Svalbard Discourages Last-Minute Visitors

Mayor says settlement has reached its limit

Mar 13, 2015
Outside Magazine
2013 Arctic Summer Svalbard

Polar bears roam Svalbard, just another reason for last-minute bookers to reconsider.    Smudge 9000/Flickr

The Norwegian islands of Svalbard, an archipelago some 500 miles north of the mainland, is at risk of overcrowding as visitors arrive to see a rare total eclipse of the sun on March 20, Reuters reports.

Christin Kristoffersen, mayor of Longyearbyen, Svalbard’s 2,500-person settlement, told Reuters she expected 1,500 visitors for the eclipse. The attraction is understandable since both Svelbard and Denmark’s Faroe Islands are considered ideal locations to view the event, given the islands’ low levels of light pollution and position directly in the eclipse’s path.

But even in visitor-friendly Svalbard, hospitality has its limits.

“Safety comes first, even before the eclipse,” Kristoffersen said. “We need to take care of people.”

Kristoffersen cited the frosty temperatures typical to the area this time of year, as well as the presence of polar bears. As Outside wrote in 2011, a group of British travelers in Svalbard were visiting the base of Von Postbreen glacier when a polar bear attacked the group, killing one person and seriously injuring four others. On average, people shoot three polar bears in self-defense every year in Svalbard.

While most hotels have been booked for months, some accommodations are still available for people hoping to see the eclipse. Torstein Christiansen, tourism and business manager of Visit Torshavn, told Reuters that the Faroe Islands, whose population of 50,000 expects 8,000 visitors, might be a safer bet. Camping sites, for example, will be opening earlier this year for eclipse watchers who don’t mind sleeping outdoors.

“And we don’t have polar bears,” Christiansen added.