From the golden prairies and forest-ringed lakes to family-orientated resorts and glamping options, there is something special about the Canadian province of Manitoba.
Manitoba, in the heart of Canada, is also home to one of the world’s few human settlements where polar bears can be observed in the wild.
Thousands of people from across the globe descend on the town of Churchill in Manitoba, which is famous for its polar bear population. This guide will explain what you need to know about seeing the majestic polar bears during your holiday to Manitoba.
About the polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba
The town of Churchill in northern Manitoba sits on the west shore of the Hudson Bay and has been dubbed the polar bear capital of the world. Churchill is also known as a beluga whale watching hotspot and a bird spotter’s paradise. A holiday to Churchill will take your breath away, from the surprising display of blooming wildflowers in the summer to the pristine white snow cover of the winter. Plus, the amazing outdoor activities such as kayaking and hiking, will allow you to experience this landscape in unforgettable ways.
When is the best time to see polar bears in Manitoba?
The bears move from their summer habitat on the tundra towards the shore in the autumn months of October and November. During this time, the bears’ migration brings them through the Churchill area as they wait for the bay to freeze – giving them access to prime seal-hunting territory on the ice, their habitat during the winter months. You can also see polar bears during the summer months of July and August on the tundra or along rugged coastal rocks. Summer also offers the opportunity to view the thousands of beluga whales that come to the Churchill River estuary to mate, feed and calve.
How can I see polar bears in Manitoba?
There are several ways to see polar bears on Manitoba’s unspoiled landscape. You can take a tour in a tundra vehicle across the frozen flats during the autumn months and watch as they gather on the edge of the bay. Getting up close and personal to the world’s largest land predator is an experience to truly treasure. During the summer months, often the best way to see polar bears is on a boat tour along the coast. Tundra vehicle tours are also available at this time.
Wilderness lodges outside Churchill offer another option where you will trek across the landscape on foot. Safety is paramount; experienced guides will lead your walking safari and fences surround the lodge itself – a reminder that you are on land ruled by the Lords of the Arctic.
Why should I go on a polar bear watching holiday to Manitoba?
Canada is one of the best, and one of the only places, in the world where you can see wild polar bears in their natural habitat. A polar bear expedition to Churchill in Manitoba is certainly not your average holiday, but it is one which any animal lover needs to add to their bucket list.
The iconic tundra vehicles manoeuvre across the glistening, frozen landscape on their gigantic wheels offering a lofty seat to ensure the very best views. It isn’t uncommon for inquisitive polar bears to wander up to the vehicle, just make sure you have your camera to hand.
For an intimate polar bear watching adventure, small group tours are the way to go. In addition to seeing polar bears, you may see other wildlife such as Arctic foxes, snowshoe hares, peregrine falcons and beluga whales.
Local guides will also be able to give you a real insight into the history, custom and cultures of the way of life of the area. Enjoy a dogsledding adventure through the boreal forest after learning about this traditional mode of transportation. Visit the Itsanitaq Museum, home to a large collection of contemporary Inuit art and ancient artefacts. Learn about Churchill’s role in the fur trade with a visit to the Fort Prince of Wales National Historic Site, built by the Hudson’s Bay Company starting in 1731. Visit the shops along Kelsey Boulevard, browsing a selection of authentic artwork and handmade items, such as beaded moccasins.
After the sun goes down on a full day on the tundra or exploring the town, turn your eyes toward the sky. Churchill is also one of the top places in the world to see the aurora borealis, or northern lights. These dancing ribbons of light can be seen over 300 nights a year. While the best time to view the lights is in February and March, when the nights are long and dark, you can see the northern lights during your polar bear viewing holiday in either the summer or autumn.
What clothes should I pack for a polar bear watching holiday?
The clothes you pack in your suitcase for a polar bear watching holiday to Manitoba will depend on the time of year you go. Please see further details below;
During peak polar bear season, be prepared for snow and bitterly cold conditions. It is worth packing several layers of clothing on your autumnal trip including thermals, good quality snow boots, ski clothing, thick gloves and a hat.
You should pack a variety of clothing during the summer months because temperatures can fluctuate to higher than 25°C and lower than 6°C. It is also worth taking a waterproof jacket, hat, sunglasses, hiking boots, shorts and trousers. Sun cream and insect repellent are also handy additions for your suitcase.
Polar bear facts
The highly respected polar bear is a true icon of Canada, but did you know these interesting facts about the king of the tundra?
•Polar bears are the world’s largest land-based carnivores and are usually around 7-8 feet long from head to tail. An adult male bear can weigh between 410-720kg.In the wild, they can reach the age of 30-years-old, although most live to between 15-18-years-old.
•Polar bears spend most of their lives around water and ice, and as a result, they are classed as marine mammals.
•A polar bear’s body is well-suited to the bitterly cold and harsh conditions of the tundra. They have thicker fur than any other type of bear and the thick layer of blubber underneath gives the creatures insulation and buoyancy.
•Polar bears like to eat ringed or bearded seals; however, they are also known to eat walrus, bowhead and beluga whale carcasses.
•Female polar bears tend to give birth to their cubs during the winter. Cubs stay by their mother’s side for about 28 months. Cubs drink their mother’s milk for the first 20 months of their lives and so the mother’s hunting skills are paramount for her cub’s survival.
•Except for expectant mothers, polar bears do not hibernate. Pregnant polar bears dig a den, usually in snowdrifts near the sea to give birth to their young, and this is where the family will stay for around three months. During this hibernation period, the bears live off their fat reserves and then emerge from their den in March/April time.
•Other than the two or three years a cub spends with its mother, polar bears are solitary animals who prefer to live and hunt alone. Adults spend a few days of the year mating before parting ways.
•You might be surprised to learn that a polar bear’s fur isn’t white, it just looks that way. The fur is transparent and is also made up of a thick insulating undercoat that is topped with guard hairs. This structure means heat loss is kept to a minimum, however, it also means that bears can quickly overheat when they run. Plus, a polar bear’s skin is actually black!
Canada is a nature lover’s paradise just waiting to be explored. If you are looking for a holiday that boasts amazing Canada tours that is full of animal spotting opportunities, glorious unspoilt landscapes and rich in history, then a trip to Manitoba is a perfect choice.