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Review: Taiga Forest

Specialist Holiday - Safari/wildlife

Finland

The wild animals of Finland

  • By SilverTraveller GDB1

    9 reviews

  • September 2014
  • Wife
  • Other

28 people found this review helpful

For most of us who have a long enough memory to remember when mum and dad took us into the garden, or local forest if we were lucky enough, to have a picnic with our favourite teddy bears, we can re-live those wonderful days with bears……with a bit of travelling and imagination.

Most bears that you see in travel brochures are either grizzlies from North America or polar bears mainly from the Arctic, although Canada is an alternative. Polar Bears are awesome creatures and you have to be quite fortunate to see them close up in the wild. The big Grizzlies or Kodak Bears, which are quite close to our teddy bears of old, are regularly seen at certain times of the year scoffing salmon. What both of these have in common is the relatively high cost of such a holiday, and thus eliminating most of us retired Silver Travellers on limited incomes.

The European Brown Bear however, about 3/4 size Grizzlie but still with that hump in the back, can be seen a little nearer to home and for a sensible cost. Apart from Slovenia, which is now up and coming bear-wise, the wild Taiga Forest in Finland, about halfway up on the right hand side bordering Russia, is the place to go. There are a number of wildlife travel companies who will organise a trip for you, but it is quite straightforward to organise this directly with one of about 3 centres, and simply book your international /internal air flights yourself. It is either Finnair or Finnair, so not complicated. Basically, you fly from a UK airport to Helsinki and take an internal flight to Kajaani. From there, all of these wildlife centres will organise the transit to/from the centre, accommodation, food, guides, etc. You normally stay 2/4 nights, with one of these actually at the wildlife centre overnight after the first day’s travelling…. it depends what time you arrive. From our experience, the accommodation is quite comfortable, normally with private ensuite shower etc., but it is used mainly during the day for resting, as you will be spending the early evening / overnight in the forest for 2/3 nights……that is up to you.

The Taiga Forest is a vast area on the east of Finland and overlaps in to Russia. One of these centres is within just a few miles of the Russian border….. don’t cross it!
The normal daily itinerary is to relax, do some local walks, photography, have a late lunch and then, depending on which centre you are at, start off on a short trek to your hide. For birders and regular wildlife enthusiasts, they will find these hides quite familiar, except that the larger ones are furnished with bunk beds and toilets. The smaller ones have minimal facilities for 1/2 persons, normally mad photographers like us. If you look at the websites , you will see them located to give various views and vantage points, and some better at different times of the year. They may be in the woods, next to a lake or a swamp, or any combination…. you will have the opportunity to choose if you book directly. The hides are all fitted out with seats, windows and viewing slots for photographers at just the right heights and locations. The larger ‘group’ hides for up to 6/8 people will have a guide / minder with you, and a supply of hot drinks and snacks to tide you over.

Taking the one centre that we are most familiar with, you would start out at say 4 – 5.00pm, short trek to the hide, stay there overnight till say 7 – 7-30 am, go back for breakfast, rest in your room at the lodge, relax, have a late lunch, maybe a sauna, and start again……. you really do get your money’s worth.

Now the animals….. as with all such places, the bears are attracted with food, but it is strictly controlled as to how much ‘bait’ can be used, so as not to habituate the bears too much so they are reliant on artificial food. They are truly wild, free to come and go, and as they do hunt themselves, there is no guarantee of any bears or indeed fixed numbers. However, the bears, like all wild animals that are regularly viewed by us humans, e.g African / Indian safaris, do like to return not only for the free food, but because they are inquisitive. If this was not done, you would never see them. We asked one of the locals, a backwoodsman /guide for 20 years, and he said he had seen only one bear in the wild forest.

Bear numbers….. you would be unlucky not to see at least 2 -3, and on a good night maybe 10 – 15 different ones. Depending where you are, they could be at a distance of 30 – 40 yards away on the far side of a lake, or even 5 -10 yards outside your hide.
The weather….. similar to ours. A good time is September /October, when there is good colour and light for photography, or April /May when there could be snow. You may think that staying all night is a long time, or a waste of time….. it is neither. It never gets completely dark in Finland, except for the middle few hours of the night. Up until 10 – 11pm you can still get good sightings and photographs, and this will start again from 3 – 3.30 am onwards. Bears will come and go at different times, but you can always take a nap if you get really tired….. or bored with bear photos!

At one or two of the places, there is always the chance of Wolverine and Wolves, but no one will guarantee these very special visitors. Eagles, Owls and some other birds are often seen, and during the day you may see some of Santa’s friends…. yes this is the home of Reindeer as well.

Whether you are a photographer, a general wildlifer, or just want a new experience, this 4/5 days overall will definitely give you excellent value for money and ….. dare I say it… guarantee of getting up close to those big cuddly furry things reminiscent of your childhood….. unfortunately you cannot join in the picnic!

Try the following websites for dates and costs:
Boreal Wildlife Centre – Kuhmo – for bears and wolverines
https://www.viiksimo.fi/index.php/home
Martinselkosen – Pirttvaana – for bears, but probably the biggest number
http://www.martinselkonen.fi/index.php?id=1&la=en
Wild Brown Bears – Vartius – for bears, wolverines and wolves
http://www.wildbrownbear.fi/
Finnair – international /internal flights
https://www.finnair.com/gb/gb/

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Other Members' Thoughts - 5 Comment(s)

  • GDB1
    almost 2 years ago
    Lottie, thank you for the comments..... obviously I didn't make it too clear. Whilst you have to make your own way there, ie to the internal airport, Kajanni, it is 'escorted' from there to the wildlife lodge and back again. When you leave the main lodge for the hides, a guide / ranger person escorts you until you are safe inside. At Martinselkosen a guide stays with the group overnight and takes you back the following morning. Believe me, there is no risk at all. I understand it is the same for all lodges.
    Have a look at the websites and decide for yourself.
    Best wishes
  • Lottie
    almost 2 years ago
    What an amazing and fascinating trip. It appeals to me but the thought of exploring on a trip like that unescorted is very scary. I have seen a polar bear up quite close and was blown away by the sheer size of them. Their paws seem bigger than the average head. Sadly though they were not in the wild but the Yorkshire wildlife park.

    I look forward to coming across more of your wildlife adventures on my review perusals.
  • Fossil
    almost 2 years ago
    A really enjoyable view. Thank you
  • Cruzeroqueen1
    almost 2 years ago
    Thoroughly interesting and enjoyable review with your usual excellent photographs. Thank you.
  • coolonespa
    almost 2 years ago
    Really enjoyed this review. Very informative & a nice writing style plus, of course, brilliant photographs.