Cost of Travel in Churchill and How to Visit There On a Budget
THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS. PLEASE READ MY DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFO.
This guide only includes tips on visiting Churchill on a budget from Winnipeg, so you have to figure out your own way and cost to get to Winnipeg. All the currency is in Canadian dollars.
Churchill is an expensive place to visit. Everything ranging from public transport, the tour, accommodations, and the food was exceptionally expensive. For example, a two-hour return flight from Winnipeg costs between $1000 to $1600, and a head of cauliflower costs $11 in the supermarket—it is that expensive. A week of polar bear and aurora tour from Winnipeg usually costs $7000 and up. If you are not careful, you can easily spend thousands of dollars in just a few days.
I was cautious about not spending my lifetime savings there. The research was not easy. It was difficult to find first-hand information on how to visit Churchill on a budget.
After spending a week there, I hereby share my experience and tips on how to keep your travel cost to Churchill to a minimum without compromising the quality of your trip.
How to get to Churchill from Winnipeg for $123
Airfare between Winnipeg and Churchill is extremely expensive. Calm Air is the only carrier flying this route so they can charge whatever they want. If you decide to travel this way, you are looking at paying $490 to $800 for a one-way ticket per person. With the duration of travel being two hours, I did not bother with this option.
The good news is that the train is available from Winnipeg to Churchill. The cost is $230 one way for a 45-hour trip in an economy car. You will get to sleep on the train for two nights, so it is not a bad option.
However, you can save significantly by taking a bus from Winnipeg to Thompson, then train to Churchill. A one-way bus ticket from Winnipeg to Thompson is $50 with Maple Bus Lines and Thompson Bus, and it takes only nine hours. The economy fare from Thomson to Churchill is $73. With this option, your total cost for a one-way trip from Winnipeg to Churchill would be $123. I traveled this way on my return trip and found it less exhausting than taking a 45-hour train.
Eating out was generally expensive at the restaurants. Starters ranged from $7 to $17 and main dishes from $20-$30 with small portions. If you plan to eat a proper meal at a restaurant, be prepared to pay $30 per person.
To give you an idea of the average costs of meals at the restaurants, check out this menu from Tundra Inn.
The famous Dan’s Diner charges a five-course meal for $350 (drinks are extra) with the activity of aurora viewing. While most tourists go there for the experience, it was super expensive for me so I passed it up.
Grocery shopping in Churchill is not cost-saving either. Because there is no road, everything has to be flown in or shipped by train. In Northern Store, you will find a small amount of tomatoes costs $11, milk from $7, and a half package of ham for $36. I bought a box of smoothie, a small bag of forest ham, four red onions and a cup of instant noodles one day, and I paid $24.
The good thing is that if you take the train, you are allowed check-in luggage, including your cooler and fresh produce. In this case, you can purchase food in Winnipeg and Thompson, and ship them to Churchill. When you arrive in Churchill, find accommodation with a kitchen, or at least a fridge and microwave, so you are able to make your own meals.
You can also save tons of money by eating at the Caribou Café at the Community Center. The breakfast is $5 with bread, sausage, eggs, and tea, and the lunch special is $8.50. I ate there every day, and I could not find the same price and quality of food elsewhere.
Moreover, you can contact hotels and restaurants; ask them if they are interested in trading groceries with you for meals and cash. Usually, hotels and restaurants are open to negotiating, as it is way pricier for them to purchase the groceries at the local store or get the food shipped via train and air. In the hotel I stayed, the owner was willing to offer free dinner to guests who bring him vegetables and fruits.
If you need to shop for fresh food, I recommend that you visit Tamarack Foods. It is a small shop and is less expensive than the Northern Store.
Tours and Activities
The good news about Churchill is that Itsanitaq Museum and Polar Bears International House are free. Both places are in the town center so it is easy to walk there. You need to pay for outdoor activities like aurora viewing, polar bear and beluga whales tour, dog sledding, and so forth, but you do not have to join expensive multiple day tours for these.
There are several tour operators in Churchill, and you can shop around and compare prices and quality. I went on a dog sledding and aurora tour with Blue Sky Expeditions, and paid $140 for both activities. It was the best tour I found in town. Both guides, Jenafor and Gerald, have lived in Churchill for many years and they will only take you on an aurora tour when they see a high possibility of the lights showing up. I went on their aurora tour twice without additional cost. Jenafor is also a professional photographer and takes great pictures for her guests.
I was also fortunate to join them and other guests walking on the ice on the Churchill River on the last day. I paid a fraction of the cost of what other operators charged for the same trip and had the best time.
However, visiting polar bears and watching beluga whales are summer and fall activities, so I did not get to experience that this time. From what I learned, most locals have seen polar bears in town during the summer season.
The cost of hotels ranges anywhere from $85 to $200 per night. Currently, there are no options for hostels, and is not safe to camp around, so you have to suck up the cost of accommodations there.
I chose to stay at the IceBerg Inn, and the rate was $695 for seven nights when I booked. The room came with two beds, a desk, a mini-fridge, a chair, a TV, and an ensuite bathroom. Breakfast was an extra $5 per day with coffee, bread, and jam. I did not have breakfast in the hotel during my week stay there. I either ate my own food or went for breakfast at the community center. The hotel also has a microwave for you to reheat your own meals.
These prices and information are all based on my trip in March 2020. Accommodations and tour prices are subject to change on a seasonal basis. If you have extra tips on saving costs of travel in Churchill, feel free to comment below.
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