If you’re looking to incorporate your obsession with animals into the ideal holiday itinerary, then there’s one destination that needs to be at the top of your to-do list: the Canadian province of British Columbia.
Its wild Pacific coastline, mind-blowing mountains and straight-up magical forests are home to more than 1,100 different wildlife species and some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. This gives travellers the privileged opportunity to witness everything from bears to bison, otters to orcas, and so much more, all thriving in their natural habitats.
If you need any further convincing, here are four wildlife experiences in British Columbia that will have you sold.
1. Spot a Spirit bear in the Great Bear Rainforest
Topping the bucket-list of animal encounters has got to be seeing bears in their natural habitat. And (as the name suggests) there’s no better spot to do that than in the Great Bear Rainforest. It’s a wild and unspoiled region on British Columbia’s coast that covers around 6.4 million hectares – roughly the size of Ireland.
Knight Inlet Lodge, an intimate, eco-friendly retreat, offers close encounters with these incredible creatures, led by expert biologists. Tours change from season to season – in spring you’ll spy feeding bears from boats, 50 metres from the shore, while in autumn, you’ll get to view to animals from a platform near spawning channels as grizzlies catch salmon. The Lodge is accessed via seaplane from Vancouver Island, which you can reach via ferry from Vancouver.
Head a little further north and you might spot a rare Spirit bear, also known as a Kermode bear. They’re a rare subspecies of black bear that has cream coloured fur and there’s less than 400 left of them in the wild. The best chance of spotting one is with a four-night tour out of the Spirit Bear Lodge, which is owned and operated by the local Indigenous community.
2. Kayak with Orcas off Vancouver Island
No matter how many superlatives we use in this spiel, nothing can quite describe the experience of paddling alongside a pod of orcas. So basically, you’ll have to go and do it for yourself to understand how bloody breathtaking it truly is. On an EcoSummer Expeditions tour you’ll spend three to six days kayaking along the Johnstone Strait, the waters between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia. This jaw-droppingly beautiful area is home to the world’s biggest population of these impressive mammals, plus plenty of other marine life such as sea otters, sea lions and porpoises. Each night you’ll sleep on shore in cushy tents scattered through old-growth rainforests and wake up to a hearty breakfast overlooking the secluded bay. Tours leave from Port McNeill on Vancouver Island, which is easily accessed via a one-and-a-half-hour flight from Vancouver to Port Hardy, plus a 30 minute taxi.
3. Sleep alongside with sea life in Vancouver
If you don’t have time to trek it out of BC’s biggest city, there are still options for getting up-close and personal with Canadian wildlife in the city centre. After the Vancouver Aquarium has closed its doors for the day, you can join one of the institution’s Ecosystem Expedition Sleepovers. You’ll explore the exhibits with an intimate group, handle sea stars and urchins at the touch tanks, and listen to an educational chat on about the underwater ecosystem. Then you’ll get to roll out a sleeping bag for a special night snoozing beside a marine display as dolphins, sharks, fish and sea lions swim around you. These nights are offered only nine times a year so book in early to get a space.
4. Spot birds of prey in Squamish
When winter arrives in Squamish, a town one hour north of Vancouver, so does one of North America’s largest congregations of bald eagles. And before you write off birdwatching as a hobby above your age bracket, we’re here to tell you that seeing these incredible creatures IRL will have your jaw on the floor. The birds of prey have a wingspan equivalent to the height of basketball player – i.e. flippin’ huge – and seeing them swoop down to catch spawning salmon is a sight to behold. The Squamish Rafting Company will get you even closer to the birds on their wilderness and eagle viewing float, which run from October through to April. The half-day tour will float you past snow-capped mountains, old-growth forest and waterfalls while you kick back with a hot bev and spy the stunning birds.