Denmark

The Green in Greenland

There’s nothing quite like hearing the voice of your over-excited pilot rage onto the PA in the middle of a flight. I’m conditioned to believe there’s some serious turbulence about to go down in those situations, so the second the pilot piped up, I tightened my seat belt and waited for the worst.

I am clearly an overwrought and melodramatic schmuck.

It’s just that the air was clear, and we were flying over Greenland (on the way back to the States from Iceland). “It’s rarely a clear day over Greenland, ladies and gentlemen,” the pilot said, totally hyped. “Enjoy it.”

So I did. It was neat.

Everything was snow-covered and barren, nary a sign of life in sight. Yet I know people visit Greenland. People live in Greenland. Where are these magical towns? In theory, we should have flown over Nahortalik or Qaqortoq, towns on the southern tip of the country. All of a sudden, I wanted the pilot to toss me a parachute and let me go exploring on Greenland.

As it turns out, that would have been the easiest way to get to Greenland from the U.S. because you can’t get there from here. Apparently, you can fly from Iceland (from Keflavik and the domestic airport in Reykjavik) and Copenhagen, Denmark. That’s it. Limited options, which in a way makes perfect sense–your choices are limited even if you make it to Greenland. The population is fewer than 57,000 people, and there are exactly 13 towns with populations of more than 1,000 people. There are 74 cities, towns, and settlements period, roughly one-third of which have fewer than 100 people. How do you even survive in a settlement that small? Isn’t everyone related?

Like Iceland, there are a greater number of visitors to Greenland each year than actual residents–and tourism is increasing: over 96,000 visitors in 2016 vs. not quite 77,000 visitors in 2006. It makes sense that the majority of visitors come from Denmark (since Greenland is an autonomous territory of Denmark). Not a lot of Americans visit–we’re toward the bottom of the list in terms of annual visitor numbers.

So I got curious. How much would it cost to vacation in Greenland? Let’s say Nuuk, since it’s one of the bigger towns, and during the month of June, since the average temperature is around 50°F. It’s not an inexpensive proposition (comparative to my normal cheapo nonrev trips), for sure:1

  • Icelandair, PHL to KEF: $398
  • Air Iceland, Reykjavik to Nuuk: $857
  • Airbnb lodging: $500-$600
  • Car rental (Sixt): @$600

There are museums (about four), whale watching and sailing options, kayaking, skiing, dog sled rides, and ice cap hikes. Let’s say three excursions, at an average cost of 1,000 Danish krone, so around $445, perhaps. A restaurant meal would cost anywhere from $30-80 for two courses. You could probably save money on food by skipping restaurants and preparing your own meals–although even grocery store food is likely to be expensive, since I’m assuming so many items would have to be imported. So, say, three restaurant meals with the rest cooked at home–maybe $250.

At minimum, you’re looking at a cost of $3,150 for a single person (although the cost would be decreased a bit if you went with a friend–the hotel and car rental costs would be halved). Maybe I’ll start a “some day” fund for Greenland. Right now that’s a bit above my means.

1. Prices estimated on March 17, 2017 for travel dates of June 1-5, 2017.

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