Destination: North America
From the blistering heat of Death Valley to the bone-chilling cold of Denali, North America is a land of climate extremes. The diversity of landscapes is shocking too. From the jagged peaks of the Rockies to the icy plains of the Arctic, there’s unimaginable variety for willing adventurers.
But North America isn’t so famous for its mountains, valleys, or extreme climates. It’s instead admired for the hustle and bustle of its sleepless towns and pumping metropolises. New York, San Francisco, Toronto, Seattle… these are all enthralling hives of economic growth and non-stop activity.
People come from far and wide to realise their dreams in “the land of opportunity”. And they come to create fame and fortune in the “city that never sleep.” But advancement in the region is more than Wall Street, more than the Big Apple, and more than Silicon Valley.
The region as a whole spent the last century supplanting Western Europe as the world’s chief superpower. It’s currently achieving what many others, such as France, Britain and Spain, have done before. But unlike previous kingdoms and dynasties, we have the chance to watch North America’s advancement unfold in front of our eyes. And for that, it’s certainly worth a visit to put your other travels in perspective.
There’s always so much to see, but so little time. Here are a few must-see cities to add to your next itinerary.
Montreal is a Parisian cauldron of art, jazz and exquisite cuisine. It’s named after the city centrepiece, Mont Royal, and widely considered the densest population of Francophones outside of France (though residents of Kinshasa may disagree).
The best time to visit is during the world-renowned Jazz Festival in July, when the city proper buzzes with summer life and activity. But if you miss the festival, check out the Parc du Mont-Royal on Sundays, when enthusiastic drummers come together to give the city a little rhythm and beat.
Fairbanks (Alaska), USA
Fairbanks has a reputation for pushing the mercury around. It can soar to an egg-frying 35°C in summer and plummet to a lung-chilling -45°C in winter. Nonetheless, this is one of the best observatories for the dazzling Northern Lights.
Also consider a trip in February to see the start of the great Yukon Quest, which is a dog sled race following an old gold rush trail along the Yukon River. It scales four mountains and lasts more than 1,000 miles. The shooting start is a spectacular sight.
New Orleans, USA
You know with an unofficial motto of “Laissez les bons temps rouler” (Let the good times roll), New Orleans must be a bucket of fun. Of course, that fun didn’t extend to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but everyone’s hard at work restoring the city’s former lustre and charm.
You can get your groove on in the underground blues clubs or with the brass hustlers on many corners. And the cuisine is worth a special mention too, with tastes from Africa, Europe and the Caribbean. All in all, New Orleans is back open and back in business, but only if you’re prepared to let the good times roll.
North America – Don’t miss these!
The road less travelled is rarely in plain sight. But these must-do activities are sure to get you on the right track.
For those who’ve never lived in the snow, snowmobiling can verge on too much fun. It’s similar to riding a quad bike, but with much less control and softer ground to fall on. But don’t let the soft snow fool you; you’re still riding a 200kg machine amongst trees that tend not to give way.
You can get a good feel for snowmobiling on short day trips around the more popular ski resorts. Then, if you’re ready for a challenge, join one of the multi-day expeditions in the Arctic. There’s no better way to travel in good ol’ bear country.
Dating back to the 10th century, dog sleds were used for transport and load carrying. In recent times, they’re mostly used for racing and recreation. You can get a taste of dog sledding with local tour operators or off-season race teams.
The most famous long-distance dog sled race is the Iditarod. It covers more than 1,000 miles, pushing dogs and their mushers beyond imaginable limits. You can watch the shooting start or meet the exhausted contestants at the finish line.
If you like jagged edges, tight spots, cold water, dark caves and potential death, then you’ll love canyoning. On a lighter note, there’s nothing quite like exploring the Earth through its million-year old rock caverns, cliffs and crevices.
Canyoning is great fun because it combines trekking, rock scrambling, abseiling, and cave exploration. And if you’re really lucky, you may get a dose of deep-cave swimming. The most popular spots for canyoning in North America are the Colorado Plateau, the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountain range.
Poutine is Acadian slang for “mushy mess”. And as the pictures suggest, it’s mushy by name and mushy by nature. More specifically, it is a French-Canadian dish consisting of french fries, fresh cheese curds (not your typical plastic-wrap cheese) and thick velvety gravy.
This calorific marvel of culinary genius is especially delectable in the cold months of Montreal’s winter. Okay, who are we kidding, it’s great all year round. But consensus is that Poutine must only be enjoyed in Montreal, otherwise it’s just another waist-busting North American dish.
You can’t help but think that the tasty little Opilio Crab would prefer to be on dinner plates than in its usual habitat. It originates far off the shores of Northern Alaska and is caught only in the middle of winter. You couldn’t find a more frigid habitat on this planet.
For the fishermen who spend their lives on the frosty Bearing Sea, the great taste of these crabs is still probably not worth the risk. For the rest of us though, who can order the little Opilio from the comfort of a restaurant, it’s definitely worth it. Enjoy with Cajun spices or in a hearty vegetable bisque.
The mighty cheeseburger is the poster child for processed American food. It consists of a fried beef patty, a bright orange piece of oddly malleable cheese, and a perfectly sculpted sugary bun. But don’t forget the semi-natural garnishes, which are added to keep the health authorities at bay.
Even though the Cheeseburger is largely a test tube creation, it satiates tens of millions of appetites on a daily basis. Mostly because it tastes so darn good, but also because it’s so quick and easy. Outlets such as McDonalds produce these pockets of goodness with greater consistency than the Japanese produce small fuel-efficient cars.