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As a lover of both the US and Canada, Traveller columnist Ben Groundwater doesn't usually like to play favourites. "I've had an amazing time in both countries," he says. "However, travellers who are concerned about the current politics in the US have never had a better excuse to check out Canada, which is similar, but in many ways so different to its southern neighbour."
It's usually so hard to choose. Canada, or the United States? Both countries are enormously popular tourism destinations filled with natural beauty and cultural wonder, huge both in physical size and worldwide reputation, the sort of places you could return to over and over again.
And yet right now things have slightly changed. Despite the open-hearted kindness of so many of its citizens, the US is going through troubled times on the global stage. The spectre of President Donald Trump – the discriminatory bans on Muslim visitors, the rabid nationalism, the laws affecting travellers that appear able to be changed on a whim – has contributed to the idea that maybe now isn't the ideal time to visit the US.
It's not that we don't love America, and Americans. It's just that, right now, things seem a little calmer and more predictable north of the border.
There is, after all, much to love about Canada – and much that seems the polar opposite of the current US. Instead of Donald Trump as leader, Canada has Justin Trudeau, the puppy-hugging, baby-kissing, equal-opportunity-loving liberal that many Americans are probably wishing right now was born south of the border. Instead of screams of "Make America great again", Canada has a whole lot of people apologising all the time.
And besides, many of the things that really do make America great can also be found in the friendly north. There's incredible natural beauty in the US – Yellowstone National Park, the "mesas" of Utah, the redwoods of Oregon – but there's more than enough in Canada as well. There's great music in the US, a thriving sporting culture, buzzing, multi-cultural cities and friendly country towns – all of which you'll also discover in America's northern neighbour.
In 2017, there's another good reason to visit Canada: this year marks the country's 150th birthday, and celebrations are planned for the entire 12 months. Events such as Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day (June 24), Canadian Multiculturalism Day (June 27), and Canada's national day (July 1) will provide something extra for visitors.
If you're keen on avoiding Donald Trump's new kingdom right now, here are the best alternatives north of the border.
NEW YORK… OR MONTREAL
THE CASE FOR CANADA If it's a buzzing, culture-soaked metropolis you crave, then you could certainly plump for New York – however, Montreal is an artsy, multicultural haven that's also sure to please.
TELL ME MORE This Quebecois hub does all of the good things in life well: the food is amazing (check out the smoked meat sandwiches at Schwartz's, or the bagels at Fairmount), the cafe culture is friendly and fun, the music scene is great, and there's never a shortage of other live entertainment. Montreal isn't as large as the Big Apple, but there's plenty of it to love.
DON'T MISS Montreal is famous for its comedy festival, which in 2017 takes place from July 14 to July 30. See hahaha.com
GET THERE Montreal is mild in summer and the shoulder seasons, but extremely cold during winter. Qantas has daily flights from Sydney to Vancouver, with connections to Montreal. See tourisme-montreal.org
YELLOWSTONE … OR BANFF NATIONAL PARK
THE CASE FOR CANADA In Yellowstone, the US can boast one of the world's great national parks. However, Canada doesn't exactly have a shortage of natural beauty.
TELL ME MORE You could take your pick of dozens of reserves in Canada that boast unique and stunning features – from the Cape Breton Highlands National Park to Gros Morne, Auyuittuq, and Kluane – but perhaps the most spectacular is the country's oldest: Banff National Park in Alberta. It's here you'll find rugged snow-capped peaks, dense cedar forests and flawless mountain lakes, all of which can be hiked, biked, paddled or camped on.
DON'T MISS The Icefields Parkway is a stunningly beautiful 268-kilometre drive between the towns of Jasper and Banff, a road that takes in vistas of rugged mountains, glaciers, lakes and streams.
GET THERE Banff National Park is accessible to travellers year-round, with each season bringing different flora and fauna. To get there, Qantas flies to Vancouver, with connections to Calgary – it's then a 90-minute drive to Banff. See banffnationalpark.com
COLORADO… OR BRITISH COLUMBIA
THE CASE FOR CANADA This is no secret to the bulk of Australian snow bunnies. While Colorado boasts world-famous resorts such as Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge and Steamboat, British Columbia boasts… Whistler Blackcomb.
TELL ME MORE You may have heard of Whistler, given at least 10 people you know have probably been there in the last 12 months. There's more to the BC ski scene, however, than this incredibly popular resort, including Silverstar, Big White, Kicking Horse and Revelstoke. All have world-class terrain and reliable snowfalls. During the warmer months, BC also boasts high-country hiking in the Kootenays, fly fishing in the province's north, and wineries in the Okanagan.
DON'T MISS Whistler Blackcomb (whistler.com/au) is famous for a reason, with more than 8000 hectares of skiable, snow-covered terrain.
GET THERE British Columbia is a great year-round destination – provided you bring the right clothes. Both Qantas and Air Canada fly daily from the east coast of Australia to Vancouver. See hellobc.com.au
ALASKA… OR THE YUKON
THE CASE FOR CANADA Those with a thirst for wide-open spaces, for mountain ranges that go on forever, for rivers, plains, and a silent, brooding wilderness that's devoid of man or politician, could easily plump for Alaska, or they could head to the Yukon, the Canadian territory right next door.
TELL ME MORE The Yukon is all about the great outdoors, from fishing to hiking, canoeing to dog-sledding. The territory's classic journey is a canoe trip on the Yukon River, an adventure spanning up to 800 kilometres of almost untouched waterway through some of the globe's most spectacular highland scenery. There's culture in the Yukon, too, in the First Nations people who inhabit this part of the world.
DON'T MISS Budding fishermen should head to Inconnu Lodge (inconnulodge.com), a wilderness getaway accessible only via seaplane.
GET THERE The best time to experience the Yukon is from April to September, when roads are open and water is thawed. To get there, fly to Vancouver before transferring to Whitehorse. See travelyukon.com
NEW ENGLAND… OR NOVA SCOTIA
THE CASE FOR CANADA Here's a neat bit of symmetry: just as, in the post-Brexit world, people may prefer to visit Scotland instead of England, those uncomfortable with President Trump can visit "New Scotland" instead of New England.
TELL ME MORE Nova Scotia boasts plenty that its southern neighbours such as Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire can also claim. For starters, the ocean is cold and lobster-rich, which makes for great eating at restaurants in Halifax, Lunenburg and Baddeck. The province is also ringed by rugged coastline, and its forests burst into a spectacular array of colours during autumn.
DON'T MISS The Cabot Trail is a 300-kilometre road trip through Nova Scotia's best scenery, taking in the national parks and small towns that hug the northern coastline.
GET THERE While Nova Scotia is beautiful year-round, the best time to visit is autumn – September to November – when the leaves change colour. Qantas flies from the east coast of Australia to Vancouver, with onward connections to Halifax. See novascotia.com
CHICAGO… OR TORONTO
THE CASE FOR CANADA What's great about America's Chi-town? The music, definitely. Chicago is a hub of jazz and blues. Plus there are all the sports teams, and the lakeside location. In fact, it sounds a lot like Toronto.
TELL ME MORE Toronto, the Ontarian capital, not only has the best music scene in Canada – this is the home of bands such as City and Color, Death From Above 1979, Barenaked Ladies, deadmau5, Crystal Castles, and more – but it's also home to the Maple Leafs (ice-hockey), the Blue Jays (baseball) and the Raptors (basketball). The city is also perched on the edge of Lake Ontario, making it a watersports hub in summer.
DON'T MISS The best way to get your bearings, plus take in great views of the city and its surrounds, is by going to the top of CN Tower (cntower.ca).
GET THERE Toronto can be bitterly cold in winter, so it's best to visit from April to October. Qantas and Air Canada fly from the east coast of Australia to Toronto via Vancouver. See seetorontonow.com
NASHVILLE… OR WINNIPEG
THE CASE FOR CANADA It's a surprise to find that Winnipeg, perched in the middle of prairie country, is actually a cultural hotspot in much the same way as Nashville in the US.
TELL ME MORE Thanks to some targeted tax breaks for musicians and artists, Winnipeg has a great live music scene – maybe not a rival to Nashville's, but thriving all the same. There's also an uber-arty fringe theatre culture that is played out in venues throughout the city, as well as excellent food and friendly local bars.
DON'T MISS Winnipeg hosts plenty of festivals throughout the year, including some world-class musical events, but perhaps the best is the Festival du Voyageur (festivalvoyageur.mb.ca), western Canada's largest winter celebration.
GET THERE Be prepared if visiting Winnipeg – nicknamed "Winterpeg" – in the colder months. It can be bitterly cold. To get there, fly to Vancouver, and connect to Winnipeg. See tourismwinnipeg.com
ROUTE 66… OR THE TRANS-CANADA HIGHWAY
THE CASE FOR CANADA Sure, Route 66 is great. But on the Trans-Canada Highway you get to drive more than 8000 kilometres through every single one of Canada's 10 provinces.
TELL ME MORE On this spectacular journey, best taken in a big RV, you'll see snow-capped mountains in BC and Alberta, endless flat prairies in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, forests and lakes in Ontario, cities in Quebec, small towns and villages in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, and everything and everyone in between. There's no better way to understand this great country.
DON'T MISS While Saskatchewan doesn't get a lot of love from tourists, it's here you'll experience the true enormity of Canada, as the prairie lands stretch out as far as the eye can see.
GET THERE This is a journey you'll want to do in summer, when you don't have to tangle with ice and snow. Begin in either Vancouver or Halifax, and give yourself plenty of time to enjoy. See canada.travel
TEXAS… OR ALBERTA
THE CASE FOR CANADA So, it's cowboy culture you want: belt buckles and boots, big hats, hardy stockmen and women, horse-riding and cattle-herding. You could go to the Lone Star State in the US. Or you could head to Alberta.
TELL ME MORE Alberta is home to the famous Calgary Stampede, an annual rodeo and festival of all things countryfied, which takes over the city for 10 days every July. The cowboys who pour into town come from nearby working cattle ranches, many of which allow guests to stay and experience true Albertan cowboy culture. And don't forget to try the local steak.
DON'T MISS There's plenty of variety to Alberta's offerings, from Rocky Mountains to cowboy-country prairies, but for a little luxury, be sure to spend a night at the Fairmont Springs Hotel in Banff (fairmont.com/banff-springs).
GET THERE While Alberta's ski towns are popular in winter, if you want to experience cowboy culture it's best to go in the warmer months. Qantas and Air Canada fly from the east coast of Australia to Vancouver, with connections to Edmonton and Banff. See travelalberta.com
PORTLAND… OR VANCOUVER ISLAND
THE CASE FOR CANADA Portland – and indeed most of the US's Pacific North-West – is becoming well known for its craft beer scene, and the good news is that appreciation for a tasty brew has crossed the border into Canada.
TELL ME MORE Head to Vancouver Island, a small but beautiful area that is home to more than 20 craft breweries churning out some of Canada's most delicious beer (yes, even better than Labatt Blue). Even if you're not a beer drinker, the natural beauty of Vancouver Island will keep you amused, with hiking, mountain-biking, canoeing, sailing and even scuba-diving on offer.
DON'T MISS On the northern end of Vancouver Island you can experience one of Canada's great wildlife encounters: kayaking with orcas. See kayakbc.ca
GET THERE Though you can enjoy Vancouver Island (and its beer) year-round, the array of activities on offer is larger in the warmer months. To get there, fly from the east coast of Australia to Vancouver, and then catch a flight or ferry to the town of Victoria. See hellobc.com.au
FIVE MORE DESTINATIONS IN CANADA
Though this chilly far-northern town is itself fairly unremarkable, it's what you can see here that's amazing: polar bears. Churchill is the "polar bear capital of the world", and has a tourism industry based almost solely on seeing these beautiful animals in the wild.
Almost 2500 cubic metres of water pours over the majestic Niagara Falls every second – a truly incredible amount, and the only way to appreciate it is with a cruise on the "Maid of the Mist", a boat that takes onlookers into the bottom of the falls.
Quebec City, Quebec
There are few more romantic sights in the world than Quebec City covered in snow, its cobbled streets filled with pedestrians, its huge chateau lit at night, its parks and gardens hidden under blankets of white. This city feels more European than Europe itself.
The Okanagan, British Columbia
Canada is justifiably famous for many things – but wine? Not so much. Maybe, however, it one day will be. The Okanagan, in the south of British Columbia, is beginning to produce some great drops, and is a beautiful place to hang out.
Canada's capital goes mostly unnoticed by foreign visitors, though in 2017, as the country celebrates its 150th birthday, that's set to change. Ottawa will play host to events throughout the year.
SOUTH OF THE BORDER
There's another alternative to the US: Mexico. Here's where to go.
Mexico's capital can seem intimidating at first, but this is a city with a warm heart and a thriving culture of art, music, sport and food. Catch a "lucha libre" wrestling event before dining out on street-side tacos and watching a mariachi band.
The best preserved Spanish colonial city in Mexico is a colourful and enjoyable place to spend a few days strolling the cobbled streets, trying the local cuisine, and sitting in town squares sipping mescal – the local, smoky version of tequila.
Accessible from the resort town of Cancun, Tulum is a series of ancient Mayan ruins set in a stunning location on the Caribbean coast. It's possible to spend the night near the ruins – a pleasant alternative to the "spring break" atmosphere of Cancun.
San Cristobal de las Casas
Ask any traveller in Mexico and they'll tell you: you have to go to San Cristobal. Not only is there a cooler climate in this southern highland town, but colonial San Cristobal is packed with markets and shops lining its cobbled streets.
Cabo San Lucas
The playground of Hollywood's rich and famous – check out the private jets at the airport – Cabo, on Mexico's Baja Peninsula, is awash with fancy resorts on white-sand beaches. The town also has character, as well as a food scene all its own.