North, Central and South: The Wonders of the American Continent
When we say “America”, what usually comes into our minds? In all likelihood, it’s the Stars and Stripes, possibly a map of the USA, and any other personal reminders of the country. It takes some getting used to to realize this, but that frame of mind is not shared worldwide. Indeed, there are countries stretching almost from the top of the globe to the bottom who would consider it incorrect.
After all, ask yourself for a moment on which continent the USA lies. Yes, it’s North America, which it shares with Canada and, in some people’s view, Mexico. Canada, for its part, reaches up as far as the Arctic Circle.
There are many people who would challenge a US citizen’s right to take the term “American” to refer to all citizens of this one country. The truth is, there is a case to be made that everyone from the frozen North of Canada to the Southern tip of Chile can be called American.
And so, if you’re talking about the Great American Road Trip, think for a moment. Do you believe that the ultimate version of that wondrous experience begins somewhere near New York and ends in Los Angeles? If so, you may be being incredibly unambitious.
Yes, you can drive across the USA (and one day, you really should). Alternatively (with the exception of a 54-mile gap on the Panama-Colombia border), you could drive from Canada to Chile, seeing all of the Americas on the way. And when we talk about “the Americas”, we mean North, Central, and South America. Between them, they take up close to half of the globe – and they all have their attractions for any keen traveler.
If you don’t feel up to driving from North to South, then that’s okay too. Unless you have unlimited funds and an incredible amount of free time, it’s not a great idea. However, there is plenty to see if you just pick a country from anywhere along that path. Let’s look at one in the North, one in the South and one in the middle for a varied look at the Americas and what they have to offer.
What you’ll find is that from the icy peaks of North America to the (also rather cold the further South you get) mystery of South America, there is a lot to experience in this part of the world that takes you far beyond what so many of us refer to as “America”. Three countries that will embed themselves on your mind and never let go – in all of the best ways possible.
Starting In The North: The Icy Majesty Of Canada
The relationship between Canada and the US is one that would put even the greatest mediators to the test. It’s not that the countries don’t like each other. They’re among each other’s closest allies. It’s just that for two places that neighbor one another, they view themselves and each other so differently.
While the American national stereotype emphasizes brashness and enthusiasm, Canada is viewed as being more reserved. Its finest holiday destinations bear this out. Yes, they know how to have fun – clubs and bars aren’t hard to find in any major town or city. But they also have a refined charm which is unmistakably Canadian.
Picking your destination for Canada holidays depends on your preferences. If you want somewhere off the beaten track with views to die for, try Prince Edward Island. If you’re looking for cosmopolitan comfort, then Toronto is hard to beat. If you consider yourself something of a hipster (and can speak French), then Quebec, and especially Montreal, are for you.
There’s a Canadian holiday for just about anyone. Pick any major city, and the foodies among your party will embrace the excellent street food to be found. If you enjoy winter sports, there are world-class ski facilities dotted around. Not least in Whistler, which hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Should you fancy getting your culture on, then Vancouver is for you. Museums and theater shows are a major attraction here, and you may even spot some TV stars around. Numerous American TV shows film in Vancouver, as it provides a range of ideal filming locations.
Getting More Central: Take Some Time To Explore Costa Rica
You will surely have read somewhere by now about how Costa Rica is among the world’s happiest countries. That’s not just from a holidaymaker’s point of view. The people who live here are constantly rated as having among the best quality of life worldwide. The magnificent weather and low crime rates are part of that. But there’s a lot more for them to be cheerful about besides in this part of Central America.
For one thing, this is one of the most visually astounding countries anywhere in the world. At least one day of your trip should be devoted to seeing the Arenal volcano. Dormant since 2010, you don’t need to worry about eruptions – however, its natural hot springs are still a bracing stop-off for bathers.
What makes it so important as a tourist spot, though, is the sheer beauty of its surroundings. Try and find a way to photograph its majestic peak without also getting some of the rainforest in the shot. You will fail, and be so glad you did. You will see colors you didn’t imagine could occur naturally. They do, and it’s majestic.
If you’ve had enough drama for one trip, then find your way to Montezuma. If one town ably encompasses Costa Rica’s relaxed, cheerful outlook, this is it. Spend your first afternoon here on the beach, and you’ll feel any worries you had drifting away. Then spend the rest of your time actively questioning whether you want to go anywhere else. Ever. Including home.
If you can tear yourself away, then you may want to take a hike up Cerro Chirripo. It’s Costa Rica’s highest peak, so the climb isn’t easy. Once you get to the top, though, you’ll see why people make it on a regular basis. The views of the Pacific and the Caribbean Sea will remain imprinted on your memory even if you forget your camera.
But please, don’t forget your camera. You’ll want to share these memories with as many people as possible.
As Far South As It Gets: See The Wonders Of Chile
For many people, South America is too often broken down into Argentina, Brazil and then the rest. This would be a colossal mistake for you to make, as it leaves out arguably the most remarkable country on the continent. Yes, Brazil is beautiful and musical. Argentina is passionate and Latin. Chile, however, is a diverse holiday paradise that is more than deserving of some of your time.
If you go from east to west in Chile, you’ll find yourself on the Argentinian border before too long. However, go from North to South and not only will you stay in the country, but you’ll also see very quickly just how much it changes from top to toe. The capital, Santiago, is certainly worth spending some time in – its steakhouses and dancehalls are a fine way to spend a few nights. But as you get out into the rest of Chile, you’ll be truly spoilt for choice.
A trip out to Castro, for example, will give you the chance to see the Iglesia San Francisco, one of Chile’s most stunning architectural landmarks. Brightly colored on the outside, it is even more awe-inspiring when you step through the door. Having given your eyes a feast, repeat the treat for your tastebuds.
A short five-mile drive away, in the village of Putemun, you’ll find the Rucalaf restaurant. Rural it may be in location, but in menu, it is one of Chile’s ultimate gourmet experiences.
With that all said, in many ways the jewel in Chile’s tourist crown is Valparaiso. This hilly coastal town is the birthplace of one of the country’s most famous sons, the poet Pablo Neruda. Here, in a building he once made his home, you will find a museum dedicated to Neruda. If you just happen to be a fan of quirky architecture (but aren’t so hot on poetry), it’s still more than worth the visit.
Valparaiso became home to many European migrants who poured into the country in the 19th Century. Between the native Chilean styles and the imported architectural approaches, the impact that this has had on the city is remarkable.
Perhaps one of the most striking aspects of the area is the entirely legal graffiti and street art that adorns the Museo a Cielo Abierto. (Strong Spanish speakers will know this translates as “Open Skies Museum”, and this sums the area up admirably).
Whatever way you take it, from top to bottom the Americas are home to a trail of fascinating destinations. Find your own preference and make a trip that you will remember for the rest of your life; one which you will want to repeat before too long.