Undoubtedly, one of the main reasons to travel to the Arctic is for the opportunity to spot polar bears. These majestic creatures are beautiful and perfectly adapted to living in harsh, cold conditions.
There are several places where you can see these amazing animals in all their glory – Explore Worldwide runs cruises that visit all of these spots in case you’re interested in learning more about specific itineraries.
Spitsbergen is the largest island in the Svalbard archipelago and it’s a popular stop on Arctic cruises in search of polar bears. However, it’s not just Spitsbergen that you’ll be scouring for signs of the elusive bears, but also the surrounding pack ice where they can sometimes be spotted hunting for seals.
The ship you’ll be travelling on will be well equipped to deal with the icy waters and there will also be several smaller Zodiac boats onboard so that you can get closer to the action if you do see one of the bears from a distance and are keen to get a better view.
What makes Spitsbergen a great place to head to, not only for polar bear watching but also seeing all manner of other Arctic wildlife, is the diversity of its habitats. As well as the ice, it boasts stunning fjords, towering mountains and vast glaciers. Heading ashore to explore on foot is another highlight of a tour that includes visiting Spitsbergen, although you will be accompanied by armed guides at all times in case any polar bears become too inquisitive.
Among the creatures you may see during your Arctic adventure are walruses, seals and even reindeers (a subspecies that is unique to the Svalbard archipelago). There are also huge seabird colonies where the likes of guillemots, kittiwakes and glaucous gulls gather in staggering numbers to breed.
Another place you may get to visit as part of an Arctic expedition is Greenland – a fascinating country that is a haven for polar bears and other local wildlife because so much of it is uninhabited. The majority of those who live in Greenland are Inuits and all the major settlements are located along the south-west coast.
One place you’ll spend a few days in is Scoresby Sund, which is among the largest fjord systems on the planet. From its innermost point to where it meets the sea is some 350 km, just to give you an idea of its scale. The area is a haven for all kinds of Arctic creatures, including polar bears, Arctic foxes, muskoxen, lemmings, ermine, wolves and walruses, while narwhals are often seen in the water.
The expedition ships that venture to this part of the northern hemisphere can also take you to some of the most remote places not just in Greenland but in the world, as you’ll visit part of the North-East Greenland National Park, which is the largest protected area of its kind anywhere on the globe, covering 972,000 sq km. This part of the country is where there is the highest number of polar bears, who generally prefer to be away from human habitation.
As well as cruising along a small section of the 18,000 km of coastline that falls within the national park, you’ll visit the fascinating village of Ittoqqortoormiit, where you’ll get a glimpse into how people have survived in this harsh polar environment for hundreds of years, in addition to learning more about the local wildlife and how it has aided human habitation in Greenland.