Bucket List: Churchill, Manitoba

Bucket List: Churchill, Manitoba

I have loved polar bears since I took an elementary school field trip to the National Zoo. I thought they were just fascinating and utterly adorable.  Some years later, when the polar bear exhibit at the zoo was closed, the zoo became significantly less enjoyable for me.

Oddly enough, it was a trip to the Baltimore Zoo that re-kindled my love for polar bears and put this particular trip on my travel Bucket List.  The polar bear exhibit there showcased the town of Churchill in Manitoba (population 800), which sees an influx of polar bears (and now tourists) every year between late October and early November.  It is also known as The Polar Bear Capital of the World, among other things.


The polar bears gather at nearby Cape Churchill waiting for ice to form on Hudson Bay. Once the ice is stable, they head out to spend the winter hunting seals. It is during this time that tourists are able to go out in a special vehicle called a tundra buggy which is big enough to allow the polar bears to get close to the people without anyone’s safety being jeopardized.

tundra buggy.JPG

As you can imagine, living in close proximity to such fearsome hunters means that certain precautions must be taken for safety.  For instance, on Halloween, children are not allowed to wear all-white costumes (such as a ghost), and every street is patrolled by residents.

Many local residents leave their cars unlocked in case someone needs to make a quick escape from the polar bears in the area.  Local authorities maintain a so-called “polar bear jail” where bears (mostly adolescents) who persistently loiter in or close to town, are held after being tranquilized.  They are then released back into the wild when the bay freezes over.

A lot of the places in Churchill offering polar bear expeditions do a full package with lodging and everything else.  They run in the $5000 range.  The three of us are going to the UK this year for $5000 total (everything except meals), so I think that’s a bit steep.  And my Grand Canyon experience has made me leery of spending multiple days in locations that are not highly populated.

Thankfully, you can do a tundra buggy day trip in the fall polar bear season for less than $500 per person, which seems a tad more manageable.



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