I used to associate the word “safari” with lions and antelopes, maybe the occasional elephant stomping through tall yellowing grass. But that all changed during my trip to Lapland – now the word conjures up images of adorable huskies wading through deep, deep snow!
When I first arrived to Levi – an oasis of wintery fun located in the north of Finland, way above the Arctic circle – I was overwhelmed by the number of activities advertised by the local tourist office. Colourful brochures covered with photos of various baby animals and happy faces fuelled a brief identity crisis in my young mind.
What defines me as a person? Is it dashing through through the snow on a one-horse open sleigh? Is it riding through the wilderness on a powerful snowmobile? Is it gazing at the stars while wrapped in woolly blankets in a reindeer-drawn carriage? Am I a perpetual child, a reckless daredevil or a hopeless romantic?
To answer that question, I decided to do not one but all of them – and today I will help you choose the best one for you, with my ultimate guide to safari in Lapland!
How does a safari work?
Before I tell you more about all the individuals types of safari in Lapland, I want to give you a general overview of how they work. Regardless of which vehicle you opt for, the structure of each trip is pretty similar. First, you will be picked up in front of your hotel or the tourist office by a taxi or a minibus, which will take you to the starting point of your tour. You will then be given a short safety talk and warm clothes if necessary. These mostly consist of baggy bright blue overalls and gigantic fluffy gloves, so if you want to make a fashion statement… well, save it for later or risk freezing your well-manicured fingers off.
After these initial preparations, you will board your vehicle of choice and set out. Depending on which activity you selected, you’ll be laughing from ear to ear, gazing at the sky in awe or screaming with excitement. But just as your cheeks begin to turn a crimson red, the sleigh will stop and you’ll be led inside a cosy little hut. These wooden dwellings – called kota in Finnish – were used by the indigenous Sami tribes while following their reindeer herd in the cold season. Nowadays, people no longer live in them, but they are still used as a welcome source of warmth in the winter months.
Inside the kota you’ll find a blazing fireplace, warm berry juice, tea, sausages and traditional Lappish biscuits. You probably shouldn’t expect all of these, but there should be a few – enough to get you warm again, inside out. After a short break, you’ll head back to the farm you left from and voila! You’ve just successfully completed your first safari in Lapland! But which one should it be? Keep reading…
When should I go?
In terms of when you should visit Lapland, anytime during the winter months should be just fine. As long as there’s snow, you will be free to live out whatever icy desires your heart longs for – unless they involve nudity, in which case I say don’t even go there lest you want to lose something that is very dear to you to frostbite.
What I really want to concentrate on is whether you should pick a day tour or a night-time one. This far above the Arctic circle, “daytime” is a very relative term. During winter, it only gets light at around 11am and starts to get dark again by 3pm. If you’d like to take good photos, the daytime (which lasts about 4-5 hours) is obviously ideal but a little hard to come by.
The blue hour which happens around 4-5pm will embrace you in a mysterious cerulean haze. All you’ll be able to think is “this is the most magical moment of my life” or “I’m blue, da bah de da buh di”. I’m sure you can guess which was echoing in my head… I’m just special like that.
After that, it’s permanent midnight. It’s not as dark as you might imagine and it’s just perfect for watching the northern lights, which are what makes Lapland a popular destination among travellers searching for unique experiences like… well, you and I. If you want to see the lights properly, make sure your tour takes place as far away from civilisation as possible – a place where no street lamps will interfere with nature’s paintbrush.
Now that you’ve got all the basics down, you’re ready to pick your ideal safari. Ready? Watch this video first for a quick overview of what lies ahead and a feel of what each safari tour is like! I had too much fun filming this to keep it to myself…
I don’t want to discredit the marketing team behind “Frozen”, but their job seems pretty straightforward. How could anyone not fall in love with Sven, the adorably sassy reindeer? The same logic applies to a reindeer safari – it’s simply a little too cute to pass up!
Who is it for? Much like “Frozen”, a reindeer safari is ideal for families with children. The comfortable sleigh, fluffy blankets and all those cute animals will either lull your little ‘uns into a peaceful slumber or send them into an excitable tizzy. Either way, they’ll feel one step closer to Santa and you’ll be their hero for making that possible.
Be warned though – if you are after an adrenaline-packed activity, a leisurely reindeer sleigh ride will probably leave you feeling fairly underwhelmed.
Where can you do it and for how much? I did a daytime kota tour in Levi at Ounaskievari. The guides were well informed and their traditional Lappish outfits were incredible! The tour started at 10am and lasted about 2 hours. It costs about €68/adult and €35/child (4–12 years).
If you think reindeers are adorable, just wait till you find yourself surrounded by a group of husky puppies wagging their tails and demanding your attention! Reindeer are actually fairly standoffish creatures, but huskies do not hold back. This is especially apparent when your sleigh is about to take off and the majestic dogs in front of you start barking so loud that you can no longer hear the thoughts inside your head.
Who is it for? A husky safari will definitely get your blood pumping despite the freezing temperatures! The sight of frozen trees flashing by as you swerve a shaky sleigh through narrow turns is nothing short of exhilarating. Definitely a great option for all the adrenaline junkies – not ideal for the fainthearted though.
Where can you do it and for how much? I did my husky safari at Polar Lights Tours and I would wholeheartedly recommend them! Paivi, the company’s owner, is an incredible source of knowledge about all things Lapland and extremely passionate about her job. Tuomas, who showed me how to work the sleigh, used to work for an MP in Brussels before moving to Levi to live a quieter life, and is probably better travelled than me. Prices start at €40/adult and €30/child (4-12 years).
Vroom! Vroom! The sound of the engine purring underneath your glove-clad hands may not sound poetic to your ears, but damn is it thrilling! A snowmobile will allow you to get far away from the city lights and deep into the heart of unspoilt nature, which makes it perfect for chasing the northern lights.
Who is it for? Much like a husky-driven sleigh, a snowmobile ride is ideal for any adventure connoisseur. If you’ve ever tried jet-skiing and enjoyed it, you will love this!
Where can you do it and for how much? My snowmobile safari was organised by Levin Tunturilomat and I cannot recommend them enough! The company’s owner Katri was incredibly sweet and absolutely hilarious, which made the experience really memorable. They are also ready for anything – they even had a GoPro helmet mount in the office which they let me borrow! Prices start at €89/person and €45/child under 12. Note that you will need a valid driver’s licence (at least class T) if you want to drive.
When it comes to a horse safari you have two options. The first is an adorable horse sleigh ride, where you can shield yourself from the cold underneath warm wooly blankets. I’d recommend you do this one when it’s dark, because it doesn’t get much better than observing the northern lights transform the sky into a watercolour painting with their subtle dance from a horse-drawn sleigh. The second option is horseback riding, which might be more interesting during the day – that way you will be able to take in the beauty of the nature around you.
Who is it for? A horse safari through the vast snowy plains is the right choice for all the hopeless romantics. It doesn’t matter if you’re holding hands with a hot date or gazing skywards with your best friend – either way, you’ll soon be pondering the meaning of life and debating the futility of our existence… But in, like, a cute way.
Where can you do it and for how much? Just like the husky safari, I visited Polar Lights Tours for my horse safari – they were just that good. A horse right through a snow-dusted pine forest will set you back about €45/person.
Speaking of horse power, there’s always the option of hiring a car and exploring the frozen plains that way. If one horse gives you a romantic frolic through the forest, hundreds of horses under the hood can give you days of intense exploration. The ability to kill the engine whenever you find a lovely view and get to know the places around you at your own pace makes a car safari an appealing option!
Although you can easily do a self-guided tour, my recommendation would be to hire a guide. I was lucky to be shown around Levi by Marari in her unmistakable red Volvo and having a local show me around made my trip a million times more interesting! I’ll be happy to pass on her contact info to anyone who is planning a trip to Levi.
Who is it for? Literally anyone.
Where can you do it and for how much? All you need is a local car rental and a driver’s licence. It genuinely could not get any simpler. Prices depend based on the car you opt for and whether or not you hire a guide.
So there you have it – my ultimate guide to safari in Lapland. Whether you’re after a family adventure or a romantic outing, there is definitely a great option for you. It’s hard for me to pick a favourite, but my brief identity crisis was resolved the second I stepped onto my husky sleigh. There’s no denying it – despite all the glittery manicures and pink dresses, I’m an adventurer at heart.
Have you ever been to Lapland? Have you ever tried any of these polar tours?
Which safari would be your first pick?
Disclaimer: The Levi tourism office were very kind in helping me organise this entire trip and provided me with access to some of these activities in exchange for an honest review. All photos (aside from the last which is mine, woo) were shot by Wouter Coumans whom I met in Levi! You should check out more of his photography on his Flickr!