See polar bears in the wild

October 2003

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Suggested itinerary
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Suggested area for a polar bear safari

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Churchill is a remote village in the Canadian state of Manitoba, known for being one of the few places in the world where tourists can observe polar bears in the wild, up close and in complete safety. Churchill is located at the perfect latitude for polar bears, where they have the best conditions for feeding and reproducing, and where in the fall they gather waiting for the Hudson Bay to freeze completely. Although Churchill is best known for polar bears observation tours, the village is an ideal base for trips in Manitoba in almost all seasons, observing Arctic fauna that includes many birds, as well as beluga and arctic foxes, in a landscape dominated by a variety of habitats. In winter, or when the days are short enough, Churchill is one of the best places in the world for viewing the Northern Lights, as the town is located along an ideal ring around the North Pole where the phenomena is at its highest frequency. Therefore a trip to Churchill in Manitoba, is particularly recommended for all those who love to watch the animals in the wild, and for who like extreme northern environments.


If you decided to make a trip to Manitoba, you're probably wondering how to get to Churchill, since its small population and isolation may suggest that no many flights exist from the outside world. To get to Churchill, you will most likely have to get to Winnipeg before, the capital of Manitoba, a city served by many flights a day onto Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Chicago, Minneapolis, Edmonton and Calgary. From Winnipeg, there are several weekly flights to Churchill operated by small turboprop planes and, in high season, the flights usually become daily. As the flights to and from Churchill may be delayed due to inclement weather or other circumstances, it is always a good practice to allow lot of extra time between connecting flights (best is to spend a night in Winnipeg), alternatively, Churchill is also served by train, still from Winnipeg, a journey that usually take almost two days (if you like traveling on unusual railways, the trip by train may be particularly recommended).


The best season to visit Churchill is summer and autumn, approximately from mid June to late November. During the summer, the first part of the tourist season, there are beluga whales (if you are brave enough, you may snorkel with them) and this is the ideal season for long walks on the tundra, looking for birds and other Arctic wildlife including polar bears. Towards the end of the tourist season, between October and November, Churchill is visited by lot of polar bears awaiting the Hudson Bay to freeze, before heading off on the ice. The shorter days for this time of year increases the possibilities to see the fantastic northern lights. During the winter, Churchill is extremely cold and completely covered with ice and snow.


If the primary purpose of your trip to Churchill is to observe polar bears in the wild, it is necessary to plan the time of visit carefully. Although some tour operators offer trips to see the polar bears in July and August, the best season to see polar bears in the wild is at the beginning of winter, between mid-October and mid-November, when the landscape is usually covered by snow (it is certainly more picturesque to see bears in the snow, rather than on barren tundra, as it happens in summer). In this time of the year, it's also much easier to spot polar bears, as they gather together waiting for Hudson bay to freeze (during the summer they are instead quite scattered all around, so you may see less of them and less frequently).


The great North can be a rather hostile environment, with issues not present at other latitudes. Therefore, if you are not expert about how to deal with inclement weather, how to drive off-road and how behave in close contact with potentially dangerous wildlife, it's much better to contact one of the many specialized operators offering tours to see polar bears in Churchill, either getting a professional guide staying with you all the time, or joining a group tour. Guided tours to observe polar bears are usually operated by tundra buggy, a robust amphibious vehicles that can move easily on uneven ground, guaranteeing lot of close encounters.


Listed below are the answers to most frequently asked questions we receive from tourists interested in booking a trip to Churchill, particularly to observe polar bears:

  • What is the typical temperature in Churchill? Is it always very cold? The fact that in the north is always very cold and frozen all year round, is only a stereotype and Churchill is no exception. During the tourist season, summer temperatures in July and August can reach +30 degrees Celsius (but see the next FAQ) while in October and November there may be some snow with temperature dropping down to -15 Celsius. Extreme temperatures exceeding -40 Celsius are usually recorded in the heart of the winter, when there are few or no visitors.
  • How to dress for a tour in Churchill? A feature of the climate in Churchill is the strong variability, with significant temperature changes in a short time, and therefore visitors must be prepared for all the conditions, even during the warmest months, dressing in layers that can be easily adapted. In summer, it is good idea to bring a sweater and long pants for cooler days, a wind-blocker as external layer is suggested too. In October and November, it is good to be prepared for cold wind, rain and snow (do not forget good gloves and a hat).
  • Are there mosquito in Churchill? Insects could represent quite a nuisance, especially in wet years and in early summer. It is suggested to bring a repellent with a high DEET content and, possibly, an hat with a mosquito-proof net covering face and neck.
  • Are polar bears dangerous? The polar bear danger must be taken seriously by every visitor. The guided tours are designed to have security as top priority and the vehicles used for safaris are perfectly bear-proof. Walking tours must be made only in bear-free areas and during October and November, care is suggested even while walking not far from the town.
  • Is it dangerous to hike in Churchill? Polar Bears in Churchill enters the city quite frequently and care must be taken in not walking beyond polar bear danger signs.

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Calm Air plane Travel from Winnipeg to Churchill and Churchill city tour <<-- GO
Flight from Winnipeg to Churchill via Thompson and arrival in Churchill under an intense early winter snowfall. Guided tour in Churchill to discover this small community located in Northern Manitoba.
Polar Bears Transfer to Tundra Buggy lodge on the shores of Hudson Bay <<-- GO
Today the group leaves Churchill for a wilderness lodge aboard the Tundra Buggy, a big ex-military vehicle that can move on any kind of terrain. During the trip, lot of bears and other typical arctic wildlife was observed, with many fantastic photo opportunities.
Arctic fox Polar bear safari tour aboard the Tundra Buggy <<-- GO
Today the Tundra Buggy will make a ring circuit around the lodge and along the shores of Hudson Bay, where the possibilities to spot polar bears and other arctic wildlife really abound, guaranteeing exciting photo opportunities.
Polar bear Polar bear photo tour along the shores of Hudson Bay <<-- GO
Yet another day full of polar bears, observed safely and from short distance, from the huge Tundra Buggy vehicle. A nice area in the tundra without polar bears, gives the opportunity for a pleasant walk on the snow.
Lazy Bear Lodge in Churchill Tour to Northern Studies Centre and dog-sledge excursion <<-- GO
Brief excursion to Northern Studies Centre, where tourists can try to travel in a dog-sledge along a short circuit, before going back to Churchill and hike furthermore in the town. The last evening flight brings the group back to Winnipeg.

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