but found plenty of tracks and bones from the animals. We were told that the paid trip to see oxen guarantees a sighting but most likely you will only see them from very far away.

4. Rent a bike

Also in Kangerlussuaq we wanted to see the Russell glacier which was another 600 kroner excursion. Instead we rented bikes and rode 25 kilometers on the most bumpy road I have ever ridden. It was a long trip, but we didn’t have any other plans for the day. To be fair we kind of hated it during the ride, but now it is one of our best stories from our Greenland adventure and the landscape is amazing during the ride. Bike rental was 100 kroner each.

5. Talk to the Greenlanders

During our layover in Kangerlussuaq we chatted with one of the flight attendants who gave us great advice. Bring toll free cigarettes. In Greenland, cigarettes are very expensive, yet a lot of people smoke. Our flight attendant told us of some colleagues who had used a carton of cigarettes to pay for a dog sled ride. We used our cigarettes in the harbour in Ilulissat, where we bought ourselves a fantastic trip to the sea with Amasa a local fisherman. By showing a (genuine) interest in his work and asking if he had time he invited us for a two-hour tour to the ice fiord and the Disko Bay if we paid for gas.

It was really interesting to hear about his life in Disko Bay. We heard about how he experienced global warming first hand, and stories about life as a small fisherman in one of Greenland’s boom businesses, halibut fishing. He asked for around 120 kroner for gas, we paid him 200 kroner and a half a carton of cigarettes because he gave us a great experience. It was much more personal than if we had gone with a tour boat.

6. When not to save

Obviously there will be things you can’t avoid paying for. If you have special interests like ice fishing or hunting you will need equipment and possibly a guide and transportation.

We went to Greenland to go whale spotting and see the icebergs. We were lucky to spot some whales from land but we decided to pay for an organised trip anyway. Unfortunately our fisherman friend Amasa didn’t have the time to take us for a longer trip and looking for whales might take some time. Getting close to the humpback whales is amazing and we found it worth it to pay 1000 kroner for a four hour trip. Another expensive trip we paid for was a walk on the ice cap. Another 1000 kroner trip but it would have been completely impossible to do alone. Our guide Kim was amazing very professional and knew a lot about the ice cap as he have been working on the ice for more than 20 years. He knew exactly where to see the most interesting parts of the ice (that can be reached by foot). He also provided the equipment to walk safely on the ice.

Have a nice trip
However you travel, you will probably spend a lot of money going to Greenland, but do it and make sure you have the time to absorb this amazing country. It will be worth it.

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