Greenland, the last bastion of North America – or the first European outpost. In reality, the world’s largest island resides in the middle of nowhere, stuck between two continents with political ties to a country (Denmark) thousands of miles away.
For some reason, Greenland has always held my curiosity. It’s been that place that nobody you know gets to. That magical, whimsical and mysterious arctic land that is the stuff of dreams – at least dreams of Santa Claus and other polar inhabitants, I mean, what else is there to dream about when you are eight-years old.
It was as a kid that I caught my first glimpse of the snow-capped peaks of Southern Greenland. On a flight from Seattle to either Iceland, Norway or Denmark (the ultimate destination being Norway) that probably crossed my other “white whale” of travel (that being Nunavut), I was able to see the Greenland landscape from the cabin window. Since then, I’ve been looking for a way over.
A trip to Greenland doesn’t come cheap. In 2008, Air Greenland offered direct flights from Baltimore. This was a first of its kind and, unfortunately, it didn’t last. I have no idea how much this particular flight cost, but I can’t imagine it was nearly as cost-prohibitive as some Greenland itineraries out of North America. So what’s the cheapest bet these days?
Well, Air Greenland is finally offering North American service again. Unfortunately, it’s basing flights out of Iqaluit, Nunavut in Northern Canada. The cost of getting to Iqaluit from anywhere in North America is about as much as getting to Tahiti. Costs have lowered some (as of this writing in January 2012) and you can get a ticket out of Montreal for a cool $1,300 or so (which is the lowest I’ve seen by many hundreds). I searched for an Iqaluit-Nuuk (the capital of Greenland) return fare and it ran about $900 USD. Air Greenland is promising to run an Ottawa-Nuuk route (partnered with First Air) with a stopover in Iqaluit to change planes. This could be an extremely enticing offering (at the right price), however First Air has yet to sign off on the deal. Air Greenland hopes to have the Ottawa-Nuuk trial run ready to go by late May/early June (and run for 12 weeks).
Two other options exist that run one through Iceland and Denmark. Iceland can be reached rather cheaply, especially from the east coast. A round-trip flight from Washington Dulles in Mid-May (specifically May 7-14) could set me back as low as $585. That gets me to Reykjavik. A flight on Air Greenland to Nuuk from Reykjavik (May 8-11) would give me a few days in the most populous Greenlandic city for a cool $710. That’s $1295 notwithstanding any other expenses (of which their will be many in the frozen North). A similar flight to Copenhagen will set me back $690 while the trip from Copenhagen to Nuuk will run around $850. It’s pretty clear that Iceland is the way to go.
Before I forget – Air Iceland also runs flights up to Greenland. That mid-May itinerary would allow me to use Air Iceland’s netsaver fare of $654. Total cost = $1239, slightly lower than using Air Greenland’s service (to put that in perspective, it’s about what I paid for my August ’12 trip to Easter Island out of Washington, D.C.).
Granted, there are destinations in Greenland that might be slightly cheaper (and plenty more scenic and remote) than Nuuk. Illulisat is one of the more popular destinations on the western coast, while the more desolate east coast has a few welcome destinations as well, including Ittoqqortoormiit, which was featured in the fantastic Canadian TV series, departures.
Either way, for North American travelers, I think it helps to have a basic cost idea of what getting to Greenland entails. Trekking through Iceland is almost a must and I’d say any flight package totaling $1,200-1,400 (or, God forbid, less) is a pretty good rate to go on. Keep in mind that the costs will only go up once you get on the island. All said, despite the feeling that Greenland is an almost impossible destination for most, it’s really not as cost-prohibitive as people think. I will eventually give it a go, if not this year, then maybe in the next few. It’s one I’ve been hoping to check off the travel list for quite some time.