The amazing outline of the Rocky Mountains inspires respect and makes you want to throw yourself into adventure. The states of Alberta and British Columbia share the mountains’ landscape and they are the paradise of national parks. Banff is one of the most historic ones in America: only Yellowstone, in the United States, and the Royal National Parks of Australia are older than this one. It astonishes for its sharp mountains, luxurious hotels form the times of railroads and it’s healthy thermal waters. At the national park of Jasper, besides visiting the Yellowhead Museum and getting to know the achievements of European explorers, there are hundreds of possible excursions, such as the Skyline trail, or the Path of the Glacier. The park Kootenay overwhelms with its beauty: deep fluvial valleys full of whitewater rivers, alpine meadows and a horizon full of mountains covered in snow that encourages you to get into the action as much as it tells you to just stay still and contemplate them. Lastly, the park of Yoho shines because of its deposits of fossils of Burguess Shale that show 120 marine species more than 500 millions years old.
The Niagara falls (Ontario) are one of the essential attractions for any tourist visiting Canada. Full of tourists and over marketed, the Niagara falls are not very high –they are among 500 tallest in the world- but the strength of its curtains of water is spectacular, making a thundering sound when water falls. Talking about the volume of water that those falls have, there is no other place in North America that s the amount of water they have, the equivalent to more than a million bathtubs.
The 300 kilometers of the Cabot Trail (Nova Scotia) go around Coast Mountains with astonishing views of the sea in every turn, with whales that come out of the water right next to the coast, and with plenty of trails to walk in. Celtic and Acadian communities live there (descendants of the French who settled in the eighteenth century) and play their music with their violins at local pubs of the area. The best part of the trail is in the north eastern coast of the Cape Breton island, and after that, the piece that goes down to Pleaseant Bay: a tortuous road full of viewpoints that allows you to enjoy fantastic landscapes. We could also take a detour to Glace Bay and learn about its history in mining, go to the Louisbourg fortress, in the east, and understand how the militaries of the eighteenth century lived, or even go to the Highland Village Museum and look at the lifestyle of the first Scottish immigrants.
You can only get to the National Reserve of Nahanni by air or sea; it surrounds the South Nahanni River, which flows along more than 500 kilometers along the sharp Mackenzie Mountains. Only around a thousand visitors come every year, half of them are canoeists trying to conquer these legendary currents. The reward is something to think about: cataracts more than thirty stories high, huge cannons and legends of giants. This is a land of pioneers that came looking for gold and left their own stories about native tribes, gold and mysterious deaths. A spot worth going to are the Virginia cataracts, they highest cascade in Canada, located in the middle of the Nahanni River.
The Trans-Canada Highway is 7,800 kilometers long and it goes from St. John’s in Terranova, to Victoria, in British Columbia, going through the main destinations of the country: the Gros Morne National Park, the Cape Breton Island, the national parks of Banff and Yoho, and cities such as Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver. Technically, it is a combination of provincial roads and many of the best places imply detours from the main road, but it is worth it. The starting point, St John’s is the oldest city in Canada. The final trail, after going through immense prairies, surprises everybody with an spectacular change in the landscape, the best national parks and the spectacular cannon of the Fraser river, which is only a short trip away from Vancouver and the ‘ferry’ that takes you to Victoria. Many immortalize the arrival taking a picture along the sign of the mile 0. It usually takes more than a month to drive form coast to coast.
Foto:Frank J Wicker
Quebec is the only walled city in North America, north of Mexico, and it is perfect for some trivia questions. The first parish church of Canada is located here, the first museum, the first Anglican cathedral, the first all women’s school, the first commercial neighbourhood and the first French speaking university. The newspaper Québec Chronicle-Telegraph is the oldest of the continent and the L’Hôtel Dieu was the first hospital. Moreover, the capital of the state of Quebec is gorgeous: the little streets and squares of the Old City, world heritage, are more than 400 years old, with cathedrals with needles on top that could be at the other side of the Atlantic ocean, and it is also full of cafes where you can listen to good jazz. The Château Frontenac is the most photographed hotel in the world, but if we want to go out of the most touristic places we only have to go out of the walled city: close to the Citadelle we can find the most fashionable place, St. Jean Baptiste, which has a lively night life.
Manitoulin (Ontario) is a peaceful place full of beaches and summerhouses, but it is also the biggest fresh water island in the world, in the middle of lake Huron. A trip to Manitoulin is like going through a brutal tongue twister. Its different areas have places that sound like meditation mantras and mythological animals: Mindemoya, Sheguiandah, Wikwemikong. The ‘heaweaters’ (people born in Manitoulin) smile to every foreigner they meet that struggles with words more than six syllables long. The white quartzite and the granite outcrops that surround the coast give the island a gleaming look and the Amerindian culture impregnates the whole area: the eight communities of the island work together to offer everybody local food (wild rice and corn soup) and eco adventures (canoeing, horseback riding, and excursions). The ‘pow wows’ complete the whole mixture with drums, dances and story telling.
Loneliness reins in the mid part of Canada. Driving along the plains of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta you see wheat crop, after wheat crop, and then more wheat, and sometimes an occasional cereal crop. It is full of big skies for big storms that come with violent pouring rain, and that can be seen from kilometers away. Among the small cities that are worth stopping in, are Winnipeg, the fun Moose Jaw and Regina, with the mounted police; and some Ukrainian and Scandinavian towns. Big Canadian prairies can seem at first sight, monotonous and boring (and maybe they are), but a smart traveler must be willing to explore them deeply and discover their attractive: oceans of wheat that wiggle, infinite plains that become one with the horizon, lonely roads, and small charming towns that are almost anonymous and that are the essence of Canadian history.
In what other place can you get together more than 2 million peaceful music lovers and watch the best jazz musicians perform with at least 500 performances to choose from? This is only possible in Montreal (Quebec), the second biggest city in Canada and its cultural capital. The Jazz Festival of Montreal happens every year at the end of June, with drums and jam sessions in the streets. Most of the concerts are for free and in the open air and the party goes on day and night. Montreal is a place you have to visit either because of this or a different reason. This bilingual city is famous for its cosmopolitan environment of French inspiration, which has been creating a flourishing artistic scenery, an explosion of indie rock, world famous ‘boutique’ hotels, fancy restaurants and a Parisian environment that impregnates all the terraces of the Quartier Latin. To enjoy this city to the fullest, there is nothing better than using the Bixi, the system of rental public bikes powered with solar energy.
The Fundy bay is not a regular bay, even though lighthouses, fishing towns and other classic marine elements, surround it. The unique geography of Fundy creates the most extreme tides in the world, which feed the threatened North Atlantic right whales and the blue whales that come here for a feast. Observing cetaceans here is extraordinary. Another unique activity to do here is high tide rafting, in which you make use of the explosive strength of the waters of Fundy. The touristic population of St Andrews By-The Sea, the serene Fundy islands, the maritime landscape and the rich history of the place make this one of the most interesting places of the New Brunswick province. And last but not least we can’t forget about the abundant and delicious local seafood.
Foto:Barrett & MacKay
Canada has many places that seem to be in the middle of nowhere, from the prairies of Saskatchewan to the Labrador coast, going by artic towns. They might not show much during the day, but at night the show begins. With a huge curtain of green, yellow, aqua and violet tones, the so-called Aurora Borealis lights up the sky. The shapes flicker, dance and give the sky of the north a mysterious feeling. There are special places from which you can watch this phenomenon: Yellowkinfe, the remote and equipped capital of the Northeastern Territories, Churchill, the Hudson Bay, Manitoba, or Whitehorse, the main city of Yukon.
The Viking trail, also called Route 430, connects two points of the Newfoundland island that are world heritage: the Gros Morne National Park, with its lakes that look like fjords and its geological extravagances, and the L’Anse aux Meadows, the exceptional Viking settlement of the house of Leif Erikson. This place was founded 500 years before Columbus’s arrival to the New World, and even if there isn’t much left yet of the ancient Viking hill, there is an interesting recreation of life in the Vikings’ time. The road of the Viking Trail is an attraction on its own, always next to the sea while going north and passing by the antique cemetery Port au Choix, to the pier of the ‘ferry’ that takes you to Great Labrador. It is easy to understand why many tourists make their way by Terranova to this peninsula, and come back year after year.
The virgin islands of Haida Gwaii, in the coast of British Columbia, where known as the archipelago of Queen Charlotte. Colossal spruce and cedars wrap up this virgin and rainy landscape. The bald eagle and bear roam around the forest, while the sea lion and the orca patrol the waters. But the soul of these islands is the town haida, known by its war canoes and carvings on its totems. You can know about their history in the national reserve of Gwaii Haanas, that combines lost towns, burial caves and thermal springs with the chance of practicing the best kayaking in the continent.
Vancouver is always among the first places in any ranking about the best places to live in; and there is a reason for that. This relaxed Canadian city is surrounded by an spectacular marine landscape, and outside of the city its inhabitants find from amazing mountains to ski in, to 11 beaches, and the dense forest Stanley Park only two blocks away from the glass skyscrapers downtown; a harmonious mixture of urbanism and nature. We can also find a Hollywood touch there (many movies are filmed here), an active counterculture (from a famous nudist beach to the political headquarters of the Marijuana Party) and lively Chinese towns.
Dinosaurs’ lovers enjoy to the fullest the dusty Drumheller (Alberta), where you can find the Royal Tyrell Museum with one of the main collections of fossils in the planet. Here is the biggest dinosaur in the world according to the Guinness records: an enormous fiberglass Tyrannosaurus Rex that visitors can go into and see through its mouth. Drumheller was founded with the purpose of extracting carbon, but now its economy is moved by the tourism dinosaurs attract. It is the central axis of the Dinosaur Train, and even though they take paleontology very seriously, Drumheller has taken advantage of its Jurassic heritage and created a real theme park that generates economic profits. This shouldn’t keep us from seeing the other side of the city, with its ‘western landscape’ full of fairy chimneys.
It is easy to spot a proud cowboy every once in a while in the flourishing Calgary, a city rich in oil at the south of Alberta. But if you lower your eyesight a little bit, and realize that everybody is wearing pointy boots it’s because its mid July, the time when the Calgary Stampede happens. With more than one hundred years of history, the Stampede is famous around the world. It has rodeos with wild horses, bulldogging, barrel races and of course, bull riding. At night, a popular wagon race heats up the environment. Cowboys, and oil afterwards, are what moves this Canadian city. It is sassy, daring and rich, it is something like a cold and less delirious version of the Dubai desert. It doesn’t have much personality, but it is a modern and cosmopolitan city with good museums, nice restaurants and all the environment of the big American prairies.
Seeing a polar bear up close is scary. Suddenly, you forget about the long two-day train ride you have to take to get into the interior of the tundra, until the very border of the Hudson Bay. We are in Churchill (Manitoba), a lonely locality in the middle of the migratory route of white bears. At the end of September and the beginning of November, the ‘buggies’ get going and start looking for these fierce animals and sometimes they get so close that visitors get Goosebumps of excitement. Polar bears, sturgeons and the Antarctic majesty are the main attractions of this place next to the bay. Exploring the surroundings outdoors is not recommended: local tour guides are experts of the wild fauna of the area and they have the necessary experience to explore the area. The summer allows visitants to swim among beluga whales, another big attraction of Churchill.
It is impossible not to see the huge needle 553 meters tall that stands out of the urban landscape of Toronto. It is the highest tower of the western hemisphere and visitors can go all the way to the top in a glass elevator. The tower has been standing for more than 30 years and it has become the city’s emblem and a touristic attraction (a very expensive one, by the way) all this because it is the highest structure that isn’t held by wires. In a clear and mist free day, the view from the Observation Deck is amazing. Every year it receives more than two million visitors, and of course, it has a very well known rotating restaurant with the highest cellar in the world. Approximately half of the residents of the Toronto Area where born in a different country, that’s why the presence of towns such as Little Italy, Chinatown, Little Korea, Greektown and Little India isn’t surprising. The markets, striking shops, bohemian towns and the abundance of art strengthen Toronto’s cosmopolitan reputation.
Without fearing about exaggerating you can say that the island of Vancouver has it all. It is the biggest mass of populated land in front of the coast of North America and its main urban centre, Victoria, has bohemian shops, cafes with wooden floors and an English heritage of tea drinkers. In the bucolic Pacific Rim National Park Reserve we find the West Coast Trail, where an ocean hit by the wind comes together with an amazing virgin nature and a place where surfers line up to ride the waves. Besides, they have the Cheewhat Giant, the biggest tree in the country: it is 55 meters tall, with a diameter of 18.3 meters and a volume of 449 cubic meters. But above everything we are in the ideal land for all the lovers of outdoors sports: skiing, kayaking, hiking, biking… All of this easily accessible and right next to home.
The island of Baffin is in the desolated and brutal home of the inuit, with mountains that touch the clouds and an island that has half of the Nunavut population. The jewel of the island is the Auyuittuq National Park, whose name means the land that never melts and in fact, its eastern part is covered by glaciers, fjords and vertiginous cliffs; an irresistible appeal for excursionists and climbers and for more than one polar bear. Baffin is also an inuit art centre and in its tiny towns art studios proliferate there carvings, prints and high quality fabrics are made. The region of Baffin covers the constellation of islands located to the east of Nunavut and the artic. It extends from the villas of James Bay to the peaks of the Ellesmere Island, 3000 kilometers north.