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Churchill: Polar Bear Capital of the World

By: Emma Durand-Wood

January 6, 2015

An historic trading port located around 1700 km north of Winnipeg, Churchill, Manitoba is the undisputed Polar Bear Capital of the World. Every year, this remote little town welcomes thousands of nature lovers from across the globe, who come for the rare opportunity to see these ferocious (yet deceptively cute) polar bears in their natural habitat.

 

Churchill: Polar Bear Capital of the World

A mama bear and her cubs cosy up to each other in the snow © Travel Manitoba

When planning the trip of a lifetime to see the polar bears in Churchill, there are two key times of the year to consider. During June and July, you’ll see polar bears frolicking on the tundra and coastal rocks. October and November are also popular months, as the bears are migrating towards the ice for seal hunting season.

 

How close will you get to these majestic animals? It depends on how brave you are! Popular options are tundra vehicles (buggies), boats or canoes, walking/hiking tours, and helicopter tours. For most folks, tundra vehicles are a great choice. They’re generally heated, have bathrooms on board, and best of all, let you get face to face with polar bears (with a thick window between you, of course!).

 

Churchill: Polar Bear Capital of the World

Tundra vehicles make it easy to get great photos while maintaining a safe distance © Travel Manitoba

Once you’ve got a good view (from a comfortable distance), you’ll enjoy observing the majestic polar bears in their true natural surroundings. These creatures are feisty, playful and curious, so you’ll likely see them wrestling, cuddling and poking around. If you’re visiting during hunting season, you might even catch a glimpse of a seal kill.

 

To make sure your polar bear sightseeing is comfortable and safe, come with the proper gear. Dress in layers, warm winter outerwear, and sturdy walking boots (some tour companies offer rentals, so check ahead). And don’t forget extra batteries and memory cards for your camera, along with binoculars.

 

Churchill: Polar Bear Capital of the World

Watching polar bears play is sure to put a smile on your face © Travel Manitoba

Dozens of companies run polar bear tours in Churchill, with many offering all inclusive packages with transportation from Winnipeg. To narrow down the choices, ask yourself what you’d like to experience, and what your travel style is. Do you want to explore the tundra on foot, or experience the exhilarating views from a helicopter? Like travelling in style and comfort, or roughing it a bit? Are you there just for the bears or are you interested in seeing belugas, foxes and the aurora borealis (northern lights)?

 

Churchill: Polar Bear Capital of the World

A perk of visiting the Canadian North: the breathtaking aurora borealis © Travel Manitoba

Here are a handful of tours to get you started; check the Everything Churchill website for an extensive list of operators.

 

  • Churchill Wild run ground-level walking tours at their remote fly-in lodges in summer and autumn. They also offer photo safaris designed specifically for photographers who want to capture the experience with once-in-a-lifetime pictures.
  • If you love being in the air, Hudson Bay Helicopters tours give you a bird’s eye view of polar bears through 60- or 90-minute tours. 
  • Hudson Bay, Buggies & Bears from Rail Travel Tours is a weeklong excursion that combines the magic of train travel with unforgettable polar bear watching.

Whichever way you choose to see the polar bear capital of the world, the experience is sure to be a thrilling and unforgettable one.

 

Churchill: Polar Bear Capital of the World

It’s not unusual to see polar bears travelling in small packs; cubs stay with their mothers until they are about 2½ years old © Travel Manitoba

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Is seeing polar bears in Churchill on your bucket list? Or are you lucky enough to have been to the polar bear capital of the world? Let us know in the comments section below.

Written by Emma DurandWood

Emma Durand-Wood

Emma Durand-Wood is a freelance writer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She blogs about her adopted hometown's quirks at www.winnipegomyheart.com and also writes on an eclectic mix of topics ranging from travel, pregnancy and parenting, libraries, and the legal industry. Some of her favourite places to visit are Waterton Lakes National Park, the Niagara region of Ontario, and anywhere on a lake in Manitoba, preferably with a celebrity biography in one hand and a glass of wine in the other.

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