Cara Matthew explores Greenland's rugged coastline on a small ship expedition.
There are plenty of great reasons Greenland has become a top destination for travelers: it's one of the most naturally and spectacularly beautiful places on the planet, with enough activities and landing sites to fulfill the needs and wants of every type of traveler.
Each person decides to embark on an arctic expedition for his or her own reasons: for some, it's the thrill of spending vacation time in an off-the-beaten-path destination; for others, they've always been fascinated by the Polar Regions and want to check an item off their bucket list; and still for others, they explore these regions because of their interest in fragile ecosystems and sustainability initiatives, or to challenge themselves and get out of their routine.
Whatever your motivations, embarking on a voyage to the Arctic is an incredibly personal journey. Exploring diverse and fascinating Arctic islands – and traveling to Greenland, particularly – has the potential to change your perspective and leave you better than when you began your adventure. Cara Matthew, a Polar Travel Adviser since 2008, had the opportunity to travel to Greenland and agreed to share her experience with our readers.
A Taste of Greenland: Scoresbysund, King Oscar Fjord & Ittoqqortoormiit
“I've always wanted to go to Greenland, and so I recently went on an arctic expedition to East Greenland and toured 2 fjord systems,” says Cara. “One is Scoresbysund, which is the longest fjord system in the world, and it was absolutely beautiful. Then, we also explored another fjord system just north of that, called King Oscar Fjord.”
At the entrance to Scoresbysund, Cara had an immediate opportunity to immerse herself in the culture of Greenland, which has constantly been inhabited for 5,000 years.
“We went to Ittoqqortoormiit, and it was incredibly welcoming,” she says. “What surprised me was the amount of dogs that you see, because there are huge dog-sledding teams and it's also a mode of transportation for them. So I loved going to this Ittoqqortoormiit community and seeing all these puppies.”
Cara also took advantage of the chance to visit some of the artists' studios and shops in the little community, and even tasted muskoxen at one stop!
Getting Physical: Hiking & Shore Landings
An avid hiker, Cara was thrilled with the action-packed cruise itinerary, which offers activities at different levels of strenuousness and for varying interests. She was amongst the group that took long hikes twice each day during shore landings. There were also walking groups, photographic groups, and for those who just wanted to soak in the spectacular scenery from a single location, there was a group for that, too!
How do you make an amazing trip even better? Cara made a good dent in her bucket list.
“I've wanted to see an arctic fox ever since I saw one on a television documentary, and we saw 2 of them on one landing,” she says. “We saw something in the distance and weren't really sure. We all had our binoculars out and spent about 10 minutes in silence, standing still, and sure enough, this arctic fox came out and started eating a few of the tufts of tundra, the moss, a musk ox carcass. We all just remained quiet and he came out, so it was one of the most remarkable moments for me.”
Another wildlife surprise was when her hiking group came across a herd of 13 muskoxen.
Finding Peace & Exhilaration: Greenland's Fjords
Those weren't the only remarkable moments. Cara remembers a particularly fantastic evening following dinner, when there was a lovely sunset and everyone went Zodiac cruising.
“It was such a beautiful sunset, and in Scoresbysund Fjord, it was so gorgeous with just small snow-capped mountains and huge icebergs – colossal icebergs – and from the Zodiacs we could see the sunset [as we were] maneuvering through all of these icebergs. I have never seen colors of the sky as beautiful as I did that evening, and there was a great surprise with our expedition team leader serving hot chocolate and Baileys.”
The northern lights were another major highlight. Greenland is probably the best place in the world to experience this spectacular natural phenomenon, and during the expedition, every night was clear.
But the biggest surprise for Cara may have come from within: the weather was so nice, she decided to participate in the polar plunge. “I was very nervous and terrified, and then I thought, ‘I really want to do this!'” she says. “And it was such an exhilarating feat. When [you've done] something like that, you honestly feel like you can conquer whatever dreams you may have.”
Photo courtesy of Kellie Netherwood
Greenland's Extreme Beauty: Retreat from the Chaos
As a Polar Travel Adviser, Cara knew what the trip would be all about, but knowing and experiencing are completely different things.
“This trip was beyond my wildest expectations,” says Cara. “It was one of the best trips I've ever done in my life. It exceeded every single expectation that I had.”
The extreme beauty, silence and periodic isolation are what had the most impact on her, and Cara says she's definitely experienced a change of perspective.
“I think a trip like this is almost a retreat,” she explains. “I felt like I had gone on a retreat. I had reflected so much on my own personal self and reflected on the beauty of our earth and the planet that we live on, and that we really need to take care of her, and being removed from all of the outside influences really made me reflect on that.”
Want to learn more about planning your own Greenland expedition?
- Read more Greenland expedition stories from expedition experts and travelers like you
- Get the Greenland Destination Guide
- Download your free Greenland Explorer: Valleys & Fjords brochure