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North America : Canada
Visiting Canada all in one trip is an ambitious endeavour. When speaking of specific destinations within Canada, it is better to consider its distinct regions.
Geopolitically, Canada is divided into 10 provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland) and 3 territories (Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut).
There are many cities in Canada. These are some of the most prominent ones.
Canada is a land of vast distances and rich natural beauty. Economically and technologically, it resembles its neighbor to the South, the United States, and shares with it the longest undefended border in the world. Canada became a self-governing dominion in 1867 by an act of British parliament, and is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. Though a medium sized country by its population, Canada has earned respect on the international stage for its strong diplomatic skills. Internally, the country succeeds instead in negotiating compromises amongst a culturally and linguistically varied population. In Canada's different regions, you will find as many differences as similarities. Language, culture, cuisine and even history vary quite a bit over the country. The information below will get you started, but be sure to check the specifics for given regions and cities.
The Canadian Sir Sandford Fleming first proposed time zones for the entire world in 1876, and Canada is covered coast to coast with multiple zones.
Trying to distill the climate of Canada into an easy to understand statement is quite difficult, given the vast area that the country occupies. The southernmost point of mainland southern Ontario, Point Pelee, and the nearby islands in Lake Erie have a climate similar to northern California, while Baffin Island is within the Arctic Circle and remains extremely cold for nearly the entire year.
However, as most of the Canadian population resides within a couple of hours' drive of the southern border shared with the United States, a visitor to these areas will probably not have to endure the weather that accompanies a trip to the northern territories. Many cities experience extreme changes in weather--Winnipeg, Manitoba has a warm summer (up to 35 degrees Celsius), yet experiences a very cold winter (down to minus 40 degrees Celsius) with lots of snow. On the other hand, Victoria, British Columbia, on the west coast, gets very little snow, and seldom experiences temperatures below 0 or above 25 degrees Celsius.
Although the citizens of many countries are exempt (most notably the United States and most European countries) you may need a Temporary Resident Visa to enter the country. If so, you will want to consider a visa for multiple entries if you also plan to visit the United States. Working while in the country is forbidden without a work permit, although Canada does have several temporary work permits for youth from specific countries. The Government of Canada maintains quite an informative website for non-Canadians wishing to travel to Canada: http://canadainternational.gc.ca/
Although less likely, you might also enter the country by road or rail from the United States through one of the (literally) hundreds of border crossing points. Obviously, the same rules will apply here, but if your case is not straightforward, expect to be delayed, as the officials here (especially in more rural areas) see fewer international travellers than at the airports.
Via Rail (http://www.viarail.ca) is Canada's national passenger rail service. Amtrak (http://www.amtrak.com) provides connecting rail service to Toronto and Montreal, and thruway service between Seattle and Vancouver.
Greyhound Lines (http://www.greyhound.ca) serves many destinations in Canada, with connecting service to regional lines and U.S. Greyhound coaches.
In British Columbia, you can enter Canada by ferry from Alaska and Washington. Alaska Marine Highway serves Prince Rupert, whereas Washington State Ferries serves Sidney (near Victoria) through the San Juan islands. There is a car ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles run by Black Ball; there are also tourist-oriented passenger-only ferries running from Victoria to points in Washington.
The CAT car ferry travels between Rochester, NY and Ontario in about two hours.
Canada is large -- the second largest country in the world after Russia.
The best way to get around the country is by air. Air Canada (http://www.aircanada.ca) is the main national carrier, but for travel between major centres, discount carriers like WestJet (http://www.westjet.ca) and CanJet (http://www.canjet.com) might have better fares. In general, airports are poorly connected to public transportation and railway transportation; expect to leave airports by road on a rental car, taxi or a privately operated bus.
You can also travel between most cities in Canada, small and large, by bus. Greyhound Canada (http://www.greyhound.ca/) provides much of the service, with smaller operators covering local routes. For some popular tourist routes, guided bus tours are also available.
Of course, many people choose to rent a car. Although somewhat expensive if you are travelling alone, this can be an economically reasonable alternative if you are sharing the costs with others. However, beware of the high surcharges associated with dropping off the car at a different location than where it was picked up.
Traffic rules to be aware of
Passenger rail service in Canada, although very safe and comfortable, is often an expensive and inconvenient alternative to other types of transport. The corridor between Windsor and Quebec City is a bit of an exception to this generalization. Also, if natural beauty is your thing, the approximately three-day train ride between Toronto and Vancouver passes through the splendour of the Canadian prairies and the Rocky Mountains, with domed observation cars to allow passengers to take in the magnificent views.
Travellers planning to travel by train may find making arrangements ahead of time is advisable in order to find lower fares. VIA Rail (http://www.viarail.ca/) is the main Canadian passenger rail company.
Hitchhiking in Canada is generally excellent. Waits in Alberta and Maritimes are known to be slightly longer. Legal unless otherwise posted; usually tolerated anyway. It is often better to stand directly on the motorway. Crossing the whole country takes about one week on the Trans-Canada Highway.
English and French are the two official languages in Canada. Many Canadians are functionally monolingual, although some parts of the country have both English and French speakers; over a quarter of Canadians are bilingual or multilingual. English is the dominant language in every province except Quebec, where French is dominant and actively promoted as the main language. There are francophone communities around the country, though. A list of areas where you will probably encounter the French language: New Brunswick (an officially bilingual province; the city of Moncton is famous for its unusual dialect); the national capital region around Ottawa and other parts of eastern and northern Ontario; the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and areas to the south; and many parts of the Acadian region of Atlantic Canada (these areas are dotted across Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and the French Shores of Newfoundland). Likewise there are anglophone communities in Quebec, such as some of the western suburbs of Montreal.
In Quebec, one can usually get by with English in the major tourist destinations, but some knowledge of French is useful off the beaten path, and almost essential in many rural areas. It may also be useful to know at least a few basic French phrases in the larger cities, where some attempt by travellers to communicate in French is often appreciated. It is worth noting that the French widely spoken in Quebec and Acadian regions differs in some respects from the French of France. There are also dozens of aboriginal languages spoken by many Canadians of aboriginal descent. In Nunavut more than half the population speaks Inuktitut, the traditional language of the Inuit.
See also: French phrasebook
The country's currency is called the Canadian dollar (symbol: $ or occasionally CDN$) but also known informally as a "loonie" after the loon, a waterfowl pictured on the dollar coin. One dollar ($) consists of 100 cents (¢). It has traded until recently at about 1.5 to the US dollar, but is currently running at about 1.20 due to Canada's consistently strong economic performance since the mid 1990s.
Canadian coins are of 1¢ (penny), 5¢ (nickel), 10¢ (dime), 25¢ (quarter), 50¢ (50-cent piece; rarely seen), $1 (loonie) and $2 (toonie). Canadian notes come in $5 (blue), $10 (purple), $20 (green), $50 (red), and $100 (brown) denominations.
The banking system is well developed, safe and technologically advanced. In all large cities, it is possible to convert between Canadian dollars and most major currencies at many banks. All Canadian banks provide currency exchange at the daily market value. Private businesses are under no obligation to exchange currency at international rates. In the most rural areas, converting between Canadian and American dollars should not pose a problem, although travellers expecting to convert other currencies at a Canadian bank may need to be patient. In fact, most tourist destinations will accept American dollars as such, and are most likely to give a very good exchange rate. This is particularly true of regions that rely on tourism as a cornerstone of their local economy.
Cr cards are widely accepted, with Visa and MasterCard being accepted in most places, American Express somewhat less frequently and Diner's Club only in the more upscale restaurants and hotels. Generally, using a cr card also gets you a better exchange rate since your bank will convert the currency automatically and usually at a good rate; the merchant does not have to worry about it. There is a safe and widespread network of bank machines where you may be able to use your bank card to withdraw money directly from your account at home, but the fees involved can be more than for cr cards. All Canadian banking institutions are members of the Interac international financial transaction network.
When purchasing goods in Canada do be aware that the prices displayed are usually without tax; taxes will be added on top of this displayed price. A Goods and Services Tax of 7% is applied to most items with the exception of "groceries". You will be required to pay GST on food purchased in a restaurant. Most provinces charge an additional Provincial Sales Tax. The current rates are: Ontario 8%, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba 7%, Quebec 7.5%, Prince Edward Island 10%, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick combine the GST and PST into a single Harmonised Sales Tax (HST) of 15%. Alberta, Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon have no PST. Do also be aware that the PST in Quebec and Prince Edward Island are applied after the GST has been added, and not to the list price. These tax rates apply to most goods, however Alcohol, food and services have differing amounts, and taxes are generally included in the pump price on gasoline, diesel, and other fuels.
It should be noted that travellers from outside of Canada can qualify for a GST rebate for their accommodations and certain goods they buy in Canada. Receipts must be kept and you are required to obtain "Proof of Export" for qualifying goods. (See the Canada Revenue Agency webpage (http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tax/nonresidents/visitors/tax-e.html).)
Canadians themselves may laugh if you ask where you can get Canadian food. Although you will find some regional specialties, especially at the Eastern and Western edges of the country, there isn't much food known as "Canadian" except for poutine, beaver tail pastries, fiddleheads, and a few other examples. They are an important, if somewhat humble, part of the Canadian culinary landscape. One peculiar tradition that you may notice in nearly every small town is the Chinese-Canadian restaurant. These establishments sell the usual Chinese cuisine marketed towards North American Fast Food customers. If you are more adventurous, in the larger cities especially, you will find a great variety of ethnic tastes from all over Europe, Asia and elsewhere. You can find any taste and style of food under the rainbow in Canada, from a quick burger and fries, to a 20oz. T-Bone with all the trimmings. Consult local travel brochures upon arrival. They can be found at almost any hotel and are free at any provincial or municipal tourist information centre.
The drinking age in Canada varies from province to province. In Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec the age is 18, while in the rest of the provinces it is 19.
Canadian adults enjoy beer and other alcoholic beverages quite often. Watching sports, in particular, the unofficial national sport of hockey is a popular time to consume these type of drinks. However you can find just about anything you would find in any other country, as carbonated beverages(cola) is very popular. Mostly all towns and cities offer clean drinking water, with the exception of some small villages. A favourite cocktail is the Caesar (Vodka, Clamato juice, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce).
Accommodations in Canada vary substantially in price depending on time and place. In most cities and many tourist areas, expect to pay upwards of $100 or more for a good hotel room.
In rural areas, motels (for "motor hotel") are small, simple hotels where you might pay as little as $40 for a night's accommodation (especially in the off season.) In many areas, a B&B (bed and breakfast) is a nice option. These are normally people's homes with suites for guests. The price -- anywhere from $45 a night to $140 a night -- usually includes a breakfast of some kind in the morning.
Youth hostels are a good choice, offering lodging in shared dorms or private rooms for $15 - $40 per night. Some useful resources are Hostelling International Canada (http://www.hihostels.ca/), Backpackers Hostels Canada (http://www.backpackers.ca/), and Pacific Hostel Network (http://www.pacifichostels.com/) (which also covers Alaska and the Northwestern United States). Most hostels in Canada meet very high standards.
Finally, there are a huge number of campgrounds in Canada. These range from privately owned R.V. parks to the publicly operated campgrounds in national and provincial parks -- almost always well-kept and generally very beautiful.
Safety in Canada is not usually a problem, and some basic common sense will go a long way. Even in the largest cities, violent crime is not a serious problem, and very few people are ever armed. Firearm-related violence is on the rise in southern Ontario, however, but this needn't worry the average traveler. Handguns are Restricted Weapons in Canada, and can only be carried by people properly licensed to do so. This includes Federal, Provincial, and Municipal Police, Wildlife Officers in most Provinces, and some private security guards. If you are permitted to carry a firearm in your country, you may not be automatically permitted to carry one in Canada. Check first. Separate regulations apply to sportsmen and other hunters, and travellers should check with Customs before importing firearms of any type before arrival. If you are unfortunate enough to get your purse or wallet snatched, the local police will do whatever they can to help. Often, important identification is retrieved after thefts of this sort.
Although criminal activity in Canada is more common in urban areas, violent crimes such as murder, armed robbery, and rape can occur throughout the country. Visitors to large cities should be aware that parked cars are regularly targeted for opportunistic smash-and-grab thefts, and they are cautioned to avoid leaving any possessions unattended in a vehicle, even in the trunk. Due to the high incidence of such crimes, motorists in Montreal and some other jurisdictions can be fined for leaving their car doors unlocked or for leaving valuables in view. Auto theft in Montreal, including theft of motor homes and recreational vehicles, may occur in patrolled and overtly secure parking lots and decks. Major cities like Toronto do not have as many bicycles as the Netherlands, but still more than most North American cities. Bike theft is a common nuissance in metropolitan areas like Toronto although immediately outside the area the problem is virtually non-existent; for example, all bikes are chained and routinely stolen in Toronto and east Mississauga (a westwardly suburb), while they are left unchained outside shops in west Mississauga and further away from the city into Oakville as well as all other areas far from metropolitans.
You are unlikely to face health problems here that you wouldn't face in any other western industrialized country. Furthermore, the health care system is very effective and widely accessible. In the past two summers, Canadians in some provinces (Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta) have faced a few cases of West Nile virus, an occasionally fatal infection transmitted by mosquitoes. Also, in spring 2003, an outbreak of SARS scared some visitors into changing their plans, but since only visitors to hospitals in Toronto were ever at serious risk, the fear was somewhat overblown.
Canadians have a well-deserved reputation as being some of the most polite people on the planet. Even the most overbearing boor will usually be tolerated with unshakeable Canadian aplomb. Your experience in Canada will probably be better, however, if you don't overtax Canadians' admirable levels of tolerance.
Remember that Canada is not the United States. Although the two countries share many common values and a similar way of life (most often called "North American culture" by Canadians), there are important differences. Canadians treasure these differences as an integral part of their identity, and it would be a mistake to brush them aside. Saying that Canada is "practically" part of the US will probably not win many Canadian friends.
At the same time, Canada is not Britain. Canada's relationship to the UK has been mostly positive, but it is not a colony, and has not been for many decades. Like Australians, South Africans, and New Zealanders, Canadians have developed a separate culture based on their location and history-- not merely an outpost of Empire.
Canada's status as a bilingual country is a source of pride and also a source of discomfort. Although it's not quite as hot a topic, it's probably similar to race in the United States as far as difficulty for discussions. Unless you're ready to start a heated argument, avoid discussions of Quebecois separatism or the respective rights of francophones and anglophones.
The communication infrastructure of Canada is what you would expect for an industrialized country.
The international country code for Canada is 1.
Cell phones are widely used, but due to Canada's large size and relatively sparse population, some rural areas in northern Canada have only analog service or no service at all, however most of northern Canada does. Providers generally use the CDMA/TDMA systems but some newtworks adopt the GSM technology. Even those, however, may not be compatible with phones from other countries, as they often operate in the 850Mhz frequency whereas European phones, for instance, are usually geared for the 1800/1900Mhz range. Some providers such as Fido and Rogers also work on the 1900Mhz frequency. Check ahead if you plan to buy a SIM card for your mobile in Canada.
In cities, there are many ways to access the internet, including a number of terminals at most public libraries.
Of course, there is always the postal system. Although it is very reliable, it is not always speedy. Also, international parcel postal services can be costly.