So when I think polar bears, I think of Alaska and I guess I can wrap my head around polar bears in Canada too. (Manitoba Canada is hailed as one of the polar bear capitals of the world), but did you know one of the best places for spotting polar bears is in Norway?
According to the Norwegian Polar Bear Institute, there are about 3,500 polar bears roaming around this little traveled archipelago off of Norway called Svalbard. (Archipellago is a gathering of islands. I had to look it up myself.) This little known travel haven is only inhabited by about 3,000 people, so one could argue that spotting a human out there may be equally lucky as spotting a polar bear!
So how these excursions work: fly into Oslo or Tromsø and catch a flight to Svalbard. Then hop on a live-aboard boat for a couple of days and go find polar bears. Polar bears just like with any wildlife excursion are never a guaranteed sighting, but if you plan your trip right, heading out to Svalbard gives you one of the best chances in the world. In the winter, this is the only spot in the world where the northern lights can be seen during the day and winter is also a great time to go dog sledding or snowmobiling. But if you want the once in a lifetime chance at seeing polar bears, the best time of year to go to Svalbard is in the summer between May and September. August is the prime month for traveling there since the ice has melted and the polar bears are concentrated on the remaining ice.
Start by buying a flight to Oslo or Tromsø (flights are around $1,000) then catch a flight from Oslo to Svalbard (another $200-$300) then catch a live-aboard boat that takes you out for a polar bear safari.
So what’s keeping me from going here? Probably the same thing as you, the cheapest live-aboard I’ve come across so far costs about $10,000. And it’s not like it’s a $10,000 trip to warm tropical paradise, it’s an expensive trip to a harsh environment, where if you don’t bring long johns, no amount of money will make this trip bear-able (pun intended).
So I may put in an application for a job on one of the boats over there. So if you know one of the 3,000 people that live on the archipelago Svalbard, please let me know and I’ll be forwarding on a resume. But until then, polar bear safari just made my “If I Ever Marry Rich List.” As my uncle always says, “You can marry more money in a day, than you can make in a lifetime.”
RESOURCES for Further Reading on Polar Bear Excursions in Norway:
Exhaustive list of all the boat operators to book from, plus an exhaustive overview of getting there and getting around: http://wikitravel.org/en/Svalbard
Great FAQ on polar bear safaris in Svalbard: http://www.spitsbergentravel.com/start/about-svalbard/info/faqs/
General overview of the area and general travel guidelines for getting there: https://www.visitnorway.com/places-to-go/svalbard-islands/
Great overview and booking info: https://www.naturalworldsafaris.com/polar-regions/svalbard/information/when-is-the-best-time-to-see-polar-bears-in-svalbard
A reminder that there is unfortunately no such thing as budget travel in Svalbard: http://gadling.com/2012/06/14/svalbard-on-a-budget/