The Ilulissat Icefjord is the outlet of the pre-eminent glacier in the northern hemisphere, globally only surpassed by Antarctica in terms of size and calving.
The site consists of Sermeq Kujalleq, the most productive glacier draining the inland icecap on Greenland, and the iceberg-filled tidal fjord named Kangia. The glacier has been a long-time object of scientific study and has significantly added to the understanding of ice-cap glaciology, climate change and related geomorphic processes.
Community Perspective: this stunningly beautiful area can be explored on foot, by boat or by helicopter, and it takes several days to take in its many features. Be aware that this destination doesn’t come cheap. And that the spectacularly calving Eqi glacier mentioned in some of the reviews is outside of the core zone.
Map of Ilulissat IcefjordLoad map
We visited Ilulissat for a two day-one night stay in July 2017. An unexpected opening for a trip arose and, in what was a sad sign of the times, we said we had better go to Greenland while the ice was still there.
We arrived by plane from Reykjavik. The experience of simply flying over Greenland was something else - the ice-capped mountains, the glaciers calving into the sea, the never ending white blanket, the blue pools of water that sometimes accumulated on top of the ice, the then amazing sight of land with no ice covering at all! The plane then banked directly over the mouth of the icefjord on its approach to the tiny airport, with the majestic icebergs of Disko Bay on view in all their glory.
Arriving by taxi near midday, we amused ourselves by taking a walk at the harbour, passing the ubiquitous Irish pub, having a musk ox burger at a cafe and eyeing up the guns for sale over the counter in the local Spar shop. After some minutes at the small local Knud Rasmussen Museum (including a depressing display about how far back the glacier has retreated in recent years), we walked through the colourful houses built into the hillsides with their stilts and amongst the cotton growing wild in the town towards the mouth of the icefjord.
After clambering over the rocks, we sat for ages largely by ourselves in the sunlight and watched the multi-shaded wall of ice, the icebergs drift, the creaking of the ice and the calving. Then three whales swam in amongst the ice, diving and spouting below us all the time we were there. When we set up our camera on a rock to take a photo of us with the ice in the background, one of them even spouted right at that moment on camera - providing a treasured memory.
An unfortunately unwanted memory came about as a result of that walk. The waves of mosquitoes overcame a gap in my insect repellant and bit my finger causing it to massively swell around my wedding ring, turning a shade of blue by the time we got back to Reykjavik the following night - I just about avoided the hospital!
We overnighted in a B&B. It was our first experience of the midnight sun - waking up at 1.30am it was still daylight! I will never forget our breakfast the next morning. The entire time, an old lady who did not speak sat opposite us in a tiny room and just watched us slowly eat the breads on offer. Still though, to walk out in the morning and witness the glacial landscape to have changed completely from the night before was just breathtaking.
The second day we took a lengthy boat trip (rather no frills if I remember, using the company World of Greenland) to the Eqi glacier further up Disko Bay, known as the calving glacier. Along the way, we passed icebergs of all shapes and sizes before coming up to the wall of ice which again was bathed in sunlight. It shed its ice frequently and you couldn’t see any water around the boat, just floating ice. Unfortunately there were no major calves in our time there but it was still special to see nonetheless.
We whiled away our evening on the local hotel balcony taking time lapses of the ice floating by, before our taxi to the airport for our overnight flight.
Pricey - yes. Flights €625 each one way(!), €140 for a night in a low range B&B, over €250 each for the boat trip to the Eqi glacier, meals are expensive. I’d pay it again in the morning though. It’s OUV is unquestioned, it’s beauty is superlative and it’s definitely in my top 3 WHS so far. Go while you still can.
"I have seen things you people wouldn't believe" is the only quote that comes to mind when I look at the epic, 40km long, blindingly white and ever-moving, ever-changing, ever-glorious Ilulissat Icefjord aka Sermeq Kujalleq.
I don't usually dish out 5 stars but this is almost worth a six! I saw many places in the world, many glaciers too and even the multitudes at Vatnajökull National Park just two days prior did not prepare me for this. Just look at this mammoth on the satellite images! Ok, so enough about this *drinks coffee to calm down*, first off it doesn't come cheap to come to Ilulissat. The cheapest fare from Reykjavik set me back 400 Euros plus the domestic flights to get around Greenland, and of course a return to Reykjavik (although Copenhagen is another good choice if you are heading for Europe instead if North America). Hotels are expensive, kind of like staying in Copenhagen, groceries are maybe the most expensive I have ever seen (even higher than Norway) and forget about a budget meal dining option. I cooked myself to compensate for all the costs but my "cheap-o" guest house wouldn't pick me up from the airport for free. Anyhow, so you dished out all that to make it to Ilulissat, good for you.
I saw the fjord from the plane. Foggy but clear enough to get some shots with my camera. The first thing you will see in the bay are floating icebergs. The ever changing "landscape" of flipping icebergs and ice platforms makes for a wonderful view. If your hotel offers a seaview you may want to upgrade. The daylight doesn't stop in summer and you can watch it all "day". More rewarding is a kayak trip into the icebergs to be really within them. Feeling one of the icebergs flip just nearby is a feeling that you will never experience again. The sound, the vibration, the waves. If you don't want to kayak you can of course take a boat trip amongst them but I found it more like watching a 4D movie because you have a) a motor running b) a boat crushing ice constantly to numb the effect. The boat can, however, get into the actual fjord area rather than just stop at the ice field. So i do recommend both. I could not take my camera kayaking so all the closeup pics were from my guide.
Another beautiful bonus are humpback whales swimming in the bay. They come scary close to the kayaks and are possibly more dangerous for us to flip over than then icebergs, or them causing more to flip around. Unfortunately I only saw it briefly and it must have swam back out into the open.
Other ways to see the icefjord is via helicopter, naturally not cheap but with good visibility worth doing, or hike along the entire thing for multiple days!! I didn't do the latter. There is more none-icefjord related stuff to do but it is of course the superstar amongst the region.
What makes the icefjord so unique is the fast moving glacier, some sources say 10m others 40m per day so I can't say for sure but you can actually watch the glacier calve, constantly pushing out icebergs into the bay. If you saw one example of this, probably the ice lagoon in Vatnajökull, you will understand what it is like but think 10x bigger and, epic, to use the word again. Another unique part is that so many icebergs, or rather chunks of ice at that point if you ask me, are stuck inside the glacier waiting to be set free at the end.
I have to place Ilulissat Icefjord into my Top 10 places right away, wondering why it had taken me so long to see it or why it is not on every bucket list among Machu Picchu, Giza, The Great Wall etc. It's gotta be the remoteness and price tag, but in the end it is worth every penny. I will definitely be going back one day!
Reaching Ilulissat appeared to be a daunting task until I discovered Air Iceland's direct flights from Reyjavik (Iceland)'s City airport. The airline arranged my accommodation and transfers as well.
Once there everything is close by, within walking distance, which is just as well as there is no public transport.
I visited Ilulissat in August 2012 & was blown away by natures stunning beauty here.
Over the 4 days spent here, I was very lucky with the weather, not a cloud in the sky for that period.
Sunset sailing in the sea was magnificent, it’s not just the sheer size of these icebergs that have calved from the glacier that is breath-taking, but the colours emitted/reflected during the sunset period. Depending on the wind direction, the harbour in Ilulissat can be frozen or clear, but using the boat as an icebreaker to get out into the sea is also quite an experience. Some people may say that one iceberg resembles another & once you have seen one, you have seen them all. Far from the truth. Each is different!
Around the mouth of the icefjord in Ilulissat is a great place to spend a day hiking. The volcanic mountains themselves are very impressive with the summer fauna in full colour, but again it’s hard to take you eyes off the huge icebergs floating in the water right beside you!
Another day was spent travelling to the Eqi glacier, further up Disko bay. Again this is a very special place, due to the tranquillity of the place & the noise emitted from the calving process along with the displacement of water as these huge chunks of ice cascade from the top of the glacier face into the crystal clear water below. Some of the avalanches are massive & even though the boats are over 700 meters from the face, the bobbing motion induced from these avalanches can be very dramatic.
For a very different & rewarding vacation, I could not recommend this place highly enough for those travellers who want to get off the beaten path, to truly get in touch with mother nature. Ilulissat will not disappoint...
Finally, the cost of living there is not as expensive as one might think & the supermarkets in the summer are very well stocked.
Some WHS take about an hour to explore, others days or even weeks. To really enjoy the enormous Kangia Icefjord near Ilulissat in Greenland one has to spend there about 3 or 4 days. The area that has been designated includes both the floating icebergs, the massive ice pack still in the fjord and some of the surrounding lands. From Ilulissat town there are many ways of transportation to get a good look at the Icefjord. It was even possible to see the floating icebergs from the window of my hotel room, a good sight to start every day.
My first real good look at the Icefjord was during a walking tour through the Sermermiut Valley. The day had started out sunny, but the closer we got to the ice the more foggy and cloudy it became. Finally, at the edge of the glacier, I could only see the smaller pieces of ice floating near the coast. Also quite interesting to see because of their different sizes, colours and shapes. We were leaving (with the idea to come here again on a brighter day) when one of our group looked over her shoulder and called out that the fog started to dissipate. A memorable spectacle unfolded before our eyes: one by one the large icebergs protruded from the fog and showed themselves (see the large photo above). The biggest ones are the size of mountains, with sharp peaks.
On another day, I went on a boat tour to Ilimanaq, on the other side from the ice fjord from Ilulissat. This route takes in all the icebergs that have broken away from the icepack and float around in the sea, disintegrating more and more. One or two icebergs attract all the seagulls. Others are true ice sculptures, sometimes with blue 'veins' (made by water).
All in all Ilulissat Icefjord is a fascinating site to visit, a wonder of nature.
Formerly on T List as Isfjord (Jakobshavn) [Disko Bay] (2003)
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