A good choice for bear watching in Europe
Estonia has about 700 brown bears. That’s quite a lot when you consider the size of the country. In comparison, Finland is almost 8 times bigger than Estonia and is thought to have around 1,000 bears. Therefore, it is an interesting option for bear watching!
It may be quite common to see a bear when you go to the zoo, but when you see it in the wild it’s another kind of feeling!
Of course, it also means that nothing is guaranteed. If the bears decide to not show up, too bad for you! But it is estimated that when bear watching in Estonia, the chance to see a bear are at least 80%.
The region where it all happens is located in the eastern part of Estonia, where can be found the largest forest in the country.
GPS: 19°33’31.49″N, 103°25’0.31″E
Best way to go: Book a night in the hide online (see the link below)
Price: 95 Euros per person
Link: NaTourEst (I am not affiliated with them and paid the full price).
Duration: About 15 hours, from 5 pm to 8 am.
Best season: May to September
Good to know: You need binoculars!
Spending a Night in a Bear Hide
So how does it all work? When I booked this with my girlfriend, I didn’t really know what to expect. Would it be some kind of guided tour? Would we be on our own? Here is what happens after your booking:
The owner of the hide sends you and email to give you the GPS coordinates of the meeting point. You need to go there with a rented car, as it is in the middle of a lost countryside. The person will meet you there, and guide you through the forest to the place where you will be spending the night… a simple but well made wooden hut.
From now on, you are on your own! So it is basically like renting a hotel room, except that this hotel room is a bear hide lost in the Estonian forest.
When you are driving on the small road in this remote countryside, you wouldn’t expect so much is going on in the nearby forest! Indeed, every night, a rich but secret wildlife roams freely, including the imposing brown bears we are here for.
Don’t expect to get much sleep in there, as there are many animals to observe. After all, it’s not every day that you are given the chance to watch such wild animals that are usually invisible to most people; so I think it’s worth sacrificing a bit of sleep to enjoy their presence.
You need to be motivated and full of hope to get the most of this experience. You lock yourself inside the hide at the end of the afternoon, and after that the only thing you can do is wait in silence with your camera ready.
The waiting time can be very long so you need to be armed with patience. It’s not a zoo, animals are free. They may or may not show up. Some people see something very early, some people see animals only when the night has come. It seems common to spot a fox or two in the evening or early morning, but we didn’t have much luck with them.
But anyway, it’s primarily for the bears that we were there, and yes we did see bears, phew! Cute raccoon dogs regularly showed up too, taking turns with the bear, avoiding to meet each other.
In our case, the bears took quite a bit of time to appear but when it did, the feeling was incredible! We had been starting to lose hope a little, when my girlfriend suddenly whispered “Bear! Bear! Bear!“. It was a mix of relief to have finally successfully spotted a bear, and fascination to see this big and fantastic animal walking a few metres from us.
I forgot to mention that an important thing, if not THE most important thing to bring is binoculars. Without them, you will definitely miss out, as the animals are close, but still not 2 metres from you… there is a small clearing between you and the animals.
We stayed awake until the middle of the night, watching the brown bears and raccoon dogs going about their business. We got 2 or 3 hours of sleep, then it was already time to wake up. We tried some more early morning watching, but didn’t see any mammal. Just a pretty woodpecker on the tree in front of us.
Bear Watching in Estonia Travel Video
Watch the video to see how it’s like inside the hide, and watch Europe’s largest predator roam around the hide!
Brown Bear Photography
Obviously, when you go for such an experience, you don’t only want to watch brown bears, you also want to capture beautiful pictures of them! The hide are very well made to discreetly use your DSLR camera, without the animals noticing you. There are some awesome pictures to be shot there!
Here is a selection of the pictures we took while staying at the bear hide.
Last Thoughts About Bear Watching in Estonia
If like me you are a nature, wildlife and photography lover, you can only want to book your night at the hide and try your luck at spotting a bear. Along with places like Soomaa National Park, it is a great example of the rich wilderness that can be found in Estonia, made accessible to everyone with this simple hide.
I would rate the comfort inside the hide satisfactory, but in the morning I had the unpleasant surprise of finding some bugs on me. They were probably inside the sleeping bags that are available inside the hide. So it’s a good idea to check them before you use them.
In any case, this will remain a really cool experience, and spotting you first wild bear walking in the forest is for sure a memorable moment!