Tourists flock to Greenland’s Ilulissat Icefjord

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Dwarfed in a sea of ice, a fishing boat picks its way along the Ilulissat Icefjord of Greenland’s coast.

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Dwarfed in a sea of ice, a fishing boat picks its way along the Ilulissat Icefjord of Greenland’s coast.

Despite its name, Greenland isn’t all that green. An immense ice sheet of 695,000 square miles — about 10 times the size of Washington state — cloaks 80 percent of the country.

It’s an Arctic beauty, a shimmering vastness of ice-draped plains and mountains and massive glaciers that drop icebergs into the sea, especially around Ilulissat.

Ilulissat, which means icebergs in Greenlandic, is off the beaten track, like almost everywhere in Greenland where there are barely any roads. Only 60,000 people, a mix of indigenous Inuit and Danes, live in Greenland, a mostly self-governing part of Denmark where fishing feeds the economy.

Yet the island, the largest in the world, draws adventurous tourists and a few cruise ships. Some head to Ilulissat, where one of the world’s fastest-moving glaciers (in glacial terms) grinds across the rock and calves off massive icebergs, sometimes choking the fjord. It’s such a spectacle of ice, stone and sea that the United Nations has declared the Ilulissat Icefjord a World Heritage Site.

Take a boat, a small plane, a helicopter to Greenland’s little towns of brightly painted wood cottages that cling to greener parts of the coast. Then go deeper into the wild by kayak or foot, snowmobile or dogsled.

Watch the humpback whales breach. Watch the icebergs drift. And watch for the glimmering magic of the aurora borealis, lighting up the Greenland night sky once the short summer’s done.

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