When you think of Arctic tourism hot spots, Greenland, Iceland and the North Pole might all come to mind. These iconic Arctic destinations are popular with polar adventurers, each for its own good reasons.
But there’s an equally fascinating and captivating destination that’s emerging – one that’s still relatively untouched and uniquely pristine. Although it’s the fifth largest island in the world (and the largest in Canada), Baffin Island remains a mystery to many. Most of the island’s population of 11,000 live in the capital of Iqaluit, leaving the vast majority of its land surface uninhabited.Pangnirtung, Baffin Island Photo Courtesy: Acacia Johnson
There are few places left in the world where you can feel an almost complete solitude –where you could realistically envision that you might be the first person in centuries (or even in history) to stand where you stand, and enjoy the view that you see.
Baffin Island is one of those rare places.
Baffin Island Geography Is Fantastic for Arctic Adventure
Known as Qikiqtaaluk in Inuktitut, the local Inuit language, and Île de Baffin in French, Baffin Island lies at 69°N in Canada’s High Arctic. Its capital city, originally called Frobisher Bay (for the bay on which it is located), has been known as Iqaluit since 1987. Other towns and hamlets on the massive island include the following:
- Pangnirtung (pop. 1,425)
- Pond Inlet (pop.1,315)
- Cape Dorset (pop. 1,363)
- Clyde River (pop. 820)
- Arctic Bay (pop. 690)
- Qikiqtarjuaq (pop. 520)
- Kimmirut (pop. 455)
Qikiqtarjuaq, Baffin Island Photo Courtesy: Acacia Johnson
Rising at its southern tip from the frigid waters of the Hudson Strait, which separates the island from the province of Quebec, Baffin Island spans a massive 195,928 square miles (507,451 sq km). To its east and northeast are the Davis Strait and Baffin Bay, with Greenland beyond. To the southwest lies the challenging Fury and Hecla Strait, which narrows to just under 1 mile (1.6 km) in places.
The northeast of the island is home to the Baffin Mountains, a range that reaches 7,031 feet (2,143 meters) at Mount Odin, its highest peak. Thor Peak, located 29 miles (46 km) northeast of Pangnirtung, boasts a pure vertical drop of 4,100 feet (1,250 meters), the greatest on earth.
Baffin Island has many inland bodies of water, the largest of which is Nettilling Lake. The island is also home to the Barnes Ice Cap, a 20,000-year-old, 2,300-square-mile (6,000 sq km) glacier. As a result of rising Arctic temperatures, the glacier has been receding since the 1960s.
Baffin Island Culture & History
Kimmirut, Baffin Island Photo Courtesy: John F. Ho
The Inuit people have inhabited Baffin Island and much of the Canadian Arctic for thousands of years. Relics, including yarn and a carved face mask discovered near Kimmirut, point to European contact with the Inuit of Baffin Island as early as 1,000 years ago.
Today, Kimmirut is a fantastic place to experience authentic Inuit crafts and artwork, such as carvings made of local marble and soapstone. The tiny town boasts a large artistic population and is renowned for its beautiful jewelry, often made of sapphire, moonstone, garnet and lapis lazuli from the island.
Better known on the international art scene is the hamlet of Cape Dorset, where local artists have created over 100,000 drawings and more than 2,500 limited-edition prints. The artwork of one resident artist, Kenojuak Ashevak, has been featured on Canadian stamps and a Canadian coin.
Pangnirtung, known as the Switzerland of the Arctic, is believed to have been inhabited by Inuit people for as long as 4,000 years. Sculptures, carvings, lithographs and tapestries from this small Arctic town are finding their way to international buyers.
Visit the Arctic for Spectacular Wildlife Viewing on Baffin Island
Of course, there’s no guarantee that a specific animal will make an appearance during any particular visit, but Baffin Island is teeming with arctic wildlife. Polar bears, arctic wolves, ringed seals, lemmings, arctic fox, arctic hare and caribou reside here year-round.
Arctic Fox, Baffin Island Photo Courtesy: Acacia Johnson
Summer brings nesting arctic birds, who enjoy the explosion of vibrant, colorful flowers, like yellow arctic poppies and purple saxifrage, during warmer weather. Baffin Island is an ornithologist’s delight, with Canada geese, snow geese, brant geese, sandpipers, plovers, phalaropes, Brünnich’s guillemots and several species of gulls residing, nesting and migrating in different areas.
Harp seals migrate from Greenland and Labrador to Baffin Island in summer. On the western side of the island, at Foxe Basin, large herds of walrus bask in the sun on rocks near the shoreline. Summer visitors might also spot beluga whales just offshore as they migrate up the coast, breaching to breathe every 30 seconds or so. Narwhals and bowhead whales may also make an appearance.
Baffin Island is an arctic cruise passenger favorite, with good reason. Vast, incredibly remote and entirely unpredictable, the region offers a unique and intensely personal experience for each passionate polar traveler.