I felt the kayak rocking beneath me and glanced down. A playful, grinning white face looked back up at me, her head cocked to the side as only Belugas (and Narwhals) can do. We checked each other out, she whistling and me squealing in delight, equally curious about the other creature we were seeing.
I went to Churchill in the far north of Manitoba in Canada with the express purpose of seeing Beluga whales. Each summer between June and August, 60,000 of them swim into the brackish water of the Hudson Bay where the temperature is slightly warmer and more hospitable for their calfs.
They reminded me of the bottlenose dolphins I grew up seeing off the coast of California, playful, curious, and not the least bit shy. I always felt a kindred tie to them, being as much of a fish myself as a person can be.
In Churchill there are several ways to interact with them, both dry and wet. First, we took a zodiac boat out and watching as they get closer and closer, swimming under and around the boat. Here’s the vlog:
Things got even more exciting when we climbed into kayaks that afternoon, paddling in the calm bay while slowly but surely, they came over and started bubbling up around us and even getting close enough to bump my boat. I kept giggling and squealing (which you already know if you watched in my Instagram story from the day).
We also snorkeled with them, donning dry suits and floating in the frigid water. I know it was cold but, to be honest, I hardly even noticed because I was so engaged with what I was seeing below, listening to the whistles of the belugas and almost crying with delight while they floated under me, looking up and smiling.
Few animal activities have allowed me to get this close to the wildlife. There was the standout experience of seeing a Manta ray glide right over my head in Komodo, Indonesia, and the magic of standing just a few feet away from Gorillas in Uganda, and now this rounds out my top three wildlife experiences.
That’s not even all there is up in Churchill, though. It’s a triple threat, with possible polar bear and northern lights sightings as well.
I visited with Lazy Bear Expeditions, which also took us out on a boat up north to see if we could find some bears as well. Though they’re much more common in the autumn months, unfortunately the belugas are already gone by then, and they were my main draw. By heading up in late July, I got to have both.
As far as I know, Lazy Bear is the only outfit in town with a boat of this size that takes you out to see the bears in the summer. Otherwise, in the fall, it’s all about the arctic crawlers in the tundra, so this is a unique experience.
The trip also includes other extras, like exploration around town to this downed aircraft.
You can climb in and around it, which I absolutely loved, as did the kids on the trip.
You can also kindly ask for a wake up call if the aurora activity is high enough and the skies are clear. Since Churchill has the possibility of seeing the northern lights 330 days of the year, you just might see them, even in the summer.
Before visiting Manitoba I had no idea how many cool things there are to see there. I was shocked that so few of my travel blogging peers had made it up to Churchill, considering how incredibly cool it is to see Belugas, and how close I was able to get to them.
Manitoba is so underrated. Go for the animals, and stay for the provincial parks and 100,000 lakes.
Do it yourself:
Getting there: After a flood wiped out a section of tracks this year, now the only way to get up to Churchill is to fly. Lazy Bear offers a chartered flight as part of their package.
Costs: The base rate for the trips with Lazy Bear start at $4,000 CAD (roughly $3100 USD at the time of this writing), which includes the flight, accommodation, most meals, and most activities with a few add-ons.
For solo travelers: This isn’t a trip that’s easy to do independently. You need someone around who has a gun (just to scare off the bears if needed), and to be in a group for safety reasons. The kayaks and the trips are all tied to various lodges, so book ahead before traveling to Churchill.
*This post was brought to you in collaboration with Lazy Bear Expeditions. All thoughts on the amazing Beluga encounters are my own.