North America : nature’s greatest temple
New York City
Home to striving artists, hedge fund moguls and immigrants from every corner of the globe, New York City is constantly reinventing itself. It remains one of the world centers of fashion, theater, food, music, publishing, advertising and finance. A staggering number of museums, parks and ethnic neighborhoods are scattered through the five boroughs. Do as every New Yorker does: hit the streets. Every block reflects the character and history of this dizzying kaleidoscope, and on even a short walk you can cross continents.
You’ve seen it on film, heard about it from all and sundry who’ve made the trip. Is it worth the hype? The answer is a resounding yes. The Grand Canyon is vast and nearly incomprehensible in age – it took 6 million years for the canyon to form and some rocks exposed along its walls are 2 billion years old. Peer over the edge and you’ll confront the great power and mystery of this earth we live on. Once you see it, no other natural phenomenon quite compares.
Yellowstone National Park
Stunning natural beauty, amazing geology and some of the best wildlife watching in North America: these are just a few reasons why Yellowstone has such star power among the world’s national parks. Divided into five distinct regions, this place is huge – almost 3500 sq miles – and you could spend many days exploring the park’s wonders. Highlights include massive geysers, waterfalls, fossil forests, rugged mountains, scenic overlooks and gurgling mud pools – with some 1100 miles of hiking trails providing the best way to take it all in.
Amid the clatter of old-fashioned trams and thick fog that sweeps in by night, the diverse hill and valley neighborhoods of San Francisco invite long days of wandering, with great indie shops, world-class restaurants and bohemian nightlife. Round a corner to waterfront views and you’ll be hooked. If you can tear yourself away, the lush vineyards of Napa, Sonoma and the Russian River Valley lie just north. Touring vineyards, drinking great wine and lingering over farm-to-table meals – it’s all part of the wine-country experience.
This ribbon of concrete was the USA’s original road trip, connecting Chicago with Los Angeles in 1926. You’ll find neon signs, motor courts, pie-filled diners and drive-in theaters along the way. The route was bypassed by I-40 in 1984, but many original sites remain and tracing Route 66 today is a journey through small-town America. Whether you do the whole length or just a stretch, you’ll come face to face with classic, nostalgic Americana.
Sure, it’s on every tour-bus itinerary and you’re never going to have the place to yourself, but there’s a reason why this Maya site was declared one of the new Seven Wonders of the World – it is simply spectacular. From the imposing, monolithic El Castillo pyramid (where the shadow of the plumed serpent god Kukulcán creeps down the staircase during the spring and autumn equinoxes) to the Sacred Cenote and curiously designed El Caracol, you don’t have to be an archaeologist to have an amazing time here.
The cultural capital of the Yucatán Peninsula, this large but manageable city has a beautifully maintained colonial heart, a wealth of museums and galleries and some of the best food in the region. Just out of town are wildlife reserves, graceful haciendas (estates) and jungle-shrouded cenotes (sinkholes) to swim in. A little further afield, the little-visited Maya sites along the Ruta Puuc allow you to step back in time without the tour groups.
Where else can you join more than two million calm, respectful music lovers (no slam dancing or drunken slobs) and watch the best jazz-influenced musicians in the world, choosing from 500 shows, of which countless are free? Only in Montréal, Canada’s second-largest city and its cultural heart. BB King, Prince and Astor Piazzolla are among those who’ve plugged in at the 11-day, late June Montréal Jazz Festival. You might want to join them after your free drumming lesson and street-side jam session. The good times roll 24/7.
The Rocky Mountains
The Rockies are home to some of the highest peaks in North America. Craggy peaks, raging rivers, age-old canyons and national parks set the scene. Go skiing and snowboarding down pristine, powdery slopes in the winter, hike and mountain bike amid spring wildflowers or feel the rush of white water on sun-drenched summer afternoons. After a good does of the fine fresh air, recharge at microbreweries, farm-to-table restaurants and invigorating hot springs.
Crowded? Cheesy? Well, yes. Niagara is short, too – it doesn’t even crack the top 500 worldwide for height. But c’mon, when those great muscular bands of water arc over the precipice like liquid glass, roaring into the void below, and when you sail toward it in a mist-shrouded little boat, Niagara Falls impresses big time. In terms of sheer volume, nowhere in North America beats its thundering cascade, with more than one million bathtubs of water plummeting over the edge every second.
The Pyramids of Teotihuacán
Once among Mesoamerica’s greatest cities, Teotihuacán, just an hour out of Mexico City, is now a popular day trip from the capital. The awesomely massive Pirámide del Sol (Pyramid of the Sun) and Pirámide de la Luna (Pyramid of the Moon) dominate the remains of the metropolis which, even centuries after its collapse in the 8th century AD, remained a pilgrimage site for Aztec royalty. Today it’s a magnet for those who come to soak up the mystical energies that are believed to converge here.
Vancouver always lands atop the ‘best places to live’ lists, and who’s to argue? Sea-to-sky beauty surrounds the laid-back, cocktail-lovin’ metropolis. With skiable mountains on the outskirts, 11 beaches fringing the core and Stanley Park’s thick rainforest just blocks from downtown’s glass skyscrapers, it’s a harmonic convergence of city and nature. It also mixes Hollywood chic (many movies are filmed here) with a freewheeling counterculture (a popular nude beach and the Marijuana Party political headquarters) and buzzing multicultural communities.
The Athabascans call it the Great One, and few who have seen this 20,237ft bulk of ice and granite would disagree. Seen from the Park Rd of Denali National Park, McKinley chews up the skyline, dominating an already stunning landscape of tundra fields and polychromatic ridgelines. The mountain inspires a take-no-prisoners kind of awe, and climbers know that feeling well. As the highest peak in North America, McKinley attracts over a thousand alpinists every summer, but less than 50% make it to the summit.
Driving the Trans-Canada Highway
Canada’s main vein stretches 7800km from St John’s, Newfoundland to Victoria, BC and takes in the country’s greatest hits along the way. Gros Morne National Park, Cape Breton Island, Québec City, Banff National Park and Yoho National Park are part of the path, as are major cities including Montréal, Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver. It takes most road-trippers a good month to drive coast to coast, so what are you waiting for? Fuel up, cue the tunes, and put the pedal to the metal.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite’s iconic glacier-carved valley never fails to get the heart racing, even when it’s loved bumper-to-bumper in summer. In springtime, get drenched by the spray of its thundering snowmelt waterfalls and twirl singing to the Sound of Music in high-country meadows awash with wildflowers. The scenery of Yosemite is intoxicating, with dizzying rock walls and formations, and ancient giant sequoia trees. If you look for it, you’ll find solitude and space in the 1169 sq miles of development-free wilderness.
Reborn after devastating Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans is back. Caribbean-colonial architecture, Creole cuisine and a riotous air of celebration seem more alluring than ever in the Big Easy. Nights out are spent catching Dixieland jazz, blues and rock amid bouncing live music joints, and the city’s riotous annual fests (Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest) are famous the world over. ‘Nola’ is a food-loving town that celebrates its myriad culinary influences. Feast on lip-smacking jambalaya, soft-shelled crab and Louisiana cochon (pulled pork) before hitting the bar scene on Frenchman St.
The Deep South
Steeped in history and complex regional pride, the Deep South is America at its weirdest and most fascinating, from the moss-draped South Carolina swamps to the cinder block juke joints of the steamy Mississippi Delta and the isolated French-speaking enclaves of the Louisiana bayou. Famous for its slow pace, the Deep South is all about enjoying life’s small pleasures: sucking down fresh Gulf oysters at an Alabama seafood shack, strolling Savannah’s antebellum alleys, sipping sweet tea on the porch with new friends.
Native American Sites
The Southwest is Native American country with a fantastic array of sites covering both the distant past and the present. In Colorado and Arizona, you can visit the ancient clifftop homes of Puebloan peoples who lived among this dramatic and rocky landscape before mysteriously abandoning it. For living cultures, pay a visit to the Navajo Nation. Amid spectacular scenery, you can hire a guide and trek to the bottom of the sacred Canyon de Chelly, overnight on the reservation land and purchase handicrafts directly from the artisans.
Texas barbecue is an obsession. Who makes the best is the subject of countless newspaper and magazine articles. But with the endless varieties of sauces and rubs, it’s probably best just to grab a plate and find out for yourself. Don’t bother looking for the latest and greatest; the real treasures are the joints that look like they’ve been around for decades. And if you’re wondering how to eat it without making a mess, don’t. Just grab some napkins and dig in.