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Finland - is where the bear dances

Updated: Jan 19

According to the all-knowing Google, Finland has 188,000 lakes, 80,000 moose, up to 200,000 reindeer,

41 national parks (since 2022), 5.54 million inhabitants and more than 1,500 brown bears, the Finnish national animal!

I'm in northern Finland, near the Russian border. There, where hare and hedgehog say good night to each other and hopefully the bear dances, because my mission is clear:

I want to see a brown bear.

Strictly speaking, social media - for many a hate object rather than an enrichment - led me here. In my search for beautiful photos of brown bears, I kept finding posts by Finnish photographer Valtteri Mulkahainen. When I asked him where he took his great photos, he replied: "In Martinselkonen".

This nature reserve, characterised by forests, swamps and lakes, is about 2 hours' drive south-east of Kuusamo.

The Martinselkonen Wilds Centre of the same name is an El Dorado for bear enthusiasts and wildlife photographers - the chances of seeing a bear relatively close here are extremely high.

In the afternoon, we excitedly set off.

We walk a few kilometres into the untouched forest. There are several hides here - a kind of hunter's lodge - only they are protected all around and have no loopholes for rifles, but for photo lenses.

There are hides in the forest, in the swamp, also by the lake.

Click on the first picture to start the photo gallery

I decide on the swamp. In mid-June, the cotton grass has already begun to blossom and the white tufts glisten promisingly in the sun. Shortly before we reach the huts, the first brown bear can already be seen on the horizon. Our guide Joonas Jaakkola shoos me into my observation hut and gives final instructions:

Brown bear in Finland licking a tree

Alone with the bears

"Remember, I'll be back tomorrow morning at seven. You are not allowed out of the hut until then."

Now I am alone in a wooden hut of about 2 square metres. But I don't have time to think about it because outside the window I can see Master Petz trotting comfortably towards my vantage point.

What happens in the next few hours can, in my opinion, compete with any BBC documentary: where normally fox and rabbit say good night to each other, the bear literally dances.

Shortly after the first bear appears, three baby bears, just three months old, traipse through the swampland as if strung together on a string. They are so close that I can see their cuddly fur even without binoculars. As a large male bear approaches, the three little ones nimbly climb a tree while their mother takes up position below.

Baby bears are born in February/March, and for the first few months, the safest place for them to be in case of danger is up a tree, which the mother defends with her teeth if necessary.

Riina Määttäs, the owner of Martinselkonen Wilds Centre

Riina Määttäs, the owner of Martinselkonen Wilds Centre, told me in the morning that the bear mothers and their babies are the happiness of this area. Because each mother passes on to her babies, so to speak, where there is a safe place and where they can find food. So every year more bears come to the sanctuary. There are now more than 30 animals here, and they don't care about border disputes.

Unimpressed, the bears commute every day from Finland to Russia, where they can hide in the deep uninhabited forests.

A brown bear can cover up to 70 km a day. In winter they sleep in dens, but in summer they rest during the day - well hidden - under trees. Only in the evening do they become active in search of food. In spring, they eat everything in sight, including birds and insects, to gain weight after the long winter rest. In summer, they feed mainly on berries, grasses, mushrooms and roots.

Until midnight, there is a constant coming and going in front of my hut. But even after all those hours in an observation position, I'm not bored for a second. I can't take my eyes off the spectacle I've been hoping to see for so long.

If you don't want to be quite so patient, you can take an evening walk to a larger observation hut that can accommodate several people. At 11pm it's back to the house and comfortable beds, as the Hides only have basic cots and a bucket toilet.

Bear is called Karhu in Finnish

"Bear is called Karhu in Finnish," Jonas explains when he picks me up the next morning. "In the past, however, people here did not use this name. An old superstition said that saying the name would lure a bear to the farm and kill the animals there. So they called him "King of the Forest", or "Honey Paw". "So the name Karhu is something like the Finnish Voldemort," I think to myself with amusement.

However, "honey paw" looks much cuter - after the first night

already after the first night I am hopelessly in love!


General information on the supposedly happiest country in the world can be found at

At, visitors will find everything they need to know about the 41 national parks in Finland.

Getting there:

Kuusamo is the nearest airport. Flights with a stopover in Helsinki are available with Finnair ( From there, the most flexible way is to rent a car. You can book one, for example, via the comparison portal

Bears & Sleeping:

Bear watching is available from mid-May (earlier for photographers) until mid-August, after which the hunting season begins and the animals should have enough time to hide in the deep forests. Besides six-hour evening safaris (90€), there are also overnight packages:

For participants who mainly want to observe bears, there are spacious cabins (150€ per person) with seats, large viewing openings, bunk beds and compost toilet.

For photo enthusiasts, there are small huts - called hides - with bunk beds and bucket toilets in the forest, swamp and lakeshore. Photo packages for one or two people are available for several days and range in price from 190 to 720 euros.

Martinselkonen Wilds Centre

Tel: +358 (0) 8736 160,

The nearby Hossa National Park invites you to hike, paddle and swim. Nice cabins right by the lake with communal sauna are available at Hossan Lumo campsite. From €35 per night.

Tel: +358 500 166 377

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