Michael Kunak, a Greenlandic musher, whips Kulusuk with a whip. AFP
It has only a supermarket, a Cold War airport and a port. There are no macadamized roads, people have to travel neither by plane nor by boat. However, the picturesque village of Kulusuk in Greenland attracts a large number of tourists who wish to hike in the snowy desert.
Kayaking through white and blue icebergs is also a favorite activity for visitors, who also don’t mind strolling through tastefully decorated houses. The months of July and August are the period in which tourists make a line to East Greenland.
Many of the 85,000 tourists who visit each year head to the west coast, but eastern Greenland, with its glaciers, wilderness and wildlife starring whales and polar bears, is also a big draw.
The natural wealth of the area attracted the attention of no figure that U.S. President Donald Trump, who made the takeover bid for Greenland, canceled a visit to Denmark when he refused to sell. the. Greenland is an autonomous territory within Denmark.
Sarah Bovet, a 29-year-old Swiss artist, said it’s hard to know what to expect.
“Thinking it will surprise you, you will be even more so in reality,” he said in front of a hostel in the small village of Kulusuk.
Bovet was in an art residence in Greenland when he visited Kulusuk and his 250 souls.
Although a small village had been imagined before arriving, its stunning views and vivid colors still amazed.
Andrea Fiocca, left, Italian researcher and tour guide, leads a group of tourists. AFP
A group of tourists is greeted with the performance of a local drum dancer. AFP
A tour guide leads a group of tourists when they arrive in Kulusuk (also spelled Qulusuk). AFP
Anganni Karola, a Greenlandic musher, works on his sleigh. AFP
An Air Greenland plane leaves Kulusuk. AFP
A drum dancer performs in front of a group of tourists. AFP
With only a supermarket, an airport built in the 1950s by the U.S. military to serve as a Cold War radar base, and a harbor surrounded by brightly painted wooden houses, most villagers appreciate the additional tourism revenue.
Justus Atuaq, a young Kulusuk hunter, takes tourists on sleigh rides in March and April – the high spring season – earning money to help him feed and care for the dogs he uses for racing and hunting.
“Now I can bring dog sleds to hunt and sometimes tourists who come from other countries also want dog sleds,” he said outside his wooden house.
Growing strategic importance
But they are not the only ones interested in the largest island in the world.
A drum dancer puts a photograph on Kulusuk. AFP
The rich natural resources of Danish territory and the growing strategic importance as the Arctic ice sheet melts have attracted the attention of US President Donald Trump.
The Arctic region has untapped oil, gas and mineral reserves, as well as abundant reserves of fish and shrimp.
In August, Trump offered to buy Greenland, and then called off a visit to Copenhagen for his refusal to sell.
Denmark colonized Greenland in the 1700s, granting it autonomy in 1979.
A group of tourists visit Kulusuk. AFP
Today, many Greenlandic political parties advocate full independence.
The territory still receives an annual grant from Copenhagen, which was DKK 4.3 billion (€ 576 million) in 2017, and tourism could help it become financially self-sufficient.
Like many parts of Greenland, Kulusuk has no paved roads and visitors have to travel by plane or boat.
The growth of tourism could put pressure on the people’s infrastructure and the sector faces unique challenges given its location, climate and the cost of traveling to Greenland.
Day trips to Kulusuk with flights from the Icelandic capital Reykjavik are 97,000 Icelandic kronor ($ 780 to 700 euros).
A sleigh is shown in Kulusuk, a settlement in Sermersooq municipality. AFP
They come back as different people
Greenland needs to address its infrastructure challenges if it wants to develop tourism, says Visit Greenland.
Government-funded work is underway to widen the runways in the capital Nuuk and Ilulissat, both on the west coast, and a new airport is planned in the south.
The tourism agency said it would weigh the environmental impact of the increased infrastructure, both on the environment and on local communities.
Ipsen is concerned about the effects of uncontrolled tourism in the region.
Anganni Karola, a Greenlandic musher works on his sled a Kulusuk. AFP
“We want to try to keep it as it is, so it doesn’t explode,” he said.
As stated by Johanna Bjork Sveinbjornsdottir, who is touring Kulusuk for a company based in Iceland, the increase in the number of visitors is being felt.
“In nature campsites where you used to be alone, there are two, three groups at a time,” he said.
Like Ipsen, he is also concerned about the effect that the increase in the number of visitors could have on the desert around the village.
“If you want nature to be able to survive this, you have to build the infrastructure,” he said, noting the lack of officially designated campsites around Kulusuk, with no rubbish bins or toilets for outdoor travelers and no one that oversees the sites.
Despite the worries, Sveinbjornsdottir expects visitors to keep coming.
“They come back as different people,” he said. “Everything is beyond what was ever imagined.”