Travel to Churchill on a Budget : Polar Bears, Belugas and MORE

Travel to Churchill on a Budget : Polar Bears, Belugas and MORE

6 months ago when we were lying on the floor in Mebourne, Australia planning our ultimate Canadian road trip, Churchill was the first dot on the map. Now we got to explore manitoba and do it on a budget!! Here’s what we learnt about how to travel to Churchill on a budget.


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Churchill is a tiny town of 1000 inhabitants, it’s the last stop on the VIA rail line in Northern Manitoba. You might not have heard of this place before so it may come as a surprise that this is one of the world’s most phenomenal wildlife viewing platforms. Churchill has some incredible statistics: It is the beluga capital of the world, it is the polar bear capital of the world and it is a northern lights hub.

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None of this makes it sound like you can Travel to Churchill on a Budget but it is possible.

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This post is all about how to access Churchill, its highlights, its wildlife and generally explore the sub arctic without breaking the bank.

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How to reach Churchill on a budget

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1. Forget air travel and 2. Choose your season

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Forget air travel.

Even in low season return tickets to Churchill from Winnipeg cost around C$750. Instead you need to start looking at VIA Rail Canada schedules. You have two options, buy return tickets from Winnipeg to Churchill for around C$400p/p OR you can be extra sneaky and drive 7 hours to Thompson, the very last station before the roads turn treacherous. Thompson is the place to grab a return ticket to Churchill for $60p/p and its city hall offers you the opportunity to park your car in their car park in return for a donation to their burns victims foundation.

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Choose your season.

Churchill caters to tourists during two seasons: Summer and Fall. Fall (October/November) is peak polar bear season during which mother and cubs emerge from their dens and you get to gaze at bears in their white wonderland, at this time of year the northern lights are blazing but there are no beluga whales. There is a high demand from tourists and the price of everything from accommodation to tours sky rockets.

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Visiting Churchill during the summer months (June to August) will cost you around a third of the price for tours and accommodation. You will also be around for the Beluga whale season, still have the chance to see polar bears in the wild and spot a haze of the aurora borealis.

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Getting around Churchill

Churchill is easy to navigate and everything in town is within walking distance from one another. Only if you arrive by air would you need to take a taxi ride into town as the airport in 20km away. Churchill’s train station is a minutes walk from the only supermarket, which is a minutes walk from every hotel and tour operator (except the Churchill Northern Studies Centre). If arriving by train you can easily grab a map from the station office which is also the Parks Canada Visitor Centre and you are on your way.

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Renting your own car C$70-150 per day + fuel (expect to pay at least $50 for half a tank) can be fun and will keep costs low. You can reach Fort Merry, the Northern Studies Centre, a far off glimpse of the famous ‘Ithica’ shipwreck and the ‘Miss Piggy’ plane. A warning though, it is tough to absorb Churchill’s highlights without some expertise and your chances of spotting bears are low if you do not know what you’re looking for, you are also limited to the confinement of your car due to the prevalence of bears.

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For C$100 Paul from Nature 1st takes you on a whirlwind half-day tour of the highlights of Churchill. I say whirlwind not because the tour is rushed but because Paul has so much information on Churchill and the surroundings that you’ll find you never quite have enough time to squeeze everything out of him. Always keeping a lookout for roaming bears, Paul will engage you in everything and anything to do with Churchill: From historic bear trappings, research, the almost-oil company that tried to move in, abandoned rocket launchers and even the glacial movements upon Churchill’s eastern scenic coastline. You will drive, walk and talk amongst Churchill’s most intriguing and beautiful sites, this for us was an absolute joy.

.Travel to Churchill on a budget, Ultimate Canadian Road trip

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Budget accommodation in Churchill

Churchill’s only budget accommodation is at the Tundra Inn’s secondary residency: The Tundra House Hostel. During summer the doors to this ‘staff house’ open to visitors with beds in dorms and twin rooms costing only C$35p/p. There are two shared bathrooms, a communal kitchen, two living areas and a free phone.

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Budget food in Churchill

Tundra Hostel’s communal kitchen is an ideal way to keep costs down as you can cook for yourself. The Northern, Churchill’s supermarket is a little expensive but buying ingredients and cooking your own meals are still much cheaper than eating out.

Aside from cooking, the Tundra Inn Pub offers mighty meals (burgers can be shared) for C$20 and the famous Gypsies Bakery has cheap and delicious snacks for under C$5 (think cinnamon rolls, yummmmmm).

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Free attractions in Churchill

There is little information on Churchill anywhere so taking in the towns two museums is a must if you are visiting, plus they are both free.

The Eskimo museum has one of the worlds best collection of Native artifacts accompanied with ancient stories, the most incredible of which are carvings etched into human teeth, deemed to be a most generous gift. There are some incredible examples of narwhal tusks, fossils and tools, including a fish skin handbag.

Adjoining the train station, the Parks Canada Visitor Centre explains how Churchill’s landscape transformed from glaciers to tundra and how humans have used the landscape. Parks Canada are also the go-to people in terms of bear awareness, namely how to keep you and their sacred animals out of harms way.

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Day Trips Offered in Churchill in Summer

Day trips aren’t budget friendly but how can they be! Once you’ve made it to Churchill you are in a land like no other and any experience you opt to embark on is likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime encounter. For that reason alone the following day trips are in my opinion completely justifiable.

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Tundra BuggyⓇ Adventure

Frontiers North Adventures offer a 6 hour exploration of the tundra from within a huge monster truck offers you the best chance to spot polar bears and other arctic wildlife in Churchill’s summer. At C$180 per person the Tundra BuggyⓇ is an adventure you will never forget and the price includes a hefty lunch.

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Nature 1st

Informational full day trips with Nature 1st include tours around Churchill plus the chance to hike up to the ‘Ithica’ shipwreck at low tide. Tour costs $C150p/p.

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Parks Canada

Parks Canada offer a fully guided and informative hike from Sloops Cove to the historical Prince of Wales Fort built in the 1700’s. A short boat tour across the estuary to begin the hike may include sightings of belugas and polar bears have been spotted on the walk itself. Tour costs C$115p/p.

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Sea North

Sea North offer everything and anything beluga based, there are four options to See Beluga Whales in the Wild:

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-2 hour Boat tour in a zodiac to view belugas with a chance of sighting polar bears on the rocks: C$115p/p

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-A 1 hour estuary and 1 hour fort tour: C$115p/p

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-3 hour Kayak trip with the belugas: C$160p/p, also offered by Lazy Bear Lodge for C$140p/p.

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-A 3 hour snorkel tour from a zodiac, including all equipment: C$220p/p.

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(All prices include tax)

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Travel to Churchill on a budget, Ultimate Canadian Road trip Travel to Churchill on a budget, Ultimate Canadian Road trip

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There we have it, how to travel to Churchill on a budget.

We stayed a week and spent C$1200 dollars each including trains, a couple of meals out and several tours which were not only informative, not only introduced us to some incredible and unique wildlife but generally blew our mind.

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 Want more? Return to our Explore Manitoba page or visit our ‘100 Day Ultimate Canadian Road Trip’ guide.

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Written by

Rebecca Mayoll is a ‘just turned 30’ freelance writer and photographer from England. She is the co-founder and author of straightondetour.com, a travel website with the mantra ‘find your own adventure.’ Promoting adventurous destinations, independent travel and giving a humorous insight to the World of travel is what Becky does best.

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Hi we're Prue and Becks, travel writers and photographers who have been travelling the world together since 2012. Without taking ourselves too seriously, we divulge the lesser known, out of the way places and give you the tools to replicate it. Want to know more? Click on our pic.