This post is sponsored by Canadian North Airlines and Travel Nunavut, but all opinions expressed are my own.
Canada’s youngest territory, Nunavut (pronounced noo-nah-vut), is also one of its least populous with about 38,000 people per 1.9 million square kilometers. Its landscapes have long attracted those who love an adventure. Iqaluit (pronounced ee-kha-loo-eet), specifically, is the most populous city in Nunavut with about 9,000 inhabitants.
In Iqaluit, many people work for the government or local infrastructure or trades. A sizeable portion of those workers immigrated here from places around the world. (True fact: I saw more Black African people in Iqaluit than I typically encounter in Toronto, Ontario.) The local Indigenous population is primarily Inuit. The three official languages spoken here are: French, English and Inuktitut. Want to learn the language? You can take the lessons at Inuktuk Tusaalanga.
Travel to Iqaluit is the kind of thing that people put on a bucket list but never get around to. That said, a recent flight addition from Inuit-owned Canadian North Airlines means you can go up north for as little as a weekend at a fraction of what it used to cost.
Where is Iqaluit?
Iqaluit is a southern city in the Nunavut territory. Nunavut is one of three Canadian northern territories. It was created in 1999 and literally translates in Inuktitut (the language of the Inuit) to “Our Land.” About 85% of Nunavut’s population are Inuit.
What does “Iqaluit” mean?
The word Iqaluit means “place of many fish”, while the people who call Iqaluit home are called the ‘Iqalumiut.’
How can I travel to Iqaluit this summer?
Starting June 3, Canadian North Airlines offers direct flights to Iqaluit from Toronto. They leave on Fridays and Sundays around noon for the three-hour flight. You can stay for the weekend, or plan to stay for six or eight days or, you can add in a flight with a stopover in Ottawa for a mid-week return.
4 More Reasons to Travel to Iqaluit:
1. Travel To Iqaluit To Visit The Visitor’s Centre
Once you arrive in Iqaluit, you may want to head straight to the Visitor’s Centre, where you’ll learn about the importance of ice to the seasons here, and, you’ll develop an understanding of the people who have been here for hundreds of years and the Iqaluit Inuit culture. Next door there is an art gallery and museum where they often showcase Inuit art. We even came across an incredible Anne Frank exhibit.
2. Explore Iqaluit On Your Own Or With A Guide
The destination’s popularity is only going to increase with these flights, so planning ahead is important if you’d like to secure time with an outfitter. A resurgence of travel post pandemic pause has meant that trips that couldn’t happen then, are happening now. The good news is, there are options that make it easy to visit and explore on your own.
In the summer there are boat tours, kayaking and canoeing expeditions, fishing and guided hikes that range from a few hours to a week long! The outdoor adventure options are endless. Check out a full list of bookable adventures at Travel Nunavut. and if you are looking for last minute availability with a guide, visit Travel Nunavut’s Instagram page where local outfitters post their last minute openings.
Outfitters who know the land and the people are always a good choice. Consider Tikkipugut, the family-owned business that offers summer boating trips, and independent travel advice. They are also gearing up to offer winter options next season, so if you’re planning your trip for next summer, you’ll want to book it now to make sure you get a spot on one of their tours.
3. Check Into A Warm, Cozy Hotel in Iqaluit
If you’re after comfort and camaraderie, there are four popular hotels in Iqaluit that will satisfy your needs and range from $250-$350 per night. We stayed at Aqarsiniit, the city’s newest hotel. Because the city faces temperatures as low as -40 in winter, buildings are built for weather not aesthetic value on the outside. However, inside you’ll find rooms that are warm, modern and welcoming. Rooms are about $350 per night for a two queen-bed room. They also have a gym, an incredible local craft shop, a restaurant and a lounge. Check out my Instagram highlight reels at @HeatherGD to see a video clip of my room tour.
4. Visit Craft Shops and Purchase Souvenirs
The first thing you’ll want to do once you arrive in Iqaluit is wander the downtown core to find options for crafts and carvings. If you’re into great packaged goods that you can easily transport home, you’ll marvel at products and items like Uasau Soap and Inuit Herbal Tea. If home isn’t Canada, you’ll want to check your government’s rules before bringing back animal products. Lastly, make sure to keep some cash on hand because local artisans often wander through restaurants or on the blocks downtown selling their own wares. Purchasing direct from the artist assures that all of your money goes into the artist’s hands without any middleman.
10 Things To Remember When Travelling to Iqaluit
1. Book Now, Because Direct Flights From Toronto Are Only Available Until September 30
Canadian Airlines has changed the game for travellers this summer with new direct Toronto to Iqaluit flights that start at $432 per leg! You can also use your Aeroplan points to book flights. (Otherwise, there are daily, year round flights out of Ottawa.)
2. Cabs Take Cash (And Work Similarly To Uber Pool)
All cabs take cash and work like Uber pool where you may pick up other passengers along the way. It’s a great opportunity to meet other people in town (including the drivers themselves who often hail from places around the world) and the fare $8.75 per/per trip person is standard.
3. Contact Caribou Cab Company Or Inukpak Outfitting For A City Tour
One way to see Iqaluit is to organize a city tour and contact the Caribou Cab company the morning of the day before you’d like to take it. The tour is $40 for a half hour or $80 for an hour, and you can stop and take pictures along the way. Another is to reach out to Inukpak Outfitting.
4. 24 Hours of Sunshine In The Summer
In summer, you can expect almost 24 hours of sunshine. We waited for a sunset and never really saw one. Most hotels have black out curtains, but bring a sleep mask with you so you can besure to catch some sleep and rest. Your body clock just may suggest a walk at 2 am.
5. Prices Are Different
Prices here can be shocking – especially for groceries. Simply popping into Northmart will give you a sobering appreciation of the prices you receive back home. It will also help you realize how difficult it must be for Indigenous local people who don’t earn government salaries to access the fruits and vegetables we take for granted. That said, government subsidies do help with some dairy and wheat product costs.
6. Consider Offering A Helping Hand
While many people in Iqaluit earn enough to fend for themselves, regions that don’t have similar access to flights south can always benefit from donations. Organizations like One Plane Away help to get donations out to remote communities further north. You can also consider travelling light and donating money to places like the Qajuqturvik community food centre or the Arctic Children and Youth Foundation.
7. Access To Liquor In Nunavut
Wine and spirits aren’t always easy to get in Nunavut. Each community votes on how they want to handle alcohol for their region, which means there may be limits on the type of product and the amount, and you usually need to show ID to make a purchase. We had no trouble getting a glass of wine or beer in the restaurants we visited, but, you can also bring a bottle or two with you in your checked luggage within Canada. Here’s more information about liquor in Nunavut.
8. Spots To See When Sightseeing
There are no shortage of spots for a great photo but don’t miss:
- The Inuit Broadcasting Corporation building is great for snapping picturesque, Instagram-worthy shots
- There are incredible stone sculptures throughout the downtown core (including on Four Corners and at the RCMP headquarters)
- In the community of Apex, there’s the Hudson’s Bay Trading Post on the coast of Frobisher Bay
9. Hiking Is a Must!
In the summer, hiking is a popular pastime for locals and visitors alike. For example, the Apex Trail and the route alongside the river in Sylvia Grinnell park are routes to take for awesome views and a great workout. Make sure to check All Trails for details and advice.
10. Book Your Dinner Reservations In Advance
Dinner reservations are worth booking in advance. Looking for something quick to eat, consider Yummy Shawarma (they’ve got pizza and baklava too), Black Heart Cafe (coffees, pastries, breakfast and lunch) or The Granite Restaurant at the Discovery Hotel (for something a bit fancier). If you can score a seat at Sheila Flaherty’s table, do it. Her Sijjakkut culinary tours are just getting started but the Master Chef Canada contestant’s plans will make getting a meal with her increasingly difficult in the months to come.
Inuit cuisine including whale jerky was on the menu at the home of Master Chef Canada contestant Sheila Flaherty.
For a late day/night tipple, the Nubrew pub is good for both a pint and a purchase. They’ve also got fantastic sweats, hats and t-shirts that are perfect for souvenirs of your stay.
5 Things To Pack for Your Summer Trip to Iqaluit, Nunavut
Even in the summer we found snow and ice in spots and the wind on the water can pack a punch. Having wind-resistant top layers and options to keep you warm and dry underneath is always a good idea. And if you’ve forgotten something popping into a shop and supporting the local economy isn’t a bad idea either.
2. Good shoes
Trails are usually well-marked, but curiosity will still likely take you up rocky paths, over boulders and across squishy bogs. Well-treaded, waterproof hiking shoes are a great idea.
3. Patience and Flexibility
Things tend to move at a slower pace in the north. Things close unexpectedly. Plans get shifted in order to accommodate the elements. It’s all part of the adventure.
4. Your sleep mask
All that sunshine is great when you’re out and about but when it’s time to sleep, you may want to make sure you’ve got the darkness you’re used to. While hotels typically have blackout blinds, we found a good sleep mask helped ensure a great sleep.
Cabs only take cash and the same is true for local artists you might bump into. Having cash on hand is always a great idea.
Looking for more?
Travel Nunavut has put together a three-day itinerary you can use for ideas on how to spend your time in the North.