Santa, Sleighs and Igloos in Finland

Do you believe in Santa Claus? What if I told you that the letters you address to “The North Pole” actually make it to a small town in Finland, where Santa and his helpers sit at their desks and read each and every letter? You probably won’t believe me, thinking it was a made up kids story. But really, it is actually true and I have seen it with my very own eyes!

I flew to a city called Ivalo, in northern Finland, located inside the Arctic Circle. Even in April, there was snow as far as my eyes could see. Reindeers appeared wandering around the alpine forests, as I took a 30-minute shuttle ride to Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Lapland.

Most people say they have never heard of Lapland, until I mention the “igloo hotel.” The iconic photo of a village dotted with glass igloos glowing against the twilight sky in wintery wonderland, has appeared across many social media posts. I had only dreamt of going there myself someday, and here I was.

igloo resort finlandThe shuttle dropped off the passengers at a log cabin used as the reception area. We fetched our keys and were told to use the sleighs kept outside to carry our luggage to our respective cabin rooms or igloos.

While it was snowing heavily outside and temperatures dipped under 30F (“unusually warm for this time of the year” they informed me), I dragged my wooden sleigh to my cabin.

laplandThere are three kinds of rooms at the resort. The first and most popular are the glass igloos, available in two sizes – sleeps 2 (with toilet, no shower) or 4 people (with shower and toilet). The igloos have limited space to store luggage and almost no privacy, since they are made entirely of glass. Though you have to walk through the snowy cold weather to get to the igloo, once inside, it is nice and toasty.

The second option is to get a log cabin. Here, you can get a very comfortable king size bed, kitchenette, breakfast area, as well as a personal sauna. Now, that’s luxury! For those who cannot decide between the igloo or the cabin, there is the Kelo Glass Igloo, which combines a cabin with an igloo, so you get the best of both worlds. Store your luggage in the cabin, enjoy a nice hot sauna, and sleep in the igloo at night.

kakslauttanen_kelo-glass_igloo_rgbPicture yourself lying in bed, looking at the sky, while the Aurora Lights dance around in their green, orange and red hues. That is the main reason to come here. In Lapland, you can see northern lights almost every night from August-April, in their full splendor. The resort also offers activities “Aurora Hunting” on snow mobiles or reindeer sleighs.

During the day, guests can enjoy winter sports such as cross country skiing, dog sledding, hiking, riding snow mobiles, and more.

dsc06915For lunch, there is always all-you-can-eat soup (two choices) and homemade breads. Dinner at the restaurant is also quite good. The menu features local ingredients and Lappish dishes, such as reindeer stew, Alaskan crab, grilled salmon, and stewed cloudberries.

reindeer & salmon

The resort is actually quite large and worth exploring for a few hours. First, you want to visit Santa’s house. Here, resident Mr and Mrs Claus live, meet guests and participate in activities through the season. The Celebration House is where Santa throws elaborate parties. It is also used for weddings and events. There are other small workshops, an ice chapel, and of course, the local wildlife. Couple of dozen reindeers live on the property.

Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort is one of it’s kind. It was started by a visionary, Jussi Eiramo. While on vacation, he discovered this patch of beautiful area where he could camp and see the Northern Lights almost every night of the year. So, he opened a souvenir shop about 40 years ago, then made ice igloos for people to stay at, and later designed the first glass igloos using unique Finnish technology.

Today, Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort is a bucket list destination for those who seek adventure, romance and off the beaten path travel. It is a place where families flock to in the winter to celebrate the holiday season, party with Santa, and enjoy the essence of the North Pole.

How to Pack for Your Trip to Greenland

“There is no such thing as bad weather, it’s only bad clothing.” This is what I heard over and over again before, and during my trip to Greenland. Most of the country lying in the Arctic circle, Greenland is not your typical pack up and go destination. You have to think about where you will be visiting, what time of the year it will be, and what activities you would participate in.

canada goose at 66N

I went to South Greenland (latitude between 60-69 degrees North) during August, which is towards the end of summer. The tempratures ranged from 30-50F, and other factors played a role as well. If the sky for clear and sunny, it felt pleasant, but if it was cloudy and windy, it felt a lot colder. Thankfully, I did some research ahead of time and was well prepared so I never felt uncomfortable.

Here are some tips that I highly recommend when packing for your trip to Greenland:

Dress in Layers – A shell of long sleeve t-shirt or thermal; sweater or fleece; parka or jacket – at least three so you have some way to adjust your comfort based on the dramatic changes in weather. I took a Canada Goose Camp Hooded Jacket and Canada Goose HyBridge Lite Jacket, based on guidance from their Thermal Experience Index. They were both stylish and fitting, available in vibrant colors. I found out that this Toronto based company provides official Parka for Air Greenland flight crew and pilots. Canada Goose is the official jacket of the UNESCO site Ilulissat Fjord and worn by the park rangers. In fact, Canada Goose sells more jackets per capita in Greenland than anywhere else in the world.

canada goose at sailing among glaciers

Layer dressing also applies to pants, hats and gloves. Because of strong winds, you must carry wind proof jacket with hoodie at all times.

Get Good Shoes – Don’t think about carrying a pair of fashionable boots for the day and sandals for the night. All you need is a super comfortable of all terrain hiking boots. Make sure that they are not a brand new pair and are already broken into. I walked on ice, snow, rocks, streets and grasslands – even though this was not an expedition. Of course, warm socks are a must. Take a look at outdoorempire.com for some great choices of tactical boots, perfect for hikes of all magnitudes.

Greenlanders dress very casual and even when you go to a restaurant or bar, hiking shoes or boots are perfectly ok. You may want to carry a pair of house slippers as you have to take your shoes off before entering a Greenlandic homes. This rule also applies at some of the hostels.

Pack Some Food – Even though I stayed at hotels and hostels located in somewhat urban areas, there were multiple times during my trip when I needed food and couldn’t find it. The grocery stores close at 6pm (some at 4pm), there may be a restaurant or two in town, no snack bars near tourist attractions, and no vending machines anywhere. I carried few granola bars and snacks with me for these times, and made a run to the grocery store to buy fruit, chips, chocolates, etc. (cost is at least 2-4 times than in US).

food in Greenland

Also, note that alcohol sales at stores ends at 6pm on weekdays, 1pm on Saturdays and not allowed on Sundays. If you are the kind of person who likes a glass of beer or wine in the evenings, make sure you plan ahead. Surely, you can find it at restaurants and bars (if there is one), but its not cheap.

Travel Light – The only way to get around Greenland is by air or water. I took helicopters, planes and boats to move from town to town. Although none of these had issues with luggage allowance, its easier to get in and out with one bag. The two Canada Goose jackets I took with me were super light, unlike any heavy wool, goose-down, or parka I have purchased before.

When we landed by boat at a sheep farm in Ipiutaq, there was no dock. We had to get off the boat and directly climb on to a wet rock with our bags. Then we landed in grass and carried ourselves into the farm house. It was quite an experience!

landing in sheep farm

Take Everything You Need – Greenland is still a remote destination where most of the products are imported from Europe. Only Nuuk (the capital city) has shopping centers and malls where you can find practically everything from backyards pools to hula hoops. In other towns, stores carry basic supplies like food, medicine, alcohol, electronics and household goods. Choice are limited and prices very high. It is better to prepare ahead of time and carry items you may need during your trip, for example enough medication, batteries, toiletries, etc, as well as thinking outside of the box for anything you might need, for example if you’ll be on a boat, remember to pack spare marine batteries. I also carried my laptop and DVD’s for the quiet evenings where there was no television (even if there was one, it rarely worked), and I didn’t want to pay for internet ($20/ hour standard rate).

Click here to read more about my experiences in Greenland.