To travel from one town to the next in Greenland requires a bit of ingenuity. You can fly in a regional aircraft. You can hike. You can kayak. You can even dogsled if you want. But you’re not going to be able to drive — at least, not until Greenland finishes the Arctic Circle Road, the first road between settlements in the country.
The Arctic Circle road will connect Sisimiut, the second-largest city in Greenland, with Kangerlussuaq, a town of about 500 people but one that boasts Greenland’s major international airport. The proposed route will be just under 100 miles and has become a tourist attraction for what Visit Greenland’s CEO Hjortur Smarason calls “adventure tourists” — people who are more interested in camping and hiking around remote areas than they are in staying in all-inclusive resorts.
Smarason accompanied the Extreme E circus during the electric racing series’ recent event in Kangerlussuaq, where he was more than happy to answer questions any of us had about the goals of Visit Greenland.
I’ve been to countries like Iceland before, another area that invites the adventure tourist but that places limits on where those people can go as a result of the delicate environment. So, while you’re invited to hike on marked trails, Iceland doesn’t want you to step on the sensitive moss that can take years to grow back — if it ever does. Carving a dirt road between two cities with the goal of encouraging more tourists to tromp through Greenland seems strange when you consider Iceland’s mandates.
But as Smarason told me, he’s not expecting millions of tourists to flock to the Arctic Circle Road — rather, the goal is to hit about 100,000 people per year traversing the 100-mile dirt road, which will be dotted with small campsites or cabins. After all, the road won’t be inviting cars; instead, you can hike, bike, or drive an ATV.
I got a taste of this prospective road myself when I climbed into the back of a four-seater UTV driven by Albrecht Kreutzmann, the mayor of Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. The part of the road that ran through the town proper was quite wide and well-maintained, but as we neared the Russell Glacier, the road grew more difficult. It required someone with off-roading experience to navigate the tight, rocky paths — but the end result was well worth it, as we were greeted with a gorgeous view of the glacier.
Those are the kind of people Greenland wants more of: the intrepid travelers who don’t mind a little grit between their teeth, the ones who are there to enjoy the journey as part of the final destination. This isn’t like Iceland’s well-paved Ring Road, which attracts a more conventional kind of tourist. The Arctic Circle Road is one for the people who already have a deep respect for their environment.