South African travellers guide to visiting Canada

2018-01-11 21:00 - Shalini Tewari, Find Your Place in the Sun
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It’s high time South Africans go out and get loony. Loonies and toonies to be precise – the Canadian term for one dollar and two dollar coins.

The Canadian dollar has experienced its share of fluctuations over the last few years and with that has come its share of issues for Canadians.

For the travel and tourism industry however, the country has seen an influx of foreign visitors who are taking advantage of the lower loonie (coined such in 1987). The current exchange rate puts the South African ZAR almost at approximately R9.50 to the CAN$, with almost equal amount of purchasing power.

What’s it all aboot? (We don’t really say it like that)

SEE: Budget-friendly Breaks: Quick tips to save on flights 

It’s a long haul across the Atlantic, so you will want to make the most out of your decision to head to the Great White North. South Africans are allowed 6 months on a visitor’s visa, but with less time, it’s best to choose a central hub to fly into and then head either east or west from there.

Unless you’ve dreamed about frolicking in the snow in minus 20 or more degrees, this Canadian-born suggests heading there in the spring (March – May), summer (June- August), or fall (September – November).

SEE: US braces for more extreme weather as 'bomb cyclone' ends 

Top 8 things to do in and around Toronto

Toronto is a trendy and unique city. It’s easy to navigate and the public transport system is very convenient. 

Known as one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world, Toronto has a lot to offer in terms of cultural diversity. In 2016, BBC Radio declared Toronto as the most diverse city in the world with 51% foreign-born population and more than 230 different nationalities peacefully co-existing and culturally celebrating those diversities. There’s a ‘Little Italy’, Chinatown, a street dedicated solely to Indian goods, Greek Town, and so many more.

The best way to explore the city is to hop on the streetcar and stop off at places along the way. There is also bike share system throughout the city where you find a bicycle, pay to unlock it, and return it to any station around the city.

  • Must see:

1. Cruise around Toronto’s neighbourhoods 

For a fascinating look at Toronto lifestyle this should be your go-to thing to do. 

Explore Cabbagetown’s strong sense of community spirit, the Beaches lakeside resort town feel, the urban Kind West Village near Toronto’s entertainment district, or Downtown West for a taste of the financial and fashion district. 

The Toronto Neighbourhood Guide and blogTO are great resources from where to learn about what each neighbourhood has to offer. Kensington Market is a neighbourhood worth dedicating some time. From May until October, the streets are open every second Sunday for Pedestrian Sundays and it’s a great opportunity to revel in all of Toronto’s eclectic glory. There’s live music, fresh produce, ethnic grocery stores, and interesting knick-knacks from all over the world.

2. The Toronto Islands 

This offers a lovely escape from the bustling city and just a short ferry ride from downtown. You can bike around the island and enjoy the parks, beaches and amusement park. 

3. Rock Toronto's clubbing scene

There’s no shortage of live music and clubbing in Toronto. Major acts from around the world make a stop here and you can find independent musicians rocking the scene nightly. 

All bars close at 2AM though, so you can have the time of your life and still wake up at a decent hour! Pick up a NOW magazine at various corners to get a complete listing of events.

4. Head up the CN Tower 

It’s not a visit to Toronto without going up the CN Tower. This building defines the city’s skyline standing at 553m and is one of Canada’s iconic landmarks. 

Test your fears standing on the glass floor and enjoy the spectacular views of the city with the window walls. 

Relax at the revolving restaurant or take an ‘EdgeWalk’ on the world’s highest hands-free external walk at 356m high.

5. TDot's Wonderland 

About 40km north of the TDot – as Toronto is sometimes affectionately called, is Canada’s Wonderland. It is a 330-acre theme park with over 200 attractions – including 70 thrill rides and a 20-acre water park. 

The Leviathan is a roller coaster that reaches up to 148km/h with an 80-degree drop and waterslides that take you up to 40 km/h around 360-degree loops and falls. You’re never too old for these games.

6. Niagara Falls is a natural must

Canada is known for its vast nature and there is no better example of that than Niagara Falls. Although the town itself has become over commercialised, the falls are a sight to behold. 

As almost 2 300 000 liters per second of water falls from a height of 51 metres, visitors can view its power from boat, helicopter, viewing towers, cable cars or tunnels in the rock face behind the cascade. 

At night, the falls are displayed with a brilliant lightshow and the atmosphere is magical. 


7. Niagara-on-the-Lake 

Less than 30km from the falls is Niagra-on-the-Lake. The 19th century village is famous for it’s delicious wines and beautiful lakeside views. There are many notable vineyards, national historic sites and a great place to base yourself when visiting Niagara Falls.  

Go east, eh? (we barely say this)

A short flight east of Toronto is the region of Atlantic Canada. It consists of the Maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Canada’s easternmost province, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Most people venture to Toronto or Vancouver and possibly Quebec. But a trip farther east is definitely worth the journey and not to be missed.

  • Diverse and friendly people

The Maritimes border the Atlantic Ocean and rely on resource-based activities like fishing, agriculture, forestry and coal mining. Predominantly made up of West European settlers, over time, the region has seen a growth in immigrant communities. Along with aboriginal culture, Indian, Middle Eastern, Chinese, Japanese and a mix of African cultures, are present and growing. 

Maritimers are known for their warm hospitality and community-oriented culture. You’re greeted in the streets and strangers will strike up a conversation with you as you walk down the street or wait in line at a store.
A flight to Saint John, New Brunswick (Note: don’t make the mistake of booking a ticket to Saint John’s, Newfoundland) takes less than 2 hours from Toronto and is a great place to start.

  • Unique natural phenomena

Saint John, my beloved hometown, is a port city with charming architecture, exquisite nature, and a growing urban arts and culture scene. Cruise ships such as the Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Carnival cruise lines dock in this city to explore a few of the many gems hidden here.

In the uptown area (the city centre is on a hill and is therefore referred to as ‘uptown’) has many attractions for day visitors from museums, craft breweries and the vibrant and fascinating city market.

Not far out of the city are the Reversing Falls. The Saint John River and Bay of Fundy tide collide at this point; creating a whirlpool effect that can be witnessed by boat or from the restaurant that overlooks the rapids.
A little farther out of the city, visitors can walk the quiet trails of the Irving Nature Park or enjoy boating and a picnic at Rockwood Park. Jump in the ocean or take a swim in the Kennebecasis River and immerse yourself Canada’s natural beauty.

  • Wonders of nature

Along with a rich history and culture, the region boasts not only stunning coastline and breathtaking nature, but also the Bay of Fundy – one of the 21 finalists along with the winning Table Mountain for one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.  

It’s famous for its tidal range, which varies from 3.5m to 16m high along 280km of shoreline twice every day. Given the bay’s unique funnel shape, this range takes just 12 – 13 hours and visitors can witness both high tide and walk the ocean floor at low tide. 

The best time to experience this would be between high and low tide as every 6 hours or so, the tides shift. Be sure to check the charts to plan your trip

Thanks to this tidal range, unique land formations have been created out of the earth and it’s quite a sight to witness the rocks at low tide. Hopewell Rocks are some of the most visited formations around the world.

Visitors can also enjoy whale watching, tidal bore rafting, sea kayaking, bird watching, scuba diving, hiking, and so much more. 

The area is populated with up to 12 different species of whales, pods of dolphins and porpoises, seals and seabirds. It is one of the 7 wonders of North America and definitely a sight to behold. 

If you have more time, rent a car and drive to some of the other eastern provinces and explore a part of Canada that will keep you coming back for more.  

Try these local treats:

Beavertail – deep-fried dessert pastry resembling a beaver’s tail
Poutine – French fries covered with cheese curds and gravy.
Ketchup chips – Tomato sauce flavoured crisps.
Vinegar on fries – it’s delicious.
Donair – Typically lamb or beef placed on a pita and topped with tomatoes and raw onions. The key is the donair sauce made from a sweet blend of evaporated milk, vinegar, garlic and spices.
Lobster boil – This is a Maritime classic.

Getting there

Flights from Johannesburg to Toronto start at R8 900 round trip depending on the time of year. Suggested travel routes from South Africa include Air France/KLM via Paris or Amsterdam – this is the most popular and one I recommend. Also, Emirates via Dubai or Ethiopian Airways via Addis Ababa. 

*Shalini Tewari is a Canadian freelance multimedia travel content producer currently living in Cape Town. Join her adventures at Find your Place in the Sun.

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