Have you ever wondered what it would be like to visit northern Alaska and see polar bears in their natural habitat? Jamie Lafferty from The National has written up a wonderful first-hand account of his experience on our Polar Bear Adventure! From his first glimpse of the city of Fairbanks to his encounters with polar bears in the wild, he describes his entire trip in detail for his readers. Check out some of the highlights below:
Day one of our Polar Bear Adventure includes a tour of the city of Fairbanks with guides Fred and Janet Veerman. Fairbanks is a small Alaskan city of roughly 30,000 people. It has all of the modern-day conveniences of other cities in the US, but with a style that is relaxed and historic. A unique feature of this city is that it lies just outside of the Arctic Circle, where Northern Lights shine bright and temperatures can drop to -40°C in the winter months! We only travel during the more temperate summer months on our Polar Bear Adventure, so you don’t have to worry about it getting very cold, but be prepared to see snow-capped mountain ranges and beautiful Arctic scenery. Lafferty describes the view as “frozen, foreboding and extraordinarily beautiful.”
After visiting Fairbanks, we’ll travel to the small Arctic settlement of Kaktovik. The population is only 400 people, but don’t forget the 50 resident polar bears! The native Inupiat, who call this region their home, have lived side by side with these bears for centuries. The tribe leaves the bones of the bowhead whales that they hunt outside of town for the bears to scavenge, allowing them to coexist peacefully. It is all but guaranteed that you will see polar bears in the area. As Lafferty states: “Here, it’s absolutely a case of how many, rather than if…it’s hard to imagine a healthier nor more numerous population of bears anywhere on Earth.”
In Kaktovik we will be able to see these bears from a safe distance on a boat ride through Alaska’s barrier islands. Being on a boat allows travelers to photograph bears at eye level as they hunt and play together along the shore. As Lafferty describes, “within 10 minutes, we’ve positioned ourselves a safe distance away from a pair of huge adolescents wrestling in the gentle surf at one of the sandbars…what they’re doing is play-fighting, but it’s still pretty terrifying to imagine the damage that’d be done if the opponent wasn’t an equally massive bear.”
The next stop on the tour is Utqiagvik (formerly known as Barrow), the northernmost town in North America. Only accessible by plane, it is isolated, but locals here have created a tight-knit community that thrives in the environmental extremes of the Arctic. They have a strong propensity to volunteer and help each other out. In fact, they share all of the meat from the three bowhead whales that they are allowed to hunt per year equally within the community. Since the food that is flown in from the outside can be very expensive, whale meat, fishing, and hunting still provide many of the residents with most of their food throughout the year.
In Utqiagvik, we’ll visit with tribal elders and learn about their local traditions and the native lifestyle. The Iñupiat Heritage Center is a great place to see how traditional crafts, clothing, and whaling vessels are made. They use many of the same techniques that their ancestors used hundreds of years ago.
We’ll also go on another wildlife tour here to look for polar bears, along with the arctic foxes and snowy owls who make this area their home. It’s the perfect end to a unique journey in an unforgettable part of the world.
There aren’t many tours that can take you to the top of the world to see polar bears in the wild. Gondwana Ecotours has created travel experiences that take you way off the beaten path to some of the most amazing places on Earth. Want to learn more? Check out our tour page today!