Russia

Wrangel Island

The 'ultimate' Polar Bear destination combined with some amazing Arctic birds

For anyone interested in Arctic wildlife, one of the 'most wanted' animals is the Polar Bear and whilst Spitsbergen and parts of Arctic Canada offer opportunities to see these amazing creatures, there is little doubt that the remote Russian Arctic island of Wrangel provides an experience that few other places can match.

Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was simply impossible to visit this amazing region and even now the number of foreign tourists who experience the special mystique of the Russian Far East each year is probably no more than a few thousand, despite the exceptional nature of this very special region.

For anyone wanting to see the Arctic at its best and maximise on their chances of Polar Bears, then a trip to Wrangel Island is unquestionably the place to go.  Nearby Herald Island is believed to have the highest density of denning bears anywhere in the Arctic and in 2017 our recommended operator, Heritage Expeditions, found a world record 241 bears around a whale carcass on the western side of Wrangel Island.  An unbelievable experience for those who were fortunate to be aboard and a story that spread around the world !!

Whilst Polar Bears are the main attraction for many people, there is plenty of other wildlife to look for including a superb range of seabirds and other mammals. Potential birds include Tufted and Horned Puffin, Crested and Parakeet Auklets, White-billed Diver, Spectacled Eider and Sandhill Crane whereas the list of possible cetaceans includes Humpback, Grey and Bowhead Whales. Whilst cruising in the sea-ice around Wrangel we are likely to find Pacific Walrus and ashore will look for Musk Ox, Arctic Fox, Snowy Owl, the tusks of extinct Wrangel Mammoths and much more.

Tour Dates & Prices

Sun 10th July 2022

Sun 24th July 2022

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Tour Cost: 15 Days from £7350 excluding flights and local payment

Deposit: £1850Single Supp: £tbaLand Only: £7350Group Size: 15Leaders: TBA
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Please note Heritage Expeditions will be offering several expeditions to Wrangel Island on two ships in 2022. Please contact us for the full list of options.

What's Included?

Pre and post cruise transfers, all on board ship accommodation, meals and all expedition shore excursions. Limosa/WildWings checklist of birds and mammals.

Cost Excludes

All items of a personal nature, laundry, drinks, gratuities. International/domestic flights, visas and travel insurance.

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Notes

The voyage will be accompanied by a Limosa/WildWings tour leader subject to a minimum number of bookings. If this total is not achieved, there are always expert bird and wildlife guides employed by Heritage Expeditions aboard the vessel who are there to assist everyone.

The price quoted above is per person for the most basic cabin. Please click on the 'trip info' tab for prices for different cabins types.

The Tour Cost is the amount you will pay Limosa.

For international flight details, we recommend that you contact Sacha Barbato who is a highly experienced independent travel agent working under the ATOL bonding of Travel Counsellors. Sacha’s contact details are as follows: sacha.barbato@travelcounsellors.com and 01603 360099

Limosa Holidays and Sacha have agreed which flights are most suitable for each trip and we encourage you to book through him as you then have support if there are any problems such as flight cancellations or delays.

Tour Highlights

  • At least three days at the remote and rarely visited Wrangel Island
  • Cruise through the high Arctic sea-ice looking for Polar Bear, Walrus and other high Arctic wildlife
  • Explore ashore on Wrangel for Musk Ox, Arctic Fox, two endemic species of lemmings and Snowy Owl
  • Spectacular colonies of auks including Crested and Parakeet Auklets and Brunnich’s Guillemots.
  • Chances for some special sea duck and divers including Spectacled Eider, Snow and Emperor Geese and White-billed Diver
  • Fantastic opportunities to observe cetaceans with potential species including Humpback, Grey and Bowhead Whales as well as Beluga
  • See the best flowers anywhere in the Arctic with the possibilities for many endemic species
  • Pass Cape Dezhnev, the most easterly point in Eurasia

Outline Itinerary

  • Nome, Alaska

  • Provideniya, Russia

  • Preobrazheniya Bay

  • Whale Bone Alley and Gil’mimyl Hot Springs

  • Lavrentiya and Cape Dezhnev

  • Kolyuchin Island and Kolyuchin Inlet

  • At sea

  • Wrangel Island

  • At sea

  • Bukhta Pultin and Unnamed Bay

  • Bukhta Penkingney and Arakamchechen Island

  • Provideniya

  • Nome, Alaska

Overview
Itinerary
Trip Info
Polar Bear on sea ice CPC RB5A9077 elements edit.jpg
Polar Bear on sea ice off Wrangel Island, Russian Far East © Chris Collins

This spectacular region has only been accessible since the mid 1990s and remains rarely visited, however, for anyone wanting to see the Arctic at its best and maximise on their chances of Polar Bears, then a trip to Wrangel Island is unquestionably the place to go.  Nearby Herald Island is believed to have the highest density of denning bears anywhere in the Arctic and in 2017 our recommended operator, Heritage Expeditions, found a world record 241 bears around a whale carcass on the western side of Wrangel Island.  An unbelievable experience for those who were fortunate to be aboard and a story that spread around the world !!

Heritage Expeditions unquestionably have the most experience of running trips in this region and their two ships Heritage Adventurer and Spirit of Enderby are perfect options as both are ice-strengthened and thus able to reach locations that other vessels cannot get to. With the higher ice rating, these ships can push through ice which is not an option for many other ships, vastly increasing the chances of finding bears out on the sea ice early in the season.  Both these factors, combined with the wildlife focus of most voyages, makes for a much more fulfilling trip and higher chances of seeing all the key wildlife.

Whilst Polar Bears are the main attraction for many people, there is plenty of other wildlife to look for including a superb range of seabirds.  Most trips, for example, include a zodiac cruise at Preobrazheniya Bay where there are some spectacular bird cliffs offering opportunities to see Crested and Parakeet Auklets, as well as both Horned and Tufted Puffins and chances for Brown Bear and even Wolverine.  All trips also sail offshore from Cape Dezhnev, the most easterly point in Eurasia, and as the ship continues northwards, the concentrations of seabirds and marine ducks can be very special, with huge concentrations of eiders streaming south from early summer onwards.  As well as Common Eider, it is also possible to see King, Steller's and the tricky Spectacled Eider in this region.

North of the Bering Strait, the number of whales along the coast of northern Chukotka can be very impressive and whilst Humpback Whales are the most numerous, there are also Grey Whales and the highly endangered Bowhead Whale is also possible.  With North Pacific Right Whale (the most endangered of the great whales) found on one occasion in one of the many fjords further south and the possibility for Belugas, the cetacean opportunities are absolutely outstanding.

Depending on the ice conditions and time of year when you visit will very much determine the itinerary but most voyages spend at least three or four days exploring Wrangel Island with a mixture of landings, zodiac cruises and ship cruising.  Early in the summer, there is typically more sea ice and this means higher chances of Polar Bears out on the ice hunting walrus and seals.  Later trips will probably have more time ashore increasing the opportunities to see Musk Ox, Snowy Owls and maybe even find the tusks of some Wrangel Mammoths as this was the last place in the world where these ancient relatives of the Elephant survived.  The summer flowers are also very impressive with a high diversity of species and more endemics than anywhere else in the Arctic.

On most expeditions, visits are also made to Kolyuchin Island where the seabird cliffs are amongst the best in this part of Arctic Russia with the auks and puffins joined by Pelagic Cormorants, Glaucous Gulls and the occasional bear looking for an easy meal.  A few miles to the south at Kolyuchin Inlet, there is a network of ponds out on the tundra where White-billed and Pacific Divers breed along with Sandhill Cranes and much more besides.

For anyone who has joined one of the Heritage Expeditions trips in the Kurils, or has never been to the Russian Far East before, there will be much that is new and this truly is amongst the world's "must do" wildlife destinations.

Polar Bears on sea ice off Wrangel CPC RB5A8777.JPG
Polar Bears on sea ice off Wrangel Island, Russian Far East © Chris Collins

Please note that Heritage Expeditions will be offering trips to Wrangel Island on two ships (Heritage Adventurer and the Spirit of Enderby) in 2022. The expeditions on Heritage Adventurer will be operating out of Nome in Alaska whereas those on the Spirit of Enderby will start and finish in the remote Russian town of Anadyr.

We have provide the itinerary for the 10 June 2022 trip on Heritage Adventurer below. To discuss the two ships and other itineraries, we recommend calling us.

Day 1: Nome, Alaska

Our expedition begins and ends in Nome, Alaska’s most famous gold rush town and join other expeditioners at the designated meeting point for your transfer to Heritage Adventurer where the Captain and Expedition Team will be waiting to welcome you aboard. You will have the opportunity to settle into your comfortable cabin and familiarise yourself on board before joining your fellow expeditioners on deck as we set sail across the Bering Strait and International Date Line for Provideniya, Russia.

Day 2: Provideniya, Russia

After clearing Russian Customs and Immigration there may be an opportunity to explore this fascinating former Soviet military port and administrative centre followed by an afternoon expedition.

Day 3: Presbrazhenya Bay

We aim to visit Presbrazhenya Bay today which has some amazing bird cliffs and, assuming the sea conditions are suitable, we will use the ship's fleet of zodiacs to explore. There are excellent chances of close encounters with Crested and Parakeet Auklets, as well as both Horned and Tufted Puffins. Brown Bear is occasionally seen here too and even Wolverine was observed on a previous visit. 

There should also be a chance to land and explore the rich tundra landscape for wildlife and flora.

Day 4: Whale Bone Alley and Gil’mimyl Hot Springs

For our first landing of the day, we expect to visit one of the most significant and intriguing archaeological sites in the Arctic – Yttygran Island’s Whale Bone Alley. This ancient site is decorated with Bowhead Whale skulls and bones dating back to the 14th Century, but was only discovered in 1976. Thought to be either a ceremonial site or hunting camp, a UNESCO World Heritage Site application has been submitted highlighting its cultural importance.

Birding opportunities here are a bit limited but it is a good place to find Northern Pika and possibly Arctic Ground Squirrel. Nearby there is sometimes a Walrus haulout but the animals are not always present.

We will then cruise a short distance to Gil’mimyl Hot Springs. The natural pools are only a relatively short walk from the coastline, but well worth the effort.

For those wanting to look for birds, the possibilities here include Red-necked Stint, Arctic Redpoll and Sandhill Crane.

Day 5: Lavrentiya and Cape Dezhnev

Dropping anchor in beautiful Lavrentiya Bay, we expect to spend the morning exploring the historically and culturally rich village of Lavrentiya. A former indigenous settlement, this Soviet-planned community was established in the 1920s as an administrative centre where local Chukchi and Siberian Yupik people were "encouraged" to move. There should be an opportunity to visit the museum, meet local elders and enjoy an authentic taste and slice of village life in the main square.

During the afternoon, we will be at Cape Dezhnev, the north-eastern most point of the Eurasian continent. This cape commemorates the accomplishment of the Cossack Semyon Dezhnev who was the first European to sail through the strait in 1648 (80 years before Bering did).

There is an old lighthouse, a monument and the remains of a Border Guard base at the Cape and a short distance to the south is the former Inuit settlement of Naukan. It is still possible to sense the melancholy in the air because the people never wanted to leave (as they were forced to move by the Communist authorities) and there is a wealth of historic data and old photographs that make a visit to this site even more poignant.

If the weather and sea conditions are suitable, we plan to land here and give you the opportunity to explore the area.

Offshore the concentrations of seabirds can be very impressive with Tufted and Horned Puffins, Parakeet Aukets and Short-tailed Shearwaters. On some occasions, huge numbers of migrating eiders can be seen flying south and these flocks can include King, Steller's and the tricky Spectacled Eider which can sometimes be found around the coast here.

Day 6: Kolyuchin Island and Kolyuchin Inlet

Today is an expedition day where we plan to visit both Kolyuchin Island and Kolyuchin Inlet. Once the location of an important Russian Polar Research Station, the buildings on this small island have been long abandoned following the collapse of the USSR. Whilst the buildings may now be derelict, the abundant birdlife which was studied is still here in profusion.

Near the old station at the north-western end of the island are some of the most amazing bird cliffs in the Arctic, where puffns, guillemots, gulls and cormorants can be observed and photographed just metres away.

A good-sized walrus haulout often congregates at the south-eastern end and, if the animals are present, we can expect some excellent photographic opportunities from the zodiacs.

We also plan to visit Belaka Spit near the mouth of the Kolyuchin Inlet. This enormous area (which can easily be seen on a satellite photo) is home during the summer months to some great birdlife and we hope to find both White-billed and Pacific Divers on the ponds that are scattered across the area. We may also have close encounters with Red-necked Phalaropes and other possibilities include Sandhill Crane and Emperor Goose.

Offshore there are chances for Humpback, Bowhead and Grey Whales.

Day 7: At Sea

At some point during the day, we may reach the edge of the sea ice (less likely on the later departures) and this will be an opportunity to look for our first Polar Bears of the expedition.

When in open water, however, there are more chances for whales.

Depending on the conditions and sea/ice conditions, we may see Wrangel Island by the end of the day.

Days 8 to 10: Wrangel Island

Ice and weather conditions permitting, we plan to spend three days exploring Wrangel Island and our days are likely to be a combination of landings, ship cruises (through the ice) and zodiac cruises (in more open water).

With this area believed to have the highest density of denning bears anywhere in the Arctic, having some good encounters will be high on our priority list and, with a little patience, we should be rewarded with a number of opportunities to see and photograph them.

The island is also the last landfall for Arctic migrants and each summer millions of birds migrate here to breed including Snow Geese, Snowy Owls, Arctic Terns and several species of auks. At some point during our time around Wrangel Island, we may have an opportunity to zodiac cruise some seabird cliffs where we are likely to have close encounters with Brunnich's Guillemots amongst other species.

Whilst cruising through the ice, we may find both Ringed and Bearded Seals, as well as Pacific Walrus, and ashore will be on the lookout for Musk Oxen, Arctic Fox and the two endemic species of lemmings. Very occasionally we have also seen Wolf and Wolverine here.

The flowers can also be spectacular and whilst these usually grow very low to the ground, the range of species and the number of endemics is the highest of anywhere in the Arctic.

Whilst ashore, we may also find the tusks of Wrangel Mammoths as this was the last place on Earth where these ancient forebears of the Elephant are believed to have survived, only dying out a few thousand years ago.

Day 11: At Sea

Having reluctantly left Wrangel Island late the previous day, we will be at sea today with sea and ice conditions dictating our course and speed.

If there is still ice about, it will be well worth being out on deck We suggest expeditioners will be richly rewarded by being on deck, because if we are still in ice, there could be Polar Bears, Walrus, and both Ringed and Bearded Seals to be seen.

As we get closer to the Chukotka coast, the number of whales is likely to increase and as well as the now familiar Humpback and Grey Whales, we will hope to find Bowhead Whale.

We will also use this time for lectures and recaps.

Day 12: Bukhta Pultin and Unnamed Bay

This morning we plan to enjoy a zodiac safari at Bukhta Pultin. Beyond its narrow entrance, this sheltered and rarely-visited bay opens revealing a new world. We will explore the coastline, fields of wildflowers, look for wildlife or hike up the ridgeline and take in the impressive view.

Nearby, picturesque Unnamed Bay is our planned destination for the afternoon where we will zodiac cruise to shore where we will be welcomed by an expansive stretch of beach, backed by a lagoon and surrounded by rugged hills.

If we visit suitable habitat we could find 'North American' waders such as Western Sandpiper alongside more familiar phalaropes and if we are fortunate, we may encounter moulting Spectacled Eider as some of these quiet bays seem to be used by this tricky species.

Day 13: Bukhta Penkingney and Arakamchechen Island

This morning we plan to use the zodiacs for a landing at Bukhta Penkingney, a long fiord cut into the coastline by glaciers and a popular spot for whale watching. Here a small braided river, its gravel bed studded with willow bushes, winds its way down to the sea where we land.

Exploring this scenic location we will be looking for Arctic Ground Squirrels and Northern Pikas, Willow Ptarmigan, Sandhill Cranes and Brown Bears attracted by the berries and salmon-filled river.

This afternoon we plan to cruise over to Arakamchechen Island for a landing. This small island is just north of Cape Chaplino and separated from the Chukotka mainland by the 8-kilometre wide Senyavina Strait. Having watched Grey Whales feeding here previously, we recommend being out on deck as we slowly cruise through the Strait.

Day 14: Provideniya

After clearing Russian Customs and Immigration in Provideniya, we will set sail for Nome across the Bering Strait. One of the world’s most nutrient-rich stretches of water, each spring the Bering Strait is the scene of one of the planet’s largest wildlife migrations with Beluga, Bowhead and Grey Whales, Walrus, Ringed Seals and numerous seabirds are all known to frequent the Strait so there should be plenty of opportunity for wildlife encounters.

During the afternoon, the Expedition Team will offer a recap of our expedition and there will be a disembarkation briefing before enjoying a farewell dinner to celebrate our journey as we sail back across the International Date Line.

Day 15: Nome, Alaska

After breakfast and clearing US Immigration and Customs formalities, it will be time to say our farewells. There will be a complimentary transfer to take you to the airport or a designated central location.

As on all expedition cruises, our exact itinerary is subject to sea, weather and government and
local permissions.

Polar Bear on sea ice CPC RB5A7075.JPG
Polar Bear on sea ice off Wrangel Island, Russian Far East © Chris Collins

THE SHIPS

Heritage Expeditions have been running trips to the Russian Far East since 2007. For most of this period, these expeditions have operated on converted Russian research vessels, in particular the Spirit of Enderby (or to give it it's Russian name Professor Khromov), however, as from mid-2022 Heritage Expeditions will also be offering trips to Wrangel Island on Heritage Adventurer. This purpose built expedition ship (which was previously known as Hanseatic and Resolute) combines the highest passenger ship ice-class rating (1A Super) with extremely comfortable cabins and passenger facilities.

Originally designed to accommodate 184 guests, Heritage Adventurer will carrry a maximum of 140 expeditioners ensuring spacious, stylish and comfortable voyages. There will be a fleet of 14 zodiacs to ensure all guests are able to maximise on their expedition adventure.

The Spirit of Enderby carries 50 passengers and was refurbished in May 2019 to provide comfortable accommodation in twin share cabins approximately half of which have private facilities. All cabins have outside windows or portholes. There is a recently updated combined bar/library lounge area and a dedicated lecture room.

CABINS OPTIONS AND PRICES

The prices listed below are for the departure on Heritage Adventurer on 10 July 2022. For other departures, please contact us:

Main Deck Triple - £7,350 excluding landing fees

Main Deck Triple Cabins on Deck 3 are a spacious 22m2 and feature two porthole windows, two single beds and one Pullman bed which folds down from the wall, comfortable lounge, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.

Superior Triple - £7,700 excluding landing fees

Superior Triple Cabins on Deck 5 are a spacious 22m2 and feature large panoramic windows, two single beds and one Pullman bed which folds down from the wall, comfortable lounge, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.

Deck 4 Superior - £8,900 excluding landing fees

Superior Cabins on Deck 4 are a spacious 22m2 and feature large panoramic windows, king or two single beds, comfortable lounge, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.

Deck 5 Superior - £9,350 excluding landing fees

Superior Cabins on Deck 5 are a spacious 22m2 and feature large panoramic windows, king or two single beds, comfortable lounge, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.

Main Deck Single - £10,750 excluding landing fees

Main Deck Single Cabins on Deck 3 are a spacious 22m2 and feature two porthole windows, king bed, comfortable lounge, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.

Worsley Suite - £11,400 excluding landing fees

Located on Deck 6, Worsley Suites are a spacious 22m2 and feature large panoramic windows, king or two single beds, comfortable chaise-style lounge suite, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.

Superior Single - £11,750 excluding landing fees

Superior Single Cabins on Deck 5 are a spacious 22m2 and feature large panoramic windows, king bed, comfortable lounge, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.

Heritage Suite - £16,750 excluding landing fees

Located on Deck 6, Heritage Suites are an expansive 44m2 and feature large double panoramic windows, king bed, large living area with a sofa, coffee table and chairs and grand marble bathroom with a double basin, bathtub and shower, large writing desk, floor to ceiling cabinetry for storage and a flat screen entertainment system.

Please note: the above prices are per person and exclude landing fees of US$500 per person which are paid in cash on the ship.

Spectacled Eider CPC RB5A9716.JPG
Spectacled Eider, Russian Far East © Chris Collins

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