Northern Lights, polar bears and belugas make Churchill one of Time Magazine’s top travel destinations

The Northern Lights are visible in Churchill about 300 days a year.  The northern Manitoba city was one of 50 destinations to be included in Time Magazine's list of the best places to travel in 2023.  (Frontiers North Adventures - photo credit)

The Northern Lights are visible in Churchill about 300 days a year. The northern Manitoba city was one of 50 destinations to be included in Time Magazine’s list of the best places to travel in 2023. (Frontiers North Adventures – photo credit)

Manitoba’s northernmost Northern Lights are having a spotlight moment.

This week, Churchill was named by Time magazine as one of the greatest places to visit in 2023 for its stunning multicolored aurora, lumbering white polar bears, boisterous beluga whales and more.

“It’s unexpected, but definitely not surprising,” said Jessica Hassard, corporate communications specialist at Travel Manitoba.

“Churchill is an atypical destination. It’s totally off the beaten track and a real opportunity to turn your vacation into an adventure.”

The nod comes after Winnipeg made the cut in 2021. Churchill was one of only two Canadian destinations to make the list this year, Hassard said.

Churchill was added to the list after an author with Time visited the North last summer as part of a media tour co-hosted by Travel Manitoba and Frontiers North Adventures, Hassard said.

Dave Daley, a well-known musher in the dog sledding world at Wapusk Adventures, was surprised to hear that Churchill — which he described as a frontier town accessible only by plane, train or boat — made the list, though he said that he was fine knowing why it would appeal to travelers.

“I’ve been here most of my life and it’s quite an amazing place. I’ve always said that Churchill is the jewel of Manitoba,” Daley said.

“You should visit Churchill because there is no place like it on this planet. We have four ecosystems surrounding Churchill. We are SeaWorld in the wild. We have this [polar] Bears, Belugas, Birds of Prey. We have the Aurora,” Daley said.

“This is the best place to see the aurora and our community is very friendly.”

The time profile also boasts that the multicolored night sky displays dancing across the Hudson Bay shoreline are visible about 300 nights a year and that 2023 presents an excellent opportunity to see them as solar activity hits an 11 year mark – Climaxing his cycle.

Perhaps Churchill’s most popular attraction are its polar bears, which have long been a major tourist attraction for the northern city, located about 1,000 kilometers northeast of Winnipeg.

Time’s list of excursion options to see the predators of the Arctic tip from the safety of Frontiers North Adventures’ tundra buggy, a 40-passenger vehicle with six-foot-tall tires that takes tourists into polar bear territory to see to see them up close and personal.

Cameron Macintosh/CBC

Cameron Macintosh/CBC

The buggies have a viewing platform that juts out over the rear end.

“Sometimes the bears come right under the quarterdeck and sniff at people’s shoes. You can literally hear them breathe,” said Jessica Burtnick, director of marketing and sales for Frontiers North Adventures.

“If you’re really lucky, you might even have a polar bear stand up and put its paws on the side of the tundra buggy…It really is the ultimate experience to experience that moment.”

Burtnick expects Time’s attention will boost interest in the region, which is gradually recovering after several years of pandemic disruption that upended local tourism.

She said the company’s Northern Lights season had just ended and had already received some bookings for these tours for next winter, which has not been common outside of the aurora season.

“The tourism sector has been hit very hard during the pandemic,” she said.

“It got to the point where we had to cancel an entire season, so bookings were zero and that never happened. … So it’s really encouraging to see things recovering back to where they were in 2019.”

Hassard added that general tourism is recovering but has not quite reached pre-pandemic levels.

Time also clogs another major attraction just offshore: beluga whales.

Lazy Bear Expeditions/Trip Manitoba

Lazy Bear Expeditions/Trip Manitoba

Affectionately known as the canaries of the sea for their high-pitched voice, the four-meter-long chatters, about 50,000 of the whales migrate to Hudson Bay and the surrounding rivers each summer.

Time thanked Lazy Bear Expeditions for their conservation-focused beluga tours in Churchill. The company hopes to launch a new catamaran this summer with a see-through bottom that will allow tourists to see belugas and other marine life cruising beneath them.

“The opportunity to be among beluga whales as they migrate, they are incredible creatures, very playful, so it would be really interesting to see that up close,” Hassard said.

Zhang Yongpeng/Frontiers North Adventures

Zhang Yongpeng/Frontiers North Adventures

She concedes that travelers shouldn’t expect a trip to Churchill to be cheap, but says the trip is well worth it.

“To be included in the Times list of the 50 Best Travel Destinations Around the World is an incredible honor,” said Hassard.

“It’s really going to attract a lot of visitors who may have been holding back on their pre-pandemic vacation and are now looking at their vacation.” [plans] and say, ‘You know what, I’ve always wanted to do this.’”


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