Destinations

Arctic Canada FAQs

ANSWERS FOR YOUR ARCTIC CANADA AND CHURCHILL QUESTIONS

Churchill in Manitoba, Canada is famous for its polar bears and sightings are almost guaranteed in some parts - although being wildlife we can't 100% guarantee anything! But polar bears aren't the only attraction to this quiet and under populated area. With Northern Lights sightings possible, stunning glaciers and fjords, and such wildlife as the Arctic fox, rare grey wolves and beluga whales there is much more to this icy destination!.

Below we have some of our frequently asked questions about Churchill and Arctic Canada, our safaris there and the wildlife, all answered by our professional and knowledgeable bear safari experts. If there is anything you think we should cover, or that you would like to know about our safaris, please feel free to contact us!

  • Am I guaranteed to see polar bears?

    When you go to Arctic Canada or Churchill will depend on your chosen itinerary. 

    If you have chosen to visit the tundra in Churchill, we visit when the polar bears are congregating and waiting for the pack ice to form so they can head out for the seal hunting season in the winter. This is when you will have the highest possibility of seeing them. 

    On our mothers and newborn cubs safari, we head to Arctic Canada at the best time to see the mothers leading their cubs out of their dens for the very first time, which is March.

    Whichever safari you choose, all of our guides and expedition leaders are skilled in finding the areas where you will find polar bears and it is their mission to get you there! While it can never be guaranteed that you will see examples of any wildlife, there are a very high number of polar bears in the area. Our motto is always, right place, right time, and we will always make sure you are in the appropriate place at that time to see the polar bears.

    Polar bears
    are curious creatures, and sometimes they will come and find you! We will never guarantee a sighting of animals as you are heading out into the wild, not a zoo. But we will always endeavour to send you to the right place at the right time to maximise your chances.

  • Am I safe on a polar bear safari?

    Safety is of paramount importance to us. We use highly experienced driver/guides as well as a professionally trained expedition leader.

    This helps to ensure that our passengers can all enjoy viewing polar bears in comfort and safety.

    Sometimes, when tracking polar bears you will be in the safety of a vehicle and others you will have the opportunity to explore the Arctic wilderness on foot. Our expedition leaders and guides are highly trained and experienced, you must listen to them and obey their instructions at all times. Your safety is of paramount importance to them and us. Expedition leaders and guides have the right to remove anyone from the group if they are not obeying instruction or putting other members of the group in danger. We always think it is better to keep clients informed about safety as a 'just in case' matter. 

    Despite looking cuddly, bears are dangerous animals - always stay at least 50 yards (almost 46 metres) away and move out of the way of approaching bears. Do not wear perfume, smoke, chew gum or bring food when bear viewing (keeping human odours down to a minimum). When hiking in wild area make noises that are recognisable as human noises, such as shouting and clapping (not whistling as lots of animals do this!) and make sure you keep your eyes and ears open. Bears will usually be deterred by human presence, so if a bear does approach you it is likely that it hasn’t seen you. It could also mean, however, that someone has given it food in the past; meaning that it now associates human’s with a meal! Talk calmly to the bear and move away slowly.

  • Can I see the northern lights in Arctic Canada?

    The Northern lights, or Aurora Borealis, are basically one huge fantastic light show put on by nature, changing colour depending on the gases in the atmosphere! 

    It can be seen in both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere, in the South it is called the Southern Lights, or Aurora australis. This is because the solar wind particles needed are pulled into place by the magnetic fields in the poles (without going into too much technical detail). Churchill is directly under the Auroral Oval, meaning it is one of the best places in the world to see this unique phenomenon.

    Whether you see the northern lights and how clear they are depends on a few factors. The night needs to be clear; whether or not there is auroral activity is irrelevant if there are clouds obscuring your view. Summer (May, June and July) is not a great time to see them as it is just too bright, late winter and early spring is better.. It also depends on the solar wind and the gases in the atmosphere, but we won’t go into detail on that! 

    Our polar bear safari expeditions run in the summer months, this is when the wildlife is at its best, so you are less likely to see the Northern Lights. It may still be possible to see them in towns such as Churchill, which are a little further south. If you really want to see the Northern Lights, we can arrange an expedition in the right place at the right time to maximise your chances. Make sure you contact us.

  • What are the vehicles like on an Arctic safari?

    On some of our safaris, you will explore Arctic by foot, others you may use traditional means of transport such as dogs and sleds or even explore on a snowmobile. All of these are tried and tested, developed for the extreme conditions of the Arctic.

    On many trips, such as our Tundra Lodge Adventure, you will set out onto the tundra in specialised polar rovers which we have detailed below:

    Suitability for Polar Bear Viewing:


    The 'Tundra Buggies' have a maximum capacity of 30 guests, but we allow just 15 at a time during our trips, maximising viewing and allowing each guest to have a seat next to a window, which have been designed to open (and close) easily in the extreme cold. The front windshield is sloped downwards so you can easily see any wildlife directly in front of the vehicle. At the back of each of the vehicles is a viewing platform out in the open air. This platform has mesh steel decking, at times we find ourselves just inches away from the bears as they look directly at us through the grate!

    Comfort:

    There is an on board heating system, designed to keep everyone at a comfortable temperature - even though windows are constantly being opened and closed. The seats recline and offer proper lumbar support, so are great for long days out on the tundra and there are flush toilets! The vehicle suspension helps it 'glide' over the bumpy terrain, enhancing the comfort of your ride.

    Safety and the Technical Bits:

    Despite the size of the buggy, there is a top speed of 35 miles per hour. The dual radio system allows the drivers to be in constant contact with the base and guides can stay in contact with the other expedition leaders and base. This ensures safety as well as great bear viewing, as the guides can tell each other what they have seen and where. The tyres are typically 6ft high, keeping guests a good distance from the bears at all time without compromising your view.

    These vehicles are made specifically for bear viewing with the comfort and safety of our guests in mind! On some of our tours, Dog Sledding is available as well as helicopter rides. This provides a completely different view of this Arctic savannah, but never compromising your safety.
  • What is the accommodation like?

    Your accommodation will depend on your choice of safari, but you must remember you are heading into the wild, so don’t expect five star hotels with pools!

    In Winnipeg, where you will often spend a night before transferring north, we often use the Fort Garry Hotel located in the centre of the city. It provides a high level of comfort and has excellent facilities, as would be expected from one of the best hotels in town. 

    Churchill is an old frontier town, barren and somewhat isolated. The options for accommodation are limited and depend on your tour, but that doesn't mean they're not exciting too. The accommodation in the town itself if basic, yet comfortable – the bear watching season is very short , lasting for about 2 months per year – no there is no use for anything too glamorous throughout the rest of the year when there is a lack of visitors to impress. We will locate you close to the centre of the town so you have good access to the facilities.

    It is also possible to stay out on the Tundra itself on the Tundra Lodge. This is a mobile hotel, which is moved into a position where the operators feel there is the highest likelihood of seeing Polar bears at the start of the season. The Hotel takes the form of a train, on wheels, and consists of two sleeping carriages, a lounge car and a dining car as well as an additional car for staff. There is a viewing platform and polar bears are active around the clock. The lodge also has floodlights located on the roof, allowing you to be able to watch bears at any time of the day or night.

    Heading further out, we also have a range of options that are accessible by scenic flight from Churchill such as the Arviat Polar Bear Cabins, North Knife Lake Lodge and Seal River Heritage Lodge. These rustic cabins put you right amongst the action with the best guides in the area for some fantastic and adventurous wildlife viewing. 

    Camping on the floe edge is another incredible option, either in tents or yurts. This way you are completely secluded in the wild Arctic with no communications with the outside world, a naturalists dream.

  • What should I pack for an Arctic holiday?

    Heading out onto the Arctic Tundra is not to be taken lightly; temperatures can drop down to -33°C in the winter and in the summer months, the weather can be a little confusing, with a bright sun and cool air.

    As you will be travelling within the Arctic Circle, it is essential that you dress to stay warm and dry and what you bring will depend on the time of year you are going. We always recommend dressing in layers as opposed to using thick jumpers or jackets, is a far more effective way of keeping warm. Combining a Gore-Tex outer layer with a fleece, is a good way of staying warm and dry. A ski or snowboarding jacket will be another good way of keeping warm while out and about, however on some of our more extreme safaris, they will not be effective enough. Ski and snowboard jackets are made to be warm, but they are also 'active wear', on many of these safaris you will be standing still for long periods of time, so you need warmer clothing. We would recommend taking some warm gloves or mittens, you may also need glove liners and thermals. It may be an idea to take a couple of pairs, in case one gets wet. Thermal undergarments are another worthy consideration and something like Merino wool is a good layer to have next to the skin to wick away any sweat and keep you warm.

    For walking, it will be advisable to wear a sturdy pair of hiking boots. Do break these in first to help prevent blisters. Take some thick socks to help keep your feet warm and comfortable while walking. Additionally, Gaiters which can be worn over the top of the boots, will provide additional protection and help keep the boots as waterproof as possible. For colder safaris you will need snow boots as well as hiking shoes.

    It may be possible for you to borrow boots and winter parkas while you are there to stop you having to carry these bulky items around. We will need to know in advance of your trip if you have an abnormal size (really big or really small) so we can ensure that you can be catered for!

    For the evenings, smart – casual clothing will be fine. You may wish to bring an extra pair of thermals to sleep in. We have not added in a packing list here as it really does vary between the time of year you are heading out.

  • What wildlife can I see in Arctic Canada?

    The polar bears are usually the main focus for those heading to the far northern reaches of Canada, but there is a whole host of unique wildlife that can be discovered there.

    In the summer months, thousands of beluga whales make an appearance in the Churchill River Estuary in search of warmer waters. These curious and playful mammals are readily available to watch at this time, some of them up to 3 metres long! Birders will find the summer a great time due to the migration that takes place in July, Caribou can also be found on these icy plains at this time. On a floe edge safari in the summer months (May to July), when you stay around Baffin Island, it is possible to see the majestic narwhals, otherwise known as the unicorns of the sea. On certain trips, it may even be possible to snorkel with them and they often turn on their backs beneath you to get a closer look.

    As well as all this, there is the Arctic fox, snowy owls, arctic hare and willow ptarmigan. What you see depends on where you go and the time.

  • When is the best time to see polar bears?

    The best time to see polar bears depends on where you are planning on visiting.

    Click here to find out more on the best time to see polar bears in the wild.

  • Where is the best place to see polar bears?

    The best place to see polar bears in the wild can be a tricky subject!

    Click here to find out on the best place to see polar bears in their natural environment.

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