What to Expect
Imagine a place...
… the size of France, with no highways, no shopping malls, and no city skyscrapers - just 14 small villages with a total population of less than 12,000. A place that is home to one of the world’s oldest living cultures, the Inuit, who thrive in one of the most spectacular wilderness regions left on Earth.
This is the near frontier of Nunavik, in the north of Quebec, Canada, only a two hour flight from Montreal.
In winter, this pristine corner of the Arctic brings spectacular displays of the Aurora Borealis, and the white-covered tundra provides “nature’s roadway”, as the Inuit travel by dog-sled and snow-mobile across the land. In summer, Nunavik bursts with life - polar bears roam, herds of caribou wander, migratory birds nest undisturbed, wildflowers carpet the land, and trout, salmon, and char fill the rushing streams and rivers.
Think pleasantly warm days and fleece cool nights, with tall mountains, wide-open tundra, and countless freshwater lakes (no one yet knows exactly how many there are). And your hosts? Some of the most hospitable people you will find anywhere – the soft-spoken and quick-to-laugh Inuit.
What to Expect:
There are no name brand hotels, no condos, and no time share resorts boasting swimming pools in Nunavik. Instead, a handful of small hotels in the villages offer basic comforts, along with meals prepared on request. In the shared guest areas, travelers mix freely where swapping travel stories is not uncommon. Outside of the villages, rustic cabins or camping is the norm in most places, but Pingualuit National Park offers beautiful, environmentally-friendly bungalows to stay in, each with spectacular views.
Food and Drink:
At a time when the most famous Michelin-star restaurants in the world are singing the praises of foraging for wild food, the Inuit of Nunavik have already been doing this for centuries. Mussels are harvested year-round, even from underneath the ice in winter, and in the summer, you will taste some of the freshest fish you have ever eaten. Summer also brings cloudberries, blueberries, and other wild fruits, enjoyed at the peak of their ripeness.
Food in Nunavik is prepared simple and fresh, with little spice or seasoning – just the pure flavors of the food itself. Because there is no farming in this Arctic region, fresh vegetables and other fruits are flown in from points south (like Montreal, two hours away), along with other goods. Alcohol is not served or sold in most Nunavik communities and only available in a few places. Bottled drinking water is readily available however, although fresh water from the tap in Nunavik comes from snow and ice fed lakes.
Nunavik’s “highways” are built by nature: In winter, the frozen tundra provides easy passage for dog-sleds and snowmobiles. In summer, an extensive system of lakes, rivers, and bays provide open waterways to explore Nunavik by boat, kayak, and canoe. Light aircraft transfers link the 14 villages, with regularly scheduled short flights making travel easy between small airports. Once you touch down, you will travel by local-access four-wheel drive vehicles, by foot, or by boat as you explore and experience one of the few regions of our planet not covered with tarmac highways.
To get to Nunavik, you generally fly north from your departure point, via Montreal (or Quebec City), to either Kuujjuaq (YVP) or Puvirnituq (YPX), approximately a two hour flight to either gateway community. Kuujjuaq is the largest of the two communities, with a population of just over 2,000 people, and its small, modern airport has a gift shop, along with a baggage claim area, as well as connecting flights to all of the other villages in Nunavik. Nunavik is served by Air Inuit and First Air, our local regional air carriers.
Do not expect cinemas, casinos, or theme parks. Instead of sitting down to watch a National Geographic TV special about nature and culture, you’ll be experiencing it yourself: Elders sharing stories about their history and heritage, throat singers performing and demonstrating their richly vibrant skills inspired by nature’s songs, Inuit guides explaining the turn of the seasons and the movements of wildlife. Your senses will come alive with the sights, smells, and sounds of unspoiled wilderness – something increasingly rare in today’s world.
Whatever the time of year, weather in Nunavik is always variable. The winter brings temperatures well below freezing and complete winter gear and traveling with reputable outfitters and guides is essential. In the summer, temperatures of 20°C (70° F) or higher are not uncommon during the day in July and August, dipping lower during the long twilight hours that make up the night. In some areas, temperatures near freezing can be expected at night (hiking in the Torngat Mountains, for example). The most important thing to remember is to be prepared for all kinds of weather – bright, warm sunshine, wind, rain, and even snow.
Like much of the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, during July and August, mosquitoes can flourish when the wind is soft or still. Likewise, a strong breeze can help keep them away. Bug repellant works just fine, and for those who prefer not to use insect repellant, locals in Nunavik often wear a light mesh jacket or a head net which prevents mosquitoes from biting. We suggest that you purchase either one before leaving for your trip. Long sleeved shirts and pants are recommended to likewise minimize being bitten.
What to Bring:
The happy traveler is the one who travels lightest. Choose the clothing you bring based on what is lightweight, comfortable, and washable. Being able to add and remove layers is especially important in the variable weather conditions you can expect to find. Along with comfortable, causal wear, be sure to bring long underwear, a fleece jacket, a knit hat and gloves, and a waterproof windbreaker or jacket. Polarized sunglasses and sunscreen are also important, especially in Spring, with its long days of sun bouncing off the bright snow. For hiking and walking, you will want a good pair of sturdy, comfortable, well broken-in walking shoes or light boots.
In addition, you will want to pack a few handy snacks, and an ample supply of any prescription medications, along with copies of the prescriptions. Because baggage may occasionally be lost or arrive late, keep an extra set of clothes in your flight bag and make sure you keep your valuables (passport, money, camera, prescription drugs, etc.) with you.
Health and Safety:
A small personal first aid kit is handy. Items such as Betadine skin cleanser, an antibiotic ointment for minor cuts, sun screen, insect repellent, aspirin, a pain reliever like Tylenol or Advil, and a few Band-Aids, in addition to other basic first-aid materials, are helpful to have.
There are health clinics in all the villages in Nunavik, and local hospitals for any emergencies in Kuujjuaq and Puvirnituq. Since there are daily two-hour flights to Montreal, any emergency requiring advanced medical care will fly to Montreal. Emergency air evacuation services are on standby throughout the region.
Nunavik benefits from Canada’s modern telecommunications system and in the villages, WiFi, and landlines are all commonly used and available. As is common in many remote areas of the world, in the national parks and wilderness areas of Nunavik, satellite phones are a very reliable form of communication. But your hosts at Inuit Adventures serve as a point of contact for any urgent or emergency situations, should someone need to reach you from home, or vice versa.
[Note: Text adapted with permission from the Kativik Regional Government, ‘What To Expect’ brochure]