But now the remarkable geology of Greenland is becoming even more accessible to visitors, and in a way that gives them real experiences with Greenlanders – through geotourism. Geotourism is tourism specifically focused on geology. It’s an emerging market in Greenland, and one being driven by locals. Instead of gazing at the passing peaks from the deck of a cruise ship, visitors can now get up close and personal with people who know the rocks, and even collect and bring home their own little piece of Greenland to remember.
Who can you contact for your geotourism experience?
There are several operators in different parts of Greenland who will take small groups of tourists out on boat trips to visit some amazing geology.
Erik Palo Jacobsen, of Arctic Boat Charter, based in Nuuk, has been running gold panning trips in Nuuk fjord for the past couple of years. Although the majority of his business is local and not all tourism, that is changing rapidly. There is a growing market for geotourism from foreign tourists and a growing local competition to fill that demand. Tourist groups of up to twelve passengers can join day trips with Arctic Boat Charter and combine their gold panning with fishing for red fish in a beautiful part of the fjord.
“Instead of competing”, he says, “we’re trying to make the cake bigger. There are so many opportunities for geotourism here.”
In South Greenland, Jewel Stones of Greenland also offers customized geotours of up to two weeks. Jewel Stones tours focus on the unique minerals of the Ilimaussaq Intrusion, an area with dozens of minerals that are found only in Greenland, some of them fluorescent and many of them real treasures.
Destination South Greenland is also a great source of up-to-date information about local operators.
Visit local workshops
In some Greenlandic towns, including Nuuk and Sisimiut, there are workshops where locals work with and sell their products, including soapstone and sometimes other stones, but also including jewellery and items made of fur and bone. Also in Nuuk, Palle Møller operates his workshop Kassoq, where tourists may visit by appointment. Palle makes jewellery to order and specifically works with Greenlandic gemstones and with gold from South Greenland, as well as specialist minerals for collectors.
Soapstone carvings are also common. Soapstone has a long cultural significance to Greenlanders, who have used it historically for many household items. Particularly these days, you will find locals working with and selling soapstone tupilaks – strange other-worldly spiritual creatures.
Locals reap the benefits
One of the drivers of some of the new geotourism activity is a special small-scale mining licence designed for locals. Introduced in 2010, small scale – or artisanal – mining licences are designed to generate an income for local operators. The licence is for only a small area and for a small business. It is suitable for supporting local industry and is open only to people who have been resident in Greenland for five years or more. Since the licences were introduced, Greenlanders have been quick to realize the potential not just for mining and selling stones, like rubies, or soapstone, or specialist Greenlandic minerals for collectors, but also for geotourism. Small scale licence-holders can bring groups of tourists to visit their licence area to collect stones themselves or buy them from the licence-holder. Tourists can only bring minerals or stones out of Greenland if they are bought from a local citizen and if they can show a receipt of purchase.
More and more geotourism opportunities are popping up in Greenland. Tourists now have the chance not just to be wowed by Greenland’s staggering geological landscapes, but to really learn from the locals who know those landscapes – how they formed, where the real treasures are – and even to take a little piece of those treasures home with them.