Isabel Choat, The Guardian, May 7, 2013
With every new travel brochure that's published the world seems a little smaller. Remote and exotic lands that were previously inaccessible to all but the most intrepid explorer have become holiday destinations.
From the jungles of Papua New Guinea to the wilderness of northern Canada's Torngat mountains, and from the backwater villages of Burma to the empty steppes of Siberia, travellers who have the money and the sense of adventure are spoilt for choice. And that choice increases every season.
Then, as the travellers' saying goes: "when you've seen the world, there's always Greenland." The planet's largest (non-continental) island, and one of the most sparsely populated, is also one of the least visited places in the world. But this summer Greenland's 58,000-strong population can expect to see an increase in the number of tourists venturing on to their remote shores, thanks to the combined effects of new documentary Village at the End of the World, and the significant increase in the number of trips being offered by adventure and cruise ship operators.
Village at the End of the World tells the story of Niaqornat in north-west Greenland, a village of 59 people clinging to the edge of an iceberg-strewn bay. The film follows lonely teenager, Lars, the only 17-year-old in a village he has never left, who feels the pull of the outside world which he connects to virtually via his 200 Facebook friends. While Lars is desperate to leave, other residents are fighting to maintain their traditional hunting way of life, despite the thinning ice making it more dangerous and the younger generation showing little interest in following in their parents' footsteps.
These human stories are set against breathtaking natural beauty. "It's a jaw-droppingly beautiful place," says the film's director Sarah Gavron, who won a Bafta nomination for her adaptation of Monica Ali's Brick Lane. "The way the icebergs move, the change in the light, it's like having an incredible, constantly changing sculpture park in front of you."
It is this wild, untouched beauty that draws tourists and this year there are more opportunities than ever to discover this pristine landscape.
This summer Cox and Kings is offering five tours to Greenland for the first time, including a two-day trip to Kulusuk, a village of 300 people in eastern Greenland.
Other operators that have added to their Greenland programmes this year include Discover the World, Exodus, KE Adventure, and cruise operator Quark Expeditions (see examples below).
Tourism to Greenland is already on the rise. Recent figures from the tourist board show the number of cruise passengers doubled to 30,000 between 2004 and 2010, while the number of land-based tourists stood at 35,000 in 2010. The high cost of holidaying in Greenland will inevitably limit the numbers but with tour operators now selling more trips, those figures will inevitably increase.
Most tourists will come for the spectacular landscapes, for towering icebergs and vast fjords, and the chance to visit isolated communities whose way of life has barely changed in centuries.
Some may even come to see the landscape before it's transformed by the effects of climate change or, as Gavron puts it, "to see that part of the world before it melts".
"Almost the entire ice cover of Greenland experienced some melting at its surface in 2012, usually only half of the ice sheet melts naturally during an average summer. This further highlights the precarious existence of Niaqornat and makes it clear that Greenland is now the heartbeat of our planet," she says.
Village at the End of the World is not a film about climate change but inevitably highlights its impact on the lives of the people of Niaqornat, particularly. As the sea ice becomes more and more unstable, the hunting season is becoming shorter.
Does that mean tourism should be discouraged? Not according to Gavron, who over the course of 18 months spent five months living in Niaqornat. She argues that small-scale, well-managed tourism may even help, by raising awareness of climate change, and also by giving communities like Niaqornat a much-needed economic boost as they struggle to protect their cultural heritage. If the village population falls below 50, government subsides could stop altogether, making it almost impossible for the village to survive. Tourism could become lifeline, providing locals with an alternative source of income.
Small wonder then that the people of Niaqornat are keen to get a slice of the tourism pie. As one of the villagers says in the film when passengers from a cruise ship come ashore to buy local crafts, and take photos: "We need it, of course, tourism. I think 84 people are visiting now. We want to more than double that."
TRIPS TO GREENLAND
In Search of Erik the Red is a new tour involving hikes along coastal and riverside trails, past waterfalls and across meadows of alpine flowers, to low summits, including Najaat (770m) and Nuuluk (824m). The tour takes its name from the boat ride to Qassiarssuq, site of Viking ruins and home of Erik the Red. With overnight stays in farm lodges and hostels, and a constant backdrop of mountains, glaciers and sheer rock walls plunging into the sea, this is about as off the beaten track as it gets.
• From £2,395 (land only, join in Reykjavik, Iceland), including flights from Reykjavik to Narsarsuaq, transfers, guide and most meals (except four dinners). Departures 10 and 24 July and 10 August. 017687 73966, keadventure.com
The 14-day Greenland Explorer cruise starts in Reykjavik, before setting sail for the east coast of Greenland through the Denmark Strait. On the fourth day the ship reaches land at Skjoldungen, known for its fjords and "ghost town", which was abandoned in 1961. Highlights include a dip in hot springs while surrounded by Inuit ruins; glacier hikes; visits to communities including Paamiut and Sisimiut, the island's second largest town (population 5,500); and zodiac trips among the icebergs around Ilulissat.
• From £4,120 based on a triple occupancy room including all meals, shore landings and emergency evacuation insurance. Departures on 16 August and 28 August. 0808 120 2333, quarkexpeditions.com
Greenland Explorer is a 15-day voyage by sea, starting in Canada and touring Greenland from Ilulissat in the west via the southern and eastern coasts, ending in Tasiilaq and the Ammassalik fjord. It takes in Sisimiut, the capital Nuuk and Tasermiut fjord, famed for its granite rock cliffs, which draw climbers from all over the world.
• From £4,120, land onlv ("compulsory charter flights" £880 extra). Departures 16 and 28 August. 0845 287 7655, exodus.co.uk
The Iceland and west Greenland tour is a seven-day trip, including four days in Ilulissat. There are optional excursions, such as whale watching, trips to tiny remote fishermen's settlements and a helicopter tour over Ilulissat ice fjord. Regent will also be offering winter trips in north-west Greenland for the first time, following the introduction of Air Iceland flights from Reykjavik to Ilulissat in February.
• From £2,0105 including return flights to Reykjavik with Icelandair, return flights from Reykjavik to Ilulissat, two nights' accommodation at the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Natura and four nights at the Hotel Arctic Ilulissat.020-7 666 1290, regent-holidays.co.uk
The National Park Expedition is a 16-day cruise taking in Spitsbergen (the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago north of Norway), Greenland and Iceland. Seven days are spent within the North East Greenland national park, the largest in the world and the least visited, where mountains rise 2,500m out of the fjords, wildflowers dot the slopes and musk oxen graze in the valleys. A day is spent at Ittoqqortoormiit, the most isolated town in Greenland – the trappers living here are the only ones allowed to hunt within the national park.
• From £5,539 full board, cruise only. Departs on 4 September. 0844 448 7601, hurtigruten.co.uk
Discover the World
The six-day South Greenland Explorer is an independent tour based in Narsarsuaq and Qaqortoq, with various excursions to meet local communities and hike trails among the wild flowers.
• From £1,935 (based on two sharing) including return flights from Heathrow, Manchester or Glasgow with Icelandair; flights between Reykjavik and Narsarsuaq; two nights in Reykjavik, three nights in Qaqortoq and one in Narsarsuaq (all B&B); most transfers and guided city walks in Qaqortoq and Narsarsuaq. Departures on Mondays from 1 July to 26 August. 01737 214291, discover-the-world.co.uk
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk