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Nestled between the Churchill River and the shore of Hudson Bay, Churchill is the self-proclaimed ’Polar Bear and Beluga Whale Capital of the World’ and one of the best places to see the Aurora Borealis.

Each autumn hundreds of polar bears congregate near Churchill, which lies on the bear’s migratory path, meaning it’s the only human settlement where they can be observed in the wild. Set in the pristine wilderness area of Northern Manitoba, the coastline is so remote that it has changed little in thousands of years, and its wildlife and landscapes attract travellers and photographers from around the world. 

The town’s primary industry is tourism, and visitors come each year to see the flora and fauna that thrives on the tundra and in the icy waters of Hudson Bay. As Churchill lies beyond the northernmost extent of the boreal forest, its climate is sub arctic: in July the average temperature is around 12° Celsius, whereas in winter it dips to −27°. 

The polar bears spend the short summer season along the Hudson Bay coastline before heading towards Cape Churchill, as winter approaches and the sea begins to freeze. Once the sea ice is thick enough, the bears head north onto the ice floes to spend the winter hunting seals – their preferred food. Most polar bear tours take place in October and November, at the peak of this annual migration, although bears may also be seen in summer foraging for whatever food they can find.

Some 45kms south of Churchill, on the shore of Hudson Bay, wild and remote, Cape Churchill is renowned as the best location in the world to see and photograph polar bears in the wild. The cape is in Wapusk National Park, established in 1996, which takes its name from the Cree word for ‘white bear.’ This boggy peatland protects one of the world’s largest polar bear denning areas, where mothers give birth to their cubs. Numerous birds are found here, including the short-billed dowitcher which breeds here. 

The only access to the protected area of 11,475sqkms is by purpose-designed Tundra Buggy or helicopter. During the peak season for bear watching, accommodation becomes scarce in Churchill, and we use various hotels, all of which are small, clean and functional, rather than luxurious. And all offer a hearty welcome, adequate comfort, plus warm rooms with en suite facilities, and are close to the town centre – so make a good base for a polar bear adventure.

The polar bear is the world’s largest land-dwelling carnivore, and are supremely well adapted for living in extremely low temperatures, for moving across snow, ice and open water, and for hunting seals – which makes up the bulk of their diet. During the summer, when there is no sea ice, they live on land and from their fat reserves. 

During the summer months, the waters at the mouth of the Churchill River are home to roughly 3,000 beluga whales – the world’s largest concentration of these marine mammals. The beluga, or white whale (Delphinapterus leucas), is an Arctic and sub-Arctic-dwelling species, which – along with the narwhal – is one of two members of the family Monodontidae. This cetacean is often referred to as the sea canary due to the high-pitched twitter it produces. It can reach up to 5ms in length and sports a distinctive protuberance on its head. Conservation wise, the planet’s various beluga populations are considered anything from near threatened to critically endangered.

Males are larger than females, ranging in length from 2.6 to 6.7ms and weighing between 1,100 and 1,600 kilogrammes (occasionally up to 1,900 kilogrammes); females on the other hand measure an average of 3.6ms and weigh 700 to 1,200 kilogrammes. Alongside other species of toothed whales, this makes them medium sized. It’s impossible to confuse an adult beluga with any other species due to their white or greyish-white colour (although calves are usually a darker gray) and distinctive head shape. The so-called melon — a bulbous lump of oily, fatty tissue – is situated right in the centre of their forehead. Unlike many whales and dolphins, the beluga’s neck vertebrae are not fused, which allows it to turn its head in anthropomorphic fashion.

View suggested itineraries

Key info

  • Ideal for viewing: Arctic fox, polar bear, ptarmigan, snowy owl, gyr falcon
  • Where: Manitoba, Canada

Wildlife trips

This wildlife location is featured in the following itineraries:

Classic Polar Bears

Seeing polar bears in the wild is awe-inspiring - an intense and unforgettable wildlife encounter. Accompanied by expert enthusiastic local guides, day and night excursions from a specially designed Polar Rover provide opportunities to get close to these magnificent creatures.

  • When to go: Oct-Nov
  • Duration inc. flights: 7 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £5,995 pp
  • Trip type: Group tour

Beluga Whales & Polar Bears

Explore the Seal River estuary along the Hudson Bay by boat, on foot and from a traditional tundra tracker to view polar bears and beluga whales which congregate over the summer months. Travelling as part of a small group, experience the northern lights and beautiful scenery - a journey to remember.

  • When to go: Jul-Aug
  • Duration inc. flights: 9 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £8,895 pp
  • Trip type: Group tour

Canada’s Big Five

Take this unique safari which is a showcase for the wildlife that populates the rivers and forests of Manitoba in central Canada. Combine the vast serene expanse of Riding Mountain National Park, home to moose, black bear, elk and wolf, with the rugged barren tundra of Churchill, realm of the polar bear.

  • When to go: Aug
  • Duration inc. flights: 9 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £5,795 pp
  • Trip type: Group tour

Caribou Migration & Great Bear Adventure

An unmissable journey over a vast area of Arctic wilderness, home to wolf, caribou and moose. Staying in one of the finest Arctic eco lodges close to black and polar bears, this incredible adventure also takes you to the remote Schmok Lake to witness the migration of the Canadian caribou.

  • When to go: Sep
  • Duration inc. flights: 10 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £10,645 pp
  • Trip type: Group tour

Polar Bear Mothers & Cubs

This small group trip travels to a remote yet comfortable lodge near the tidal flats and plains of Hudson Bay, feeding grounds of polar bears during the summer. This is a wonderful time to view and photograph the intimacy between mother and cub, and their playful approach to life.

  • When to go: Aug-Sep
  • Duration inc. flights: 8 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £8,145 pp
  • Trip type: Group tour

Tundra Lodge Adventure

Embark on this extraordinary adventure into the realm of the polar bear. Accompanied by expert guides, and based in a specially designed mobile tundra lodge positioned in an area of high polar bear density, this trip offers unparalleled opportunities to watch these inquisitive creatures.

  • When to go: Oct-Nov
  • Duration inc. flights: 7 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £7,295 pp
  • Trip type: Group tour
Suggested accommodation is shown below. Please contact us for further recommendations.

Tundra Lodge

Tundra Lodge is remarkable hotel-on wheels which positions itself on the tundra each season, in the area of highest bear density. Inquisitive bears often approach the carriages, and you’ll have unparalleled opportunities to watch them through the large windows, or from elevated outside observation decks.