Nature Holidays with Secret Atlas
Join Secret Atlas on one of our nature holidays to explore the most pristine polar regions on Earth. Experience the spectacular wildlife of Svalbard home to polar bears, walruses, belugas and an abundance of birdlife. Our voyages take 12 guests and are led by expert expedition leaders and will get you close to the nature you came to see.
Why Is Svalbard the Perfect Destination for Nature?
The Arctic wilderness of this far northern archipelago is the perfect destination for a nature holiday, particularly during the summer months with 24-hr daylight, when migratory birds return. Svalbard is a haven for wildlife, marine life, and incredible polar landscapes filled with frozen mountains, huge glaciers, and sprawling fjords.
Meaning “cold coast” in Old Norse, Svalbard is a pretty remote region in The Arctic Ocean, far north of the Arctic Circle, about 800 miles (1287km) from the North Pole.
Our nature holidays offer a rare opportunity to go to remote, uninhabited, and unspoilt places in a small group. It’s a one-off chance to see nature and wildlife up close, perfect for, nature photography, and birdwatching. Svalbard is one of the best places in the world to spot polar bears in their natural habitat. Your nature holiday will include safe and ethical wildlife watching.
The archipelago and its waters are also home to an abundance of species including walruses, Arctic foxes, reindeer, rock ptarmigan, and even blue whales. You’ll also get the chance to experience the stillness of Arctic silence in an untouched area – this is true escapism.
Experience Svalbard’s Natural Beauty in an Intimate Way
Expedition cruise ships can now take up to 350 passengers. Ours only takes 12 guests, which is a real luxury for exploring this Arctic paradise. Smaller expedition vessels like ours can get closer to, and offer you a more intimate experience of the region while minimising our impact on this beautiful part of the world.
You’ll get to make the most of your precious time there too, smaller expeditions mean no waiting around to go ashore. There’s space for everyone in the landing craft, so we can spend more time getting up close to frozen mountains, glaciers, and sprawling fjords.
Travelling in such a small group with experienced guides is a transformative experience. You’ll get to experience the wild and beautiful nature of Svalbard first-hand. It’s also the only way to have the space and time to experience the Arctic silence, which isn’t possible in larger groups where the bustle and footsteps cut through the atmosphere.
The Nature of Svalbard: Top 10
On a voyage to Svalbard, you can expect to encounter:
1. Polar bears
Svalbard and the Barents Sea area is home to over 3,000 polar bears, and it’s one of the best places on earth to encounter polar bears in their natural habitats. Often called ‘The King of the Arctic’ – Polar bears hunt on the sea ice and along the shores of fjords. We often encounter polar bears against a stunning backdrop, perfect for wildlife photography – but of course, we can never guarantee sightings.
Observing polar bears safely from the deck of a vessel is the safest way to see these amazing creatures in the wild. But, our two guides are trained in polar bear protection to accompany guests ashore safely during landings. Our expedition guides will manage the risk, and we won’t go ashore if a polar bear is too close. We always follow strict AECO regulations when viewing wildlife on our nature holidays.
There are more than 2,100 glaciers on Svalbard, covering approximately 60 percent of its landmass, and there are different types on the archipelago. The largest are ice caps, including – Austfonna on Nordaustlandet which is the seventh-largest in the world at 3011 square miles (7,800 km2) in area.
The island is also home to the Vestfonna ice cap which has an area of 967 square miles (2,505 km2 ). Spitsbergen is home to the “Spitsbergen-Type” glacier, which often calv into the sea – the largest of which is Olav C Land which has an area of 1,600 sq m (4,150 km2).
3. Sea Ice
The sea ice to the north of Svalbard extends all the way to the North Pole. In calm conditions, it is possible to explore it by Zodiac landing craft. In the summer months, it recedes to allow small vessels like ours to circumnavigate the archipelago. The sea ice is a vital hunting ground for polar bears – and has been declining due to global warming.
Svalbard is also one of the best places in the world to spot walruses, and we’ll be taking you to see them on your nature voyage. One of the best-known colonies can be found on Prins Karls Forland, and there are plenty to be seen at Forlandet National Park. During spring and late summer, walruses can be spotted in the fjords close to the settlement of Longyearbyen on Spitsbergen.
They became a protected species on the archipelago in the 1950s due to being near-extinct because of three centuries of intense hunting. But, the good news is that walrus numbers are going up, and they’re finding haul-out sites that haven’t been used for decades.
Puffins on Svalbard are slightly bigger than elsewhere in other sub-Arctic regions like Iceland and The Faroe Islands. Atlantic Puffins return to the Svalbard cliff tops in the summer – they head for sunnier climes in the winter because of poor vegetation and permafrost.
From about May onwards, you might see Puffins and their distinctive, brightly coloured beaks in small groups either in flight or foraging. Numbers are lower on Svalbard than in other sub-Arctic areas, but the highest density of Puffins can be found on west Spitsbergen.
6. Arctic wilderness
Visit the high Arctic to follow in the footsteps of legendary explorers, and hike over rugged polar terrain. Departing from Longyearbyen, the most northerly town on Earth, you will set off on an expedition to explore the Arctic wonders, historic sites, and incredible wilderness of Svalbard in the 24-hr summer sunlight.
Travelling in a small expedition vessel will take you on a journey to witness Svalbard’s majestic frozen mountains, sprawling fjords, and huge glaciers up close. You’ll circumnavigate the coast of Spitsbergen, the archipelago’s largest island – home to one of Austonna, one of the biggest glaciers in the world, explore remote settlements, and see where Roald Amundsen made history by setting off on the first proven attempt to reach the North Pole by Air.
Our expert guides have made the voyage many times, and are on hand to share their deep knowledge of Svalbard’s geography, geology, and, wildlife, and history – you’ll have an enriching shared experience of the Arctic wilderness.
7. Arctic Fox
The Arctic fox is endangered in mainland Norway, but there is a large and thriving population on Svalbard, and there is a very good chance of spotting them along the coast. Foxes are widespread across the archipelago, and even in areas where the population has been re-established like Bjørnøya. The Arctic fox is well adapted for extreme cold, it is short-legged, with a short snout, short and rounded ears, and a small body covered by a thick, well-insulating coat. The bottoms of its paws are covered in fur too.
There are two colour variations of Arctic fox, blue and white. White foxes appear white in winter but are brown and yellow in the summer. Blue foxes appear dark brown/blue all year round. Arctic foxes roam both inland on the coast, particularly under the bird cliffs where it can hoard food in preparation for the cold, harsh Svalbard winter.
8. Svalbard Reindeer
One land mammal you’re almost guaranteed to spot on your nature holiday is the Svalbard reindeer. It’s a reindeer sub-species that doesn’t exist anywhere else, and they’re very common across the whole of the archipelago. So much so, that you may even spot them before we set off from Longyearbyen, where all our adventures begin.
They’re smaller than other species of reindeer, with short legs, a short neck, a small round head, and a thick coat – although males are bigger than females. They can be found across Svalbard, particularly in areas with decent vegetation. The total population is estimated at 10000, and the highest density populations are found at Nordenskiöld land, in the valley of Reindalen, and on the islands of Edgeøya and Barentsøya.
Svalbard has several stunning, long, icy fjords. The longest is Wijdefjord, in the north of Spitsbergen. It’s 67 miles (108km) long and runs southwards into the interior, the southern half is part of Wijdefjorden National Park. Isfjorden is the second longest fjord in Svalbard, flowing in the west of Spitsbergen, with the Alkhornet mountain standing tall at its northern entrance.
The fjords are an incredibly important environment for wildlife on Svalbard, including the elusive beluga whale. Isfjorden is also one of the most protected areas on the archipelago, it’s home to three national parks as well as bird sanctuaries.
10. Unspoilt Scenery
Much of Svalbard is uninhabited and hasn’t been disturbed by over-tourism. It’s the perfect place to escape everyday reality, and witness totally unspoilt Arctic scenery. With 24-hr sunlight, you’ll be able to capture stunning wildlife and nature photos on your expedition.
With a small group of just 12 guests, an expedition leader, and an expert guide, on our nature holidays, you’ll discover ancient rock formations, soaring, ice-capped mountains, and huge glaciers. Gear up for wilderness hikes, but there will be plenty of time to pause and take in awe-inspiring views and ice-covered, Arctic landscapes.
Ethical Nature Holidays and Wildlife Watching
Our Arctic nature holidays are purposefully small for a better travel experience, and to help minimise our impact on this important environment. All our expeditions follow strict rules laid out by The Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) for wildlife viewing, so they don’t have a negative effect on wildlife.
- Limiting time around and proximity to Arctic foxes, and keep distances of 500-1000 metres away from known fox dens.
- Adhering to the legal and requirements for entering bird sanctuaries and keeping away from bird cliffs.
- Move slowly and keep our distance when whale watching, watch out for signs of agitation and move away if necessary,
- Keeping a distance from polar bears, and assessing risk when going ashore.
- Avoid disturbance of reindeer and limit spent close by, report any encounters with visibly sick or injured reindeer to the local authority.