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Greenland: Its Kayaking History and Why It Should Be On Every Paddler’s Must-Visit List

Greenland may be the world’s largest island, but it remains elusive to even many of the most seasoned travelers. For one, much of this vast territory is covered in ice, and the rest is only fully explorable in summer months using ferries or on a cruise ship. Arriving here is also not simple nor is it a cheap flight to book. But as is the case with many hidden treasures, a well-planned journey to Greenland a bountifully rewarding, especially for those who love kayaking.

Many of the skills and practices kayakers use today have existed in Greenland for thousands of years. The Inuit people used kayak vessels to hunt for food and fuel. Today, the qajaq (The Greenlandic kayak) is still very much at the center of daily life in this Denmark territory. Kayaking in Greenland is also a major source of adventure tourism.

Taking a kayaking trip throughout Greenland is the ultimate adventure. You can kayak through land and ice fjords and through its floating cities of icebergs. There is unique wildlife here including rare whales, mammals, and even narwhals. A Greenland kayaking journey requires planning, and longer excursions should always be guided because while beautiful, this frozen paradise can also be a dangerous place to paddle if you aren’t prepared.

Greenland is huge and sprawling, and many of the inhabited regions are connected only by ferry or planes that run seasonally. So seeing all the island has to offer is not that easy in one trip. The good news is that nearly all coastal regions of Greenland offer epic kayaking opportunities. The key is knowing which spots or the best, what to prepare for, and understanding why kayaking is so important and special in this icy wonderland.

Greenland And The Island’s Fabled Kayaking History

Before you embark on a Greenlandic kayaking journey, it is important to understand its waters, vessels, and the unique and rich history Greenland has with kayaking. Nearly 4,000 years ago the Inuit people of the Arctic first started using kayaks, or qajaq’s as they were called.

Kayaks existed before the Inuits, but the Inuits used kayaks in ways that are sometimes shockingly similar to how we use them today.

They were used as both transportation and as a hunting vessel for seals and other marine life.

These ancient Inuit kayaks involve skills and methods we still use today, including the ability to roll over a capsized kayak, and they even used dry suits that they made of seal skin.

The kayak isn’t just a paddling vessel or even an effective mode of transportation, it’s a cultural symbol. It has lamented itself as part of the territory’s eco-tourism, and there are even important championship paddling races in Greenland celebrating its kayaking traditions.

Five Reasons Why Greenland Is An Iconic Paddling Destination

1. It Has Some Of The Best Frozen Paddling In The World

Perhaps the top reason to consider a kayaking trip in Greenland is its incredible icey landscapes that are often best viewed on a kayak. You can take kayaking tours through a maze of towering icebergs, in a way that is possible almost nowhere else on earth. There are also glaciers, and towering snow-covered mountains at every turn.

2. Greenland Has Incredible And Rare Wildlife

Ice isn’t the only thing you will see while kayaking in Greenland. Greenland is home to some of the World’s most iconic, elusive, and endangered Arctic creatures. There is the polar bear, which is perhaps the most famous of the endangered mammals of Greenland. But there are also other fascinating species, including the unicorn-horned narwhal, harp seal, and beluga whale, among many others.

3. It Isn’t As Far As You Think

Greenland might seem like a world away, but it’s not. Flights to this island are usually only available from Iceland and Denmark, which makes this land feel further than it is. But there are other ways to reach Greenland, including on a cruise ship. Cruise ships are a great option for those in North America who want a taste of the Arctic or frozen wilderness, and don’t want to fly to the ends of the earth to find it.

4. Preserved And Unique Traditions

Greenland, in addition to offering one-of-a-kind kayaking opportunities, also offers some fascinating history. From the fascinating traditions and lives of the Inuits to Viking ruins, and old quaint Denmark-inspired towns, Greenland is a land like no other. Exploring it on land can be just as interesting as seeing it with a paddle in your hands.

5. It’s An Island Steeped In Kayak Culture

Greenland has tons of kayaking history, and it is very much a part of its culture. This kayaking culture has become even more prevalent recently, with events like the National Kayaking Championship. This is a racing event that also celebrates the island’s rich kayaking history.

Seven Iconic Places To Kayak In Greenland

1. Ilulissat Ice Fjord

Perhaps the most iconic paddling destination in all of Greenland is the Itulissat Ice Fjord. Located off the coast of the town of the same name, Ilulissat is the ultimate paddling dream for those who want to wander through an icy and wanderer landscape.

2. ​​Sisimiut

Located on the Western and central coast of Greenland is the territory’s second-largest city, Sisimiut. Don’t let this fool you, it is still a quaint and small village compared to most places you would consider a city.

Sisimiut has lots of kayaking options. There are day trips or longer adventures here, making it a great base for a few days on a kayaking trip to Greenland. You can even take a spin on a traditionally made Greenlandic qajaq and see what it was like to paddle like the Inuits.

3. Disko Bay

Another fantastic destination for travelers with kayaking aspirations on Greenland’s Western shores is Disko Bay. Located near Ilulissat and its ice fjord, Disko Bay is a great place to embark on iceberg-related paddling. This entire area is known for its epic floating ice, and the bay itself is fairly well protected, which is important as the Western side of Greenland tends to have harsher winds.

4. Tasermiut Fjord

Ice is not Greenland’s only iconic attraction. Tasermiut Fjord is one of the most jaw-dropping and stunning fjords on Earth. Kayaking in the waters around this giant and imposing Fjord system is a humbling and bucket-list-worthy paddling excursion without a doubt. These fjord waters rival those of Norway and are likely far less crowded. There is also a giant glacier you can get close to while kayaking as well.

5. Nuuk

There is a good chance that if you visit Greenland then you will step foot in Nuuk. It is home to the country’s international airport, is Greenland’s largest city, and is also its capital. While the largest settlement, Nuuk is still charming and quaint.

It is a fantastic place to enjoy on land, but there are also ample paddling opportunities. Paddling in Greenland’s Capital allows you the chance to see humpback whales if you are lucky, as well as explore its fjord system. There are lots of kayaking and other paddling options in this charming and fun city.

6. ​​Uummannaq

Uummannaq is one of the most northern kayak destinations on the list, and with that comes some unique opportunities. Located north of Disko Bay, this area has no shortage of icy waters to explore. There is also a vast fjord system that you can paddle through on a guided full-day kayaking expedition. Being so far north allows you to also paddle in the midnight sun, as Greenland stays bright and sunny well into the late evening hours.

Kayak in the Midnight Sun in

7. Kulusuk

If you are looking for a quaint island culture to accompany your Greenland paddling trip, then you should consider Kulusuk. Kulusuk is a small island with a population of well under 500. This southeastern island is sprinkled with bright-colored homes and offers some great kayaking opportunities. You can visit this island as a day trip, and experience the hunting and fishing culture that is still very essential in this authentic village.

Five Things You Should Know Before Paddling In Greenland

1. Always Go With An Experienced Guide On Longer Paddles

Kayaking in Greenland is, indeed, a choose-your-own adventure. But this does not mean you should go on this adventure alone. Kayaking always has some real risks, but in Greenland, these risks are multiplied.

From ice you can’t see, to killer polar bears, and even the frozen water temperatures, this region should not be paddled in without taking serious safety measures. If you paddle for more than a few hours, especially around ice and wildlife, you should go with a guide. Guides can also make sure you see all the best that each area has to offer, and safely.

2. Leave Lots Of Space Between You And An Iceberg

Icebergs are certainly alluring, and every Arctic kayaker needs a few perfect photos kayaking among icebergs. But don’t end up like the Titanic. Most of an iceberg is located underneath the surface and out of view. Icebergs can also flip unannounced, and smash whatever is in their path. These ice formations can even explode, shooting ice out for many feet. So while it’s incredible to kayak among icerburgs, make sure you keep a safe distance.

3. Be On The Lookout For Polar Bears

If you visit Greenland, there is a chance you may see the majestic and endangered polar bear. While a polar bear encounter is a once-in-a-lifetime encounter for the lucky few, it can also be fatal if you aren’t prepared. This is why kayaking with a guide anywhere where polar bears might be is essential. Your guide can more easily spot these hungry and curious creatures and also will be properly armed to defend the group.

4. Weather In Greenland Can Change In An Instant

Greenland is known for its fickle and ever-changing weather. Winds can go from non-existent to brutal in a matter of minutes. With strong winds, dangerous weather can also move in quickly. Make sure you are never far from shore on an unguided trip. Consider sticking to the Eastern side of Greenland, which is less windy, if you are not an expert kayaker.

5. Greenland Is Very Cold, Even In The Summer

While summer is certainly the most pleasant time to visit Greenland for a kayaking excursion, don’t expect beach weather. Winters in Greenland are dark, cold, and brutal. The summers have long days, which is wonderful, but the temperatures don’t exactly feel like summer. The average high temperature in the summer is only 50 degrees. So make sure you are packed and prepared for cold-weather paddling even if you are visiting Greenland during its warmest months.

Final Notes On Taking A Kayaking Vacation In Greenland

If you are looking for a less-traveled yet utterly iconic kayaking destination, then Greenland may be just the place for you. It is packed with some of the most unique and jaw-dropping sights and experiences. There are all sorts of whales, seals, and other marine species to spot while paddling. Greenland also offers some of the best paddling among icebergs on the planet.

While full of adventure and untamed marvels, Greenland is also a trip you need to prepare for. Paddling in Greenland involves exploring dangerously cold waters, even in the summer. While icebergs are stunning to witness, they are also quite dangerous, and the same goes for the territory’s wildlife. But don’t let this deter you. Instead, pack and plan accordingly, and be sure to book a quality guided kayak tour operator to ensure safety and a truly epic adventure.

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