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Churchill Tundra Buggy vs Arctic Polar Bear Safari

August 01, 2018

For travellers looking for polar bear viewing trips in autumn, Churchill, Manitoba, known as the “polar bear capital of the world”, is often the destination that first comes to mind. A popular way to experience polar bears in Churchill is by tundra buggy or polar rover – a large, all-terrain vehicle used to view polar bears. What many travellers don’t know is that there is another way to encounter polar bears: from ground level on true Arctic tundra, on a land-based Arctic Safari.

Two land-based autumn polar bear tours, Polar Bear Migration Fly-In Safari and Private Polar Bear Migration Safari offer unparalleled polar bear viewing opportunities. Located just north of Churchill, on remote Arctic tundra in Nunavut, guests can get chances to view and photograph polar bears from ground level, safely behind an unobtrusive electric fence.

We break down the difference between Churchill tundra buggy tours and land-based Arctic Safaris:

Viewing Polar Bears in the Arctic

While both Churchill tundra buggy trips and land-based Arctic safaris offer chances to encounter polar bears in the wild, the experiences are very different. The most significant distinction is the vantage point from which you are viewing the bears.

Churchill Tundra Buggy

Polar bear viewing vehicles like tundra buggies are built tall. With window opening set over 10 feet high, tall bears can stand vertically on the side of the vehicle and guests will be out of reach. When watching polar bears from a vehicle, whether a tundra buggy or polar rover, you will be at a higher vantage point, looking down at them from above. Polar bear photography from Churchill tundra buggy excursions are taken with a downward angle.

Arctic Safari

In contrast, when you travel slightly north to Nunavut, along the west coast of Hudson Bay, you can get the opportunity to view polar bears close-up, from ground level, on remote tundra.

We believe polar bear viewing is best done from the ground. Walking alongside these majestic animals, getting eye-to-eye with them is an emotional experience coveted by travellers from around the world. Being able to get down on the ground for a lower vantage point allows for incredible and dramatic photography. Plus, while the electric fence that surrounds the cabin complex adds safety, it is unobtrusive; you can take pictures right through it!

arctic kingdom polar bear migration fly-in

Polar Bear Behaviour

Churchill Tundra Buggy

On Churchill tundra buggy tours, you will have the chance to go out into areas that polar bears frequent, outside of town. You may see polar bears roaming the vicinity, occasionally raising their head at the sounds of the vehicles and tourists. Also, curious bears will often stand up at the side of the vehicle. While seeing a polar bear that close may be a thrill for many tourists, this isn’t natural behaviour that you would normally see in the wild.

Arctic Safari

On land-based polar bear tours like Polar Bear Migration Fly-In Safari, most of the polar bear viewing is passive. The bears approach us, and often wander right up to the fence! We are able to witness natural behaviour, including intimate moments between mother and cub and even sparring.

Check out this video of polar bear sparring taken by Expedition Leader Dave Briggs on Polar Bear Migration Fly-In Safari:

Another advantage of land-based polar bear tours is chances to see polar bears 24 hours a day – not just during daylight hours. Staying in a cabin on remote tundra, directly in the migration path of polar bears in the autumn months allows for sightings day and night.

Nighttime encounters can make for amazing memories and unique photography opportunities!


Churchill Tundra Buggy

The biome of the Churchill area explored by tundra buggy is tiaga. The landscapes feature shrubs, scattered black and white spruce and a thick mat of lichens.

Arctic Safari

Flying just north of Churchill, you enter true Arctic tundra. The location of Polar Bear Migration Fly-In Safari and Private Polar Bear Migration Safari are on remote tundra, on the west coast of Hudson Bay. Not only is this area ideal for polar bear watching, the tundra is completely flat. With views as far as the eye can see, Arctic tundra is a unique environment to experience.

Other Wildlife

Churchill Tundra Buggy

In addition to polar bears, other possible wildlife to encounter include Arctic fox, caribou, Snowy Owl, wolves, and Arctic hare.

Arctic Safari

The remote tundra locations for our cabin-based autumn polar bear tours are also home to wildlife including Arctic fox, Snowy Owl, Arctic hare, gyrfalcon, wolverine and more. We have been lucky to see a variety of wildlife on these trips, often throughout the week and in closer vicinity than encounters in Churchill.

Check out this video of a curious Arctic fox getting up-close and personal with Expedition Leader, Dave Briggs:

Tour Experience

Churchill Tundra Buggy

The tundra buggy experience will differ depending on the operator in Churchill. Many tours are full-day excursions, where you will leave your accommodations in the morning and explore the sub-arctic landscape in search of polar bears for the day. Group sizes can be up to 40 guests.

Arctic Safari

With fewer guests joining cabin-based safaris, they offer an intimate, small-group experience on the land that you just can’t get on a tundra buggy. Polar Bear Migration Fly-In Safari allows for a maximum capacity of eight guests, and our Private Polar Bear Migration Safari allows for up to four guests.

Day-to-day itineraries will vary based on wildlife, conditions and guest interests. Both tours will involve polar bear watching from the cabin complex, as well as chances to view other Arctic wildlife. On days where there are no bears around the cabins, you may go on short hikes on the tundra in search of wildlife, guided by Expedition Leaders and local Inuit guides.

In October and November, you will also have chances to witness the Northern Lights at night. You will also enjoy gourmet meals prepared by private chefs. Find out more about visiting the Arctic in autumn here.

Travellers short on time may prefer Churchill tundra buggy experiences, as they offer opportunities to see polar bears in 1 or 2 days. For those with goals to capture incredible close-up photographs of polar bears or simply having the amazing experience of getting on the land with these Arctic icons and viewing them in their unspoiled and spectacular natural habitat, a land-based Arctic Safari is a great option.

Learn more about our land-based autumn polar bear tours:

Polar Bear Migration Fly-in Safari

Departures in October & November, 8 days/7 nights. View trip details here and watch our webinar here.

Private Polar Bear Migration Safari

Departures in October & November, custom itineraries available.

View trip details here.

Want to learn more about viewing polar bears from ground level in the Arctic?

Contact us today! Our Arctic Travel Advisors are happy to help you find the perfect polar bear tour for you.