Following Rudolph in the Arctic
Beyond the Arctic Circle, in the far north of Sweden, the nomadic Sami people have been herding reindeer for centuries. But few people from other parts of the world have explored this unspoiled and enchanting place.
With its stunning rugged landscape of mountains, lakes, forests, and tundras, Lapland is one of the most unique places on Earth to enjoy nature. Just 31⁄2 hours by plane from London’s Heathrow airport, the town of Gällivare is where you’ll meet your Sami guides before embarking on a journey into the wilderness to witness the spectacular reindeer migration.
Each spring, more than 200,000 reindeer migrate more than 200km (124 miles) from the woodlands to the mountains in Laponia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Brace yourself for the cold (the temperature is often –6 to 1°C/ 20–30°F this time of year), and be prepared to carry a light pack of your personal belongings, while you follow a reindeer herd and help the local Sami herders with their work. In groups no larger than 10 people, you’ll travel on skis and snowmobiles for about a week, learning about the Sami’s traditional way of life. Reindeer have been central to the Samis throughout history—they eat their meat, and use them to carry heavy loads (including most of your camping gear and the heavier equipment necessary for your trip). There are about 20,000 Sami Sweden, and while most now live urban lives, about 2,500 Sami families still carry on the reindeer herding tradition. The Sami are Europe’s only indigenous people.
As you travel through the remote Arctic highlands, you’ll sleep in a time-honored Sami “kata” or “lavvu” (similar to a teepee tent) with a stove burning in the center for warmth, or in a herder’s cabin. You’ll work together to set up camp, chop firewood or help with cooking, feed the reindeer, and build corrals to protect the animals from predators such as wolves, wolverines, and lynx. On some days, you can try ice fishing for Arctic char or track birds and rabbits. At night, the Northern Lights provide breathtaking displays across the sky.
After your week outdoors, reward yourself with a Swedish sauna and another night or two in Jukkasjarvi at the very cool (both literally and figuratively) Ice Hotel in Jukkasjarvi ( 46/0-980-66-800; www.icehotel.com), the world’s largest hotel constructed from ice and snow. Even the bed is made of ice, but don’t worry: The mattress is covered by—what else—a thick reindeer skin, plus a down-filled sleeping bag and a fur hat will keep you surprisingly warm.
Swedish Tourist Board ( 212/885-9700; www.visitsweden.com).
Tours: Crossing Latitudes ( 800/572-8747; www.crossinglatitudes.com). Pathfinder Lapland ( 46/070-688-1577; www.pathfinderlapland.se).
When to Go: Mar–Apr.
Kiruna airport, Lapland (connection from Heathrow in London).