When we decided we were going to Canada for our holiday, one of the things we knew we HAD to do was go see some bears. I’m actually pretty terrified of bears but, nevertheless, they are incredible animals and just amazing to see in the wild. So we booked a bear watching tour in Tofino, on the west of Vancouver Island. I wrote a post about 10 incredible things to do there even when it’s raining, but bear watching deserved a whole post of its own.
How do I book?
There are a multitude of bear watching trips available in Tofino and all of them involve getting on a boat. We had been advised that it is much more fun (and safe!) to go in a zodiac boat. A zodiac boat is a speedboat, which may seem less safe than a normal fishing-type boat, but the reason it is safer is because you have to wear a full body flotation suit to travel in a zodiac, whereas there is no requirement to wear a life jacket in a bigger boat. I’m pretty sure I’d rather capsize in a full body life jacket than none at all!
That said, the tours are very safe and I wasn’t worried at all about that aspect of the trip. It’s always worthwhile doing research if this is something that bothers you of course.
We hit Google and came across Adventure Tofino, who offered bear watching trips, guaranteed to be in a zodiac boat, on the dates we wanted. Done! The prices are pretty similar – it cost us $120 for both of us for a 2 – 2.5 hour trip. That included everything and a donation to conservation. That’s about £68.
What happens on a bear watching tour?
It might seem a bit weird to go looking for bears in a boat, but I swear it’s legit! There are loads of bears living on the coastline and the islands around Tofino. When low tide hits, they come out of their forest habitat and hit the beach, turning over rocks looking for tasty crabs to eat. So when you’re on a boat, you can get closer than ever possible on foot.
We got fitted in our suits, packed our huge raincoats and walked down to the docks to meet Jens, our tour guide. He helped us onto the zodiac, took a couple of snaps of us and then we hit the high seas! The water was very calm and we glided across without many bumps (I have heard that whale watching is a bit bumpier, because you head out onto open seas, whereas bear watching is around islands and inlets so the water is calmer).
The zodiac goes pretty quickly – Andrew and I sat at the front so we could enjoy an uninterrupted view of the journey, but the seats behind are just as good because you look at the bears sideways on. Even if the weather is nice, it’s advisable to carry a hat and gloves – the wind whips into you when you’re going at those speeds!
Finding some bears
We pulled into a few bays before we came across any bears, but when we did we weren’t disappointed. We saw a mummy and baby bear sat at the side of the water pulling barnacles off the tree branches that had been dipping into the water. Just gorgeous!
We watched them for a while and saw the baby bear climb up a tree – it’s incredible how quickly they can move and how strong they are to shimmy up a tree!
Moving into another bay, we saw a male bear hunting for crabs. Jens told us that the bears had just come out of hibernation, so they spend a lot of their time foraging for food, filling up on grasses and berries to get their digestion going and hunting crabs and other shellfish. Their coats are in really good condition after their long sleep – they looked very soft, but needless to say, they’re not for cuddling or stroking!
We saw five bears in total and absolutely loved the trip. Adventure Tofino were great and I would definitely recommend them if you’re heading out on a bear watching trip in Tofino.
Does bear watching sound like something you’d want to do?
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