Nunavut is a vast region in northern Canada and includes most of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. The remoteness, vastness and variety of the environment means that Nunavut is brimming with unique opportunities to see, do and experience an almost endless list of attractions. This article is a brief introduction to what the region has to offer.
- Not only is Nunavut the least populated province and territory in Canada, it is also one of the most remote and least populated regions in the world.
How to get to Nunavut
Nunavut is the only part of Canada that is not connected to the rest of the continent by road or highway. It is not an easy place to get to, so travelers will have to get there by plane or boat. The region is almost the size of Mexico and is largely made up of islands separated by freezing water. Travel within Nunavut is therefore done by dog sleds, boats and charter planes.
There are approximately 40 airports in Nunavut. Travelers planning to go there will likely land in Iqaluit, the capital, which is also the largest and most popular entry point.
- A flight from Toronto to Iqaluit will cost between $400 and $1,000, depending on the time of year
- The total duration of the direct flight is approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes
When to visit Nunavut
Nunavut is best enjoyed in the summer. Being an arctic region, the summers are short and cool. The climate is arctic (obviously) and the terrain is characterized by perennial frost and endless tundra, so visitors will need winter clothing no matter what time of year.
Tourists are not recommended to visit during winter due to extremely low temperatures. Almost none of the usual activities take place as locals hunker down to survive the cold.
Between the months of October and April, the Northern Lights light up the night sky. Motivated visitors with the necessary equipment and skills can make the trip, weather permitting.
It is important to note that during the summers many of the northern islands enjoy 24 hours of sunshine, while in the winter the same islands are plunged into perpetual darkness. For a time, twilight reigns, so be prepared for some unusual circadian conditions.
- The town of Alert, Nunavut is the northernmost permanently inhabited area in the world
What to do in Nunavut
Arctic animals are one of the most unique and significant features of Nunavut.
Cambridge Bay is home to fascinating arctic oxen like the musk ox. In early summer, watch the steam rise from their backs as they migrate north to freshly thawed land to graze. Floating in lakes and straits, elegant tundra swans enjoy the fleeting warmth after a long migration.
- Most islands in Nunavut are uninhabited and many are unexplored
At Floe Edge, where the coast is clearly delineated by ice and sea, whales, polar bears and walruses come close to shore to feed on shrimp and fish. Spring and summer are energetic times, as animals and humans take advantage of the long hours of daylight to hunt and eat enough to last the year, most of which are spent hibernating and laying down.
Another unique activity is dog sledding. It’s a convenient way to get around and see the scenery, as much of the area is unpaved. Alternatively, Nunavut is a great place for snowmobiling. Book an Inuit guide in one of the main towns and head out into nature on foot, by sled or snowmobile to see how settlers traveled the Arctic for thousands of years.
- It is estimated that the first settlers of Nunavut, the Dorsets, arrived there over 4,500 years ago.
Wildlife safaris take place almost exclusively in the form of treks, on boats or dog sleds and snowmobiles.
Inuit culture and art
There are approximately 30,000 people in Nunavut. By far the majority of the settlers are Inuit. Having lived here for thousands of years, the Inuit have a rich culture and are generally happy to share their traditions and way of life with respectful visitors.
- Inuit settlements are concentrated along the coasts of the southern islands
Music is a big part of indigenous culture and includes throat singing and dancing led by drums. Since European colonization, locals have syncretized various styles of music and dance. Visitors can attend concerts featuring unique versions of country and bluegrass music, which incorporate a mix of native and European instruments like the button accordion and fiddle.
Nunavut even has its own internationally renowned local circus collective. Artcirq is a group of Inuit circus artists based in Igloolik. The group has performed all over the world and even competed in the 2010 Winter Olympics. They perform regularly throughout Nunavut, especially at summer festivals in the capital.
Inuuk photographers Kublo Tucktoo and Utuqi Idlout in Taloyoak, Nunavut, 1973
Photo: © Pamela Harris / Collections of the Art Gallery of Ontario pic.twitter.com/HnmcKUKflv
— ᓰᓰᑫᐧᓯᐢ (@PaulSeesequasis) February 4, 2022
Shopping, a universal activity, is special in Nunavut. The Inuit are skilled artisans, hunters and leaders. At one of the many markets in almost every community in Nunavut, visitors can purchase unique goods such as furs, skins, crafts and art.
- Nunavut holds the title of largest High Arctic land region in the world
Inuit art is world famous and the locals are known to be decent. They rarely charge more than they think an item is worth, so prices are almost always fair. Inuit are firm believers in keeping the peace and preventing unpleasant confrontations. They could therefore be forced to sell their goods at a loss if tourists give them a hard time haggling. It is indecent to put them in these situations, so as a tourist avoid bargaining and give them thanks by paying what they charge.
This has been a brief introduction to the unique activities available in Nunavut. It’s not particularly expensive to get there, and it’s well worth the time and effort it takes to make the trip. Make the most of this beautiful pocket of the world by being open-minded, well-prepared and respectful.
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