Arctic Travel: versus...the
Antarctic (see below)
Yes, Polar Bears
Yes, Whales & Seals
24hr daylight July-August
The word Arctic is derived from Arktos, 'the bear' in Greek, due
to the Great Bear constellation above the North Pole.
No indigenous people, 200 scientists
No, Polar Bears
Yes, Whales and Seals
24hr daylight November-January
The word Antarctic is derived from Antarktikos, 'opposite the bear.'
It is the only land on Earth owned by no one.
Best: March - November, for weather and wildlife migrations.
In Canada, October for polar bears, July-August for beluga whales,
fur seals and birds.
Worst: November - March (dark, very cold and snow moves horizontally)
Minimum worthwhile stay in Arctic regions, not including flights
or sail time : 4/5 days in any area where wildlife is active, bearing
in mind that there are also indigenous cultures to appreciate in
1 week or more if you wish to see ice-oriented human cultures as
well as wildlife.
go to the Arctic Circle?
Like the Antarctic, the Arctic it has an assortment of strange
and wonderful wildlife which manages to survive the extreme conditions,
but unlike the Antarctic it has peoples who do the same - in Greenland
(Denmark), Canada, Norway, Sweden, Alaska (USA) and Russia.
- Seasickness: many tours will be via either a largish cruise
ship or a specialist expeditionary vessel, but if you're prone to
motion sickness then you could have a problem.
- Cold: those with circulatory problems or a heart condition should
take extra precautions against the cold though the summer weather
can be mild, depending on the region. Frostbite is a real danger
in the colder months and regions.
Choose from several versions of the Arctic experience depending
on the culture and wildlife in which you are interested.
country though shows some similarity to others throughout the region
due to the climate requiring similar specialist survival techniques
for both the wildlife and peoples.
Best country for fans of dog sledding and also has the most diverse
wildlife found above the arctic cirle in the Arctic Refuge.
Alaska is home to the start of the most famous dog sled race in
the world, the Iditarod.Very much an urban setting (it's a city)
but a good base for the start of a south Alaskan exploration.
National Arctic Wildlife Refuge in the far north east has one of the most diverse habitats one could
expect due to the close proximity of geographical features. It is
also of course wild and protected. Caribou migrate North here from
below the Brooks Range and the Yukon Territories in spring.
Best country for viewing the wildife, especially along its extensive
Churchill, Manitoba on the edge of the Hudson Bay is the best place to see Polar Bears from mid October to mid November and Beluga whales in July and August.
It also has the best views in the world of the Northern Lights (aurora
borealis). Polar Bears that wander into the town during the summer
are locked up until the ice hardens so that locals and travellers
can sleep soundly at night. At the last count there were more than
1,500 polar bears living around Churchill. Get there by plane (one
and a half hours) or train (thirty six hours) from Winnipeg.
River in Quebec sees the largest Caribou herd migrations on the planet. Get there
via Schefferville and travel into this wilderness region about one
hundred and twenty miles north east. They migrate in September but
unfortunately so do the hunters so avoid hunting season from mid
August to mid October and get there first in spring.
Bay and Pond Inlet, Baffin Island are the best places to see whales, many of whom navigate the same
areas when migrating. The waters around Lancaster Sound, running
between Baffin Island and the Perry Islands get the most activity.
Island is good for viewing Musk Oxen.
Greenland is the best country for 'Eskimo' culture.
Western Greenland is regarded as one of the best places to see both
wildlife and get a feel of traditional Greenland culture. Get to
Kangerlussuaq airport via Copenhagen in Denmark, Reykjavik in Iceland
or Eqaluit in Canada. Great whale watching is virtually guaranteed.
Northern regions of these countries are home to the Sami (Laplanders).
The best time to visit is in March or April when snow is still abundant
but temperatures are mild.
Finland has a large Sami population and they hold the Sami Easter Festival
here - one of the best times to visit.
Sweden has one of the most interesting hotels in the world made entirely
of ice which stays solid from Decemeber to May each year. It has
overnight accomodation and a bar where drinks are served on the
rocks using glasses cut from the local river ice. Unmissable experience.
Cruises and shore visits, possibly
even camping on ice, with close up viewing of wildlife.
Kayaking off some cruise ships or land base is a dramatic way to get quietly
closer to nature.
sightseeing tours: particularly in Alaska and Canada where infrastructure and
fuel prices make this practicable.
Country Skiing and Trekking: inhabitation allows the more active traveller to see land based
interest on foot.
and Snowboarding: in some regions.
Sledding: as above but for a more relaxed holiday let the huskies, reindeer
or horses do the work.
Snorkelling: watch whales while immersed, but get a drysuit first. Ideal for
Beluga viewing but perhaps less advisable amongst hunting packs
of Killer Whales in case they mistake you for a tasty seal.
Borealis: view the Northern Lights.
Sightings will depend on the area of the Arctic visted, the
specific tour and the weather conditions at that time but there
will be possible sightings of:
- the second largest bear on the planet (the Kodiak is bigger but
very rare) and always left-handed (paws for thought?). Known as 'Nanuk' to the Inuit, the polar bear is a big
fan of seal sashimi, and lives in coastal regions including Alaska,
Canada, Greenland and Russia. The best known place to find them
is Churchill, Manitoba in Canada, where people and bears have been
coexisting more or less successfully since the eighteenth century.
Problems are rare and always occur through starving bears or human
Fox - closely related to the Red Fox it has adapted with
a thicker coat and Arctic colourings. Comfortable with humans and
they sometimes travel in groups. Seen in the northern regions of
Canada, Iceland, Greenland, Norway, Finland, and Russia during the
summer months or more southerly regions during the harsh winters.
- the largest flying bird in the world but once a favourite food
for the Inuit, it sleeps on the wing.
- once common throughout North America and Canada they still inhabit
the more northerly areas into the Arctic wilderness.
- the largest of the wolves and a pack hunter in northern timbered
areas of the U.S.A, Canada, northern Europe and north east Russia.
The Arctic wolf is a smaller and lighter coloured version. Misunderstood
by humans (like most animals) and therefore endangered. If you see
one running frantically about, nose to the ground, it's hunting
mice (see? - totally misunderstood)
- an absolutely gorgeous, photogenic white whale (these are the
only whales that can turn their heads).
- holds the world record for a speeding nose dive on radar.
- the 'sea unicorn' is a small whale with a long corkscrew horn.
These fantasy creatures live between Canada and Greenland.
- this fascinating weasel on steroids can be found the northern
reaches of the USA, much of Canada, the mountains of Norway, Finland
and much of north eastern Russia.
- otherwise known as reindeer, this deer with velvet horns is the
Arctic's most romantically associated animal. Domesticated sled
pulling reindeer are one of the more environmentally sound ways
to travel on your holiday. Found in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Finland,
Sweden and Russia.
- the majority of these toothy giants live in the Pacific Ocean,
summering in the Bering Sea and wintering in the more northerly
Chukcki Sea via a swim or a lift on an iceberg between Alaska and
Siberia. Their less migratory cousins in the Atlantic tend to hang
out around the northern shores of Canada and Greenland. They pose
about on rocky outcrops waiting to be photographed by tourists.
- also known as the Northern Right Whale or Greenland Right Whale,
one of the three whales unique to the Arctic.
- The ring seal (polar bear main course) spends most of its life
under the ice. Wonder why?
- a hairy buffalo type animal previously hunted to near extinction
but reintroduced to Alaska and the Taimyr peninsula in Russia. Very
hard heads that give resounding thumps during the mating season.
If you see a penguin in the Arctic it's either the much loved British
chocolate biscuit you have in your hand or you've been hitting the
Absolut anti-freeze too hard.
The region covers several different countries but inhabitants
are generally of Asian origin through migration. Once referred to
simply as Eskimos the various groups are :
Aleut, Yuit and Inuit
('Eskimos') who inhabit Alaska, Northern Canada and coastal Greenland.
who inhabit the most Northern parts of Scandinavia (particularly
groups including the Komi, Tungus, Yukaghir
and Chukchi inhabit the northern most expanses of Russia
Arctic circle is a relatively unspoilt region of the planet. While
human habitation on its edges means that there is ample opportunity
for snow based activities, please remember that snowmobiles are
not the most environmentally friendly method of travel and do
not feed wild animals under any circumstances. Cooking meat on
open camp fires may attract polar bears; never
camp out in the Arctic without an experienced guide.
A terrific article about travelling in Norway's Arctic Circle by Sunday Times columnist AA Gill.
Iceland | Iditarod
Race, Alaska | Yukon
Quest Race, Canada | Ice