Churchill Canada - Why peak season is best for polar bears!
Churchill Canada polar bear tours peak season
So you want to see Nanuk in the polar bear capital of the world? But not just that, you want a gorgeous snowy backdrop, lots of bears congregating on the tundra waiting for the ice to form and male polar bears vigorously sparring to see who is the biggest bear in town – so how to organise it? When is the best time to visit Churchill in Canada for bears and what type of polar bear safari can you expect? In the following expert guide we will talk you through the different type of polar bear tours which are available in peak season and how to maximise your polar bear viewing.
When is the best time to see polar bears in Churchill?
Peak season in Churchill is considered the best time to see polar bears in Canada and probably the world. We had two travellers just return from a polar bear safari in November 2016 and they saw 62 polar bears in a one week tour. Since the 1980’s it has been known that huge numbers of polar bear mass on the outskirts of Churchill during October and November; as due to its unique geography and latitude, Churchill is the first place on the coast of the massive Hudson Bay where the ice first starts to form. When you think of ice forming in Canada and polar bears, think of the doors opening to the food market in your local town and an abundance of delicacies suddenly being available everywhere you look. For the polar bears that delicacy is seals and they will put on about a third of their body weight during this season of plenty.
Timing is everything in Churchill, Canada!
We can say with some authority – having visited Churchill three times ourselves – that the climate is changing faster than the local wildlife operators. The two big polar bear tour operators in Churchill still have peak season as from mid-October to mid-November, but in reality the potential difference in weather conditions, temperature and number of polar bears seen can be huge. Since it is a fact that most peak season polar bear tours are a similar price, our first little gem of advice is to not consider a peak season polar bear tour in Churchill until November; if we want to get even more specific, maybe even not until the end of the first week of November. Simply put, the colder weather and significant drop in temperature which causes more significant numbers of polar bears to arrive in the Churchill area is happening later and later.
What type of polar bear tours are available in Churchill in November?
So what is quite cool about this time of year, is that as well as the very standard Churchill town tour (2 nights Winnipeg, 3 nights Churchill and 2 tundra buggy excursions!) being on offer, there are some speciality programs available which are particularly good for wildlife photography or just polar bear fanatics. These polar bear safaris allow you to pretty much ‘live and breathe’ polar bears 24/7 and obtain some stunning images of these magnificent bears. The most well known of these polar bear tours is staying overnight on the tundra in the Tundra Buggy lodge. There are actually two tundra Buggy lodges, but we work with the most comfortable one that has real doors and locks, rather than just privacy curtains. The beauty of the Tundra buggy lodge is that rather than taking 2 hours to get out to the prime polar bear viewing locations in Churchill each day using the tundra buggy tours from town, you are already out there in the thick of the action. There you are trying to have a lovely dinner and multiple polar bear show up distracting you from a perfectly well cooked meal! However this is not a static polar bear safaris, as you head off each day on your own private tundra buggy to explore the surrounding area; so you really have a very intensive and productive polar bear tour which to a degree justifies the high price tag.
One other very special polar bear tour which is offered at very end of the polar bear viewing season, is what is called the ‘Cape Churchill’ polar bear tour. This is when the local company decides the timing is right to move the Tundra Buggy lodge as close to the ice as possible. Please remember that the polar bears evolutionary instinct is to get out on that ice as soon as possible to take advantage of the incredibly rich food resources on offer on the Arctic Ice.
So to summarise we have 3 potential peak season polar bear tours which will give you the chance to see a higher number of polar bears in Churchill. The first is the town and tundra polar bear tour; suitable for those on a more modest budget (this is relative!) and remember that our advice was to go in November. Secondly we have that specialist polar bear safari where you stay for several nights on the Tundra Buggy Lodge. Then finally, that most expensive of polar bear tours but potentially the most dramatic in terms of sheer numbers of polar bears is Cape Churchill polar bear safari.