Should you add Canada to your RTW trip?

America's huge neighbor to the north, Canada is anything but American. It's a melting pot of immigrants, European style cities, on the borders of vast wildernesses filled with animals. It's impossible to classify Canada, from the vibrant city of Vancouver, British Columbia to the remote countryside of Newfoundland, this is a country with more than the eye can see.

  • This country is the second largest country in the world, and has a population of roughly 34,300,083 (as of July 2012), leaving the country with several off-the-beaten-path choices for the adventurous traveler.
  • Rocky mountains and glacial lakes in British Columbia and Alberta. Grassy plains and big skies in Saskatchewan. Fresh water lakes and boreal forest in Manitoba. Arctic tundra in Nunavut. Multi-cultural cities like Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Montréal. Canada is a country rich in diversity and there is something for everyone.
  • The people are very friendly, polite, and love to share what makes Canada a great place to visit.
  • Weather. Although the winter months in some provinces can get cold, Canada enjoys several months of warm weather where the temperature can get as high as 40ºC.

Indie Travel Tips

As a large country with a small population there are hundreds of ways to have an indie experience in Canada, here are a few to you excited:
  • Rent a car and drive from St Johns, Newfoundland to Vancouver, British Columbia. Wander off the Trans Canada HWY 1 and take smaller roads through the countryside, visiting small towns, staying in camp grounds, and checking out the various local festivals.
  • Visit the Canada’s arctic circle to experience Native American culture, watch herds of caribou cross the tundra, and droll over the Aurora Borealis.
  • Hike to the top of one of the Rocky Mountains to do some Yoga on the summit. The view is mind-blowing.
  • Montréal is a popular spot in summer and for good reasons, the city has several festivals, interesting art installations, and almost as many patios as Paris (France, not Paris, Ontario). Make sure Montréal is on your itinerary.
  • Buy a train pass and visit up to 7 destinations in Canada. If your visiting in summer than you’ll want to make a stop in Churchill, Manitoba for Beluga whale mating season, and travel between Jasper, Alberta and Vancouver, British Columbia for mind-blowing scenery.

Overview

Canada is an underrated country. If you polled travelers on where they traveled in Canada, the majority will tell you to they went to Vancouver, Whistler, Banff, Toronto, Montreal, and Niagara Falls. Canada is incredibly diverse in culture, scenery, and food - with quirky, interesting, and unique things hidden off-the-beaten-path. The best way to experience Canada is to travel slow, hook-up with like-minded travelers and do a road trip, try locals foods, and have your camera ready at all times.

What to see

There are so many things to see and experience in Canada, but here are the top 5 not to be missed experiences:
  • It’s cliché, but Niagara Falls should be on everyone’s list. This natural wonder is quite busy in summer, and stunningly beautiful in winter. No matter what time of year be sure to make a trip to Niagara Falls!
  • Go to Carnival in Québec City. Embrace the cold and visit one of Canada’s more historic cities, and the country’s largest winter festival. Watch canoe racing down icy streets. Eat beavertails (a delicious fried pasty that merely looks like a beavertail). Sleep in the Ice Hotel.
  • Camp your way through the Rocky Mountains and pick-up work at hostels in exchange for a free room as you go. Make sure you’re spending time in Yoho, Banff, Jasper, and Kotenay National Parks!
  • Take an overnight ferry from Prince Rupert, British Columbia to Hadai Gwaii, a collection of islands in the Queen Charlotte Sound. Camp, canoe, and explore this virtually untouched landscape - and don’t forget to look for the blue, purple, and pink starfish hanging out near the shore. Gorgeous.
  • Visit Signal Hill or Cape Spear, Newfoundland in early summer to watch icebergs drift south - and you may spot pods of whales as well.

Transportation

Getting around Canada is fairly easy, and inexpensive if you do a little planning and watch for sales and specials. VIA Rail offers a rail pass which includes seven trips. The pass varies from $630 to $1,159 depending on the season. If you prefer traveling by bus than Greyhound is the best choice for across Canada. For trips within the provinces of Ontario and Québec use Mega Bus (which also offers cheap tickets into Buffalo and New York). Flying within Canada can be expensive. Watch for seat sales and last minute specials for Air Canada, Westjet, and Porter and if you see a flight from Toronto to Vancouver for $99 one way, book it right away!

If you're looking to add Canada to a longer, round the world trip, check out this RTW trip with a road trip across Canada.

Where to stay

Canada has a fabulous network of hostels, making indie travel that much easier. The largest network is Hostelling International, which has unique stays like HI Ottawa Jail (yes, you sleep in old jail cells), and HI Shuswap where you sleep in an old train caboose. If you love the outdoors then consider camping through Canada and experience the country’s raw beauty first hand - just be aware of those pesky deer flies in Manitoba!


Pamela MacNaughtan is a traveler, writer, and photographer from Toronto, Canada. Pamela has travelled (and lived) throughout Canada. Exploring small towns and forgotten roads in a car, learning how to snowboard in the Canadian Rockies, watching the landscapes roll by from the window of a train, or planning her next Canadian adventure, Pamela is always eager to explore more of her home country. Pamela writes about solo female travel on her website, Savoir Faire Abroad.

Photo credits: richardcjones, Wei