Planning a trip to see Arctic things in July
February 14, 2016 3:36 PM   Subscribe

I'm planning a trip to northern areas this july/august with the goal of seeing icebergs and nature and whatnot. It has come very quickly to my attention that this is not a cheap thing to do! Please help me to plan an itinerary that maximizes our time and minimizes our spending.

The idea as it stands right now is to visit Iceland [flights seem to connect there anyway and it is gorgeous]; spend a week [or more?] hiking in hornstrandir; fly to Greenland [Ilulissat seems to be the place to see crazy glaciers?]; return to iceland for a day or so, then go home. I think a minimum of 3.5 weeks and a maximum of 5 weeks is a reasonable time frame. Then I did a test search for ticket prices!!!

seeing icebergs - we are from the prairies and this seems like it would be super
good hiking
sea kayaking? - we would like to get out on the water if rentals are possible
official campgrounds when near towns [for water and toilet purposes]
not spending one million dollars

This spring we will be hiking a lot in the rockies, so assume that our camping setup will be adequate. [I think I can buy canister fuel in gas stations in Iceland, and I know that we will need mosquito netting for Greenland].

Ideas that we are open to include:
Just seeing icebergs in Jokulsarlon in Iceland [but maybe they won't be SO AMAZING]
Going to somewhere else entirely [Svalbard? Baffin Island?]
Going to the east side of Greenland [nobody seems to write about going there for icebergs...]

For some reason not a good idea:
Alaska [I don't know why, but it has been vetoed]

So far, for random-ish dates in late july - early august, airfare to iceland/ilulissat alone is around [and quite often >>] $3000 CAD. This is maybe okay if there aren't a whole bunch of extra expenses I don't know about. We will bring a bunch of dehydrated food, and plan on camping most of the time. Could the whole thing be done for ~$7000 for two people? I think the bus to Ísafjörður is like $60CAD, and then a ferry costs ???. In Greenland, incidental ferries and such would be [i assume] something to plan for in advance, not just assume it will be cheap enough to absorb.

I am not very good at finding travel deals and have never really planned an itinerary that I didn't abandon. Can you please help me find a plan that can work? We will have a great time no matter what, but I feel very nervous planning what sounds like a very expensive vacation without really knowing if it is going to be MORE expensive once we can't back out.

Bonus points if you know a way to print maps from here without just randomly scrolling and saving jpgs. I like the topo lines in the "atlas kort" basemap, but I think that I'm missing something obvious about how to save/print.
posted by Acari to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Ilulissat is beautiful but not cheap.
Yes, we went to the west side because that's where people go for glaciers and icebergs.
We did go sea kayaking among the icebergs, and it was the best thing ever. We went with PGI Greenland; I don't know anything about renting on your own, though.

We also went hiking, and took a helicopter tour and a midnight boat ride. Every single thing we did was stunning. We did not spend a million dollars, but I'm not planning on taking a similarly expensive vacation for many years. We did however stay in hotels instead of camping; for camping it would be much less.

For itineraries, you've probably noticed that the flight schedule to Illulissat is somewhat limited; you'll want to plan ahead to make sure the days you think about actually have flights. I would also recommend being sure your camping equipment is under whatever weight restrictions (should be, if you're backpackers, but still).

Oh, and I haven't yet been to Iceland, except the airport, so I can't say much of anything about how it compares. I *can* say that I've got friends who've done Iceland camping-style, on the cheap, but I don't know anyone who has done a Greenland trip that way.

Another stupid thing: when you go, it will be bright all day. I didn't do that in a tent, instead we hung up a blanket over the blinds (no blackout curtains, unlike Alaska); I haven't the slightest how people deal with that for camping.
posted by nat at 4:43 PM on February 14, 2016

I'm hoping someone with more detailed information will weigh in, but until that happens: Check out tour operators for Iceland and Greenland. Here's one I found by Googling "Iceland Greenland Travel". I know nothing about this particular company, but travel agencies like this specialize in knowing all the resources available (many of which you'd never find on your own, or have any way of finding out if they're reliable or not). They should also be able to work with your budget to include all the things you want.
posted by DrGail at 4:44 PM on February 14, 2016

Response by poster: [for camping, we wear eyemasks and earplugs even when we anticipate ideal sleeping conditions and we will be backpacking so no worries about weight]

I will check with some tour operators, but I have never dealt with them before. I always imagined that the options were to go on a full fledged tour or to gtfo, but I suppose there is no basis for that assumption.

We will also keep checking different flight options and such - is the ITA matrix still the best thing to be checking?
posted by Acari at 6:58 PM on February 14, 2016

For Svalbard, I would not camp. The polar bears are very hungry in the summer, and they will eat you, if they can. It has been almost ten years since I was there (on a nice safe ship) and I had a polar bear nightmare just the other night. The icebergs and glaciers are very beautiful, though.
posted by Maxwell's demon at 2:14 AM on February 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'll also put on a recommendation for Svalbard. I was there just over a year ago and would recommend it to anyone. Please do heed what Maxwell's Demon is saying about the bears. There was a guy camping out for the solar eclipse last year, within town limits IIRC, who was pulled from his tent by his head. Fortunately he escaped the bear and lived. This not to discourage you at all, just to underline that Svalbard is the the wildest, most untamed place I've ever been, and nature does not give a good goddamn whether you live or die. Pay attention to signs and to advice from your hotelier and everything your guides say. But definitely go.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 4:19 AM on February 15, 2016

Response by poster: Ha! Camping near polar bears is not a thing that will ever sound appealing. We are both, unfotunately, made of meat.

Svalbard is now definitely on the list for later when we are rich enough to stay indoors, though!

Travelocity, of all places, is showing a sub $2500 fare that would let us hike for a week+ in Iceland, fly to Kangerlussuaq, hike the Arctic Circle Trail to Sisimiut, catch the once per week boat to Ilulissat [which I believe comes on Saturdays going north...], then fly back home [via Iceland again]. This sounds like a winner, and today will be spent finding out what is the secret problem with that plan [maybe food? Maybe the boat schedule?]
posted by Acari at 9:11 AM on February 15, 2016

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