Drifting silently by Zodiac beneath the towering walls of Sam Ford Fjord, the isolation and remoteness of this region is crystal clear. Seabirds swoop by low overhead, calling warnings of these new visitors to one another. They're the only life in sight; frigid, deep blue waters, jagged granite and basalt walls, and impossibly clear skies span as far as the eye can see.
Baffin Island, spanning 195,928 square miles (507,451 sq km) with a population of just 11,000, is one of the Arctic's most remote and exciting destinations to explore. Deep in its vast wilderness, it's not hard to imagine you're the only people left on earth. But don't be fooled--the Inuit people have thrived in this stark, often punishing environment for thousands of years. You can experience a taste of their unique lifestyle and culture in the small communities that dot Baffin Island's massive coastline.
As a Polar Travel Adviser, I'm often asked what there is to do and see on Baffin Island. In this post, we'll explore the Baffin Island communities you might visit on your Arctic expedition.
Known as the ‘Switzerland of the Arctic' for its picturesque homes set against a stunning backdrop of mountains, Pangnirtung has also earned an international reputation for its robust arts scene.
Looking down over the colorful Arctic summer tundra at the town of Pangnirtung.
Photo: Lindsay Nicole Terry
The cultural influences of over 4,000 years of inhabitation color and shape the carvings, tapestries and paintings of local artists. Pangnirtung is home to the works of many world class Inuit artists born and raised there, including master carver Jaco Ishulutaq (son of the well-known Pangnirtung artist Eleesapee Ishulutaq), accomplished weaver Kawtysie Kakee, and popular printmaker Andrew Qappik.
Pangnirtung artist and printmaker Andrew Qappik's ‘Driving to Pangnirtung Pass' limited edition stencil. Photo: Uqqurmiut Centre for Arts & Crafts
Today, you can help support the local economy of this friendly community with a visit the Uqqurmiut Centre for Arts & Crafts cooperative for artists, tapestry weavers, carvers and printmakers in Pangnirtung. Given the popularity of its artists, the centre now offers online shopping, but you'll find a far greater selection by visiting.
Originally called Frobisher Bay (for Sir Martin Frobisher, who became the first European to visit it on his quest to find the Northwest Passage in 1576), Iqaluit was bestowed its Inuit moniker in 1987. In 1999, the town of under 8,000 residents became Canada's smallest capital city when the Northwest Territories was divided into two separate territories, and Nunavut was created.
Located in Frobisher Bay's Kuujussi Inlet, Iqaluit lies northeast of Hudson Bay, in the Everett Mountains. Photo: Sebastian
This Arctic community's history predates Frobisher's visit, though--by far. The Inuit have fished the area of Iqaluit for thousands of years; in fact, its very name means ‘place of many fish' in the Inuit language of Inuktitut. The modern-day community's first resident was an Inuit guide named Nakasuk, who helped Air Force planners from the United States choose the location for an airstrip. The resulting air force base, built in 1942, was an important stopover and refuelling site on the Crimson Route to Europe.
Today, you can visit the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum in Iqaluit for a taste of what life was like for those early Inuit fishermen and wartime settlers.
A visit to Iqaluit's Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum offers a great education in early Inuit survival, culture and customs. Photo: Aboriginal Canada
Housed in an old Hudson's Bay Company building, the museum exhibits Inuit hunting tools, clothing, soapstone and whalebone carvings, and artwork. You can explore Thule history upstairs, or visit the gift shop for a piece of Iqaluit's history to take home. See the city's website for a current list of events and things to do in Iqaluit.
Outside of its quaint communities, the immense wilderness of Baffin Island offers intriguing and visually stunning landing sites. Learn more about Sam Ford Fjord, the abandoned Kekerten whaling station and one of the best Zodiac cruising regions in the area, Monumental Island, in this post on the Top Baffin Island Landing Sites.
Want to learn more about what it's like to Baffin Island on Arctic expedition?