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Popular Canadian destinations such as Québec City are eager for Americans to return.
A reporter based in Toronto breaks down the situation on the ground and what travelers who want to go should know.
Sharing the world’s longest international border, Canada and the United States have long been friendly neighbors. With more than 2 million people traveling across 119 land border crossings on a monthly basis prepandemic, the 18-month border closure between the U.S. and Canada—the first since the war of 1812—has not come easy for either side. And while Canadians still await the freedom to travel to the U.S. by land (they can, however, travel by plane), fully vaccinated Americans can now travel north, as Canada officially reopened its doors to the U.S. on August 9, 2021, and most recently, to all international visitors on September 7, 2021.
With its quiet cosmopolitan cities, remote, sprawling landscapes, and notoriously polite population—69 percent of whom are now fully vaccinated, representing one of the highest vaccination rates in the world—the Great White North has never been more appealing. Now that Canada’s borders are open again, here’s how to travel there in the near future.
Yes, the Canadian border is open to any fully vaccinated foreign nationals, including Americans, traveling for tourism. All travelers over the age of 18 must show proof of receiving the full series of Moderna, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, or the Johnson & Johnson vaccines, as well as a pre-entry test result taken within 72 hours of your scheduled departure. These results, in addition to details on where you plan to stay and how you will access basic life necessities should you need to quarantine, must be submitted through the ArriveCAN app within 72 hours of arrival. Air travelers will need the ArriveCAN receipt in order to board their flight.
Once over the border, fully vaccinated travelers do not need to take a molecular test (although border patrols are conducting random testing), nor do they need to quarantine for 14 days (unless they are unvaccinated children between the ages of 12 to 17 or dependents because of a mental or physical condition).
Proof of vaccination requirements beyond the U.S.-Canada border differ depending on which province or territory you plan to travel to. The most populated provinces such as Ontario, British Columbia, and Québec have rolled out mandatory vaccination passports for Canadian residents accessing public activities like restaurants, museums, and theaters, with other provinces, like Nova Scotia, scheduled to follow suit in the coming months. For travelers, government-issued ID and proof of vaccination is accepted by most provinces in lieu of the local vaccination passport, but it’s advised to check the government website of the province you’re traveling to in case additional documentation is required.
Whether you choose to travel by plane, train, car, or boat, the requirements for U.S. travelers are now the same across all means of transport. The only current border restriction at the time of publishing is a suspension on flights from India and Morocco. Regardless of how you travel, make sure to allow extra time on both sides of the border.
Not only have major North American airlines such as WestJet, Porter, American Airlines, United Airlines, and Alaska Airlines resumed full service, but they are also adding more flights and seats in light of the border reopening. Delta, for example, recently introduced four new daily flights between New York’s LaGuardia Airport and Toronto, while Air Canada has increased its schedule to include 55 routes and 220 daily flights between the two countries. Better yet, booking policies remain flexible and prices are low.
If you’re looking to travel by train, you’re out of luck, as Amtrak has suspended its service to Canada until further notice. The pandemic also resulted in the permanent closure of Greyhound Canada, although the American bus operator plans to eventually resume its cross-border express services traveling to Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver from New York, Buffalo, Boston, and Seattle.
If you’re planning to enter the country by car, the same requirements as air travel apply at land border crossings: You will have to provide proof of vaccination and a negative test result obtained within 72 hours of arrival and upload all your information to the ArriveCAN app within the same time frame. Land border crossings are operating at reduced capacity and with limited hours, so be prepared to wait.
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While cruising is still prohibited in Canadian waters—with an exception made for smaller cruises carrying fewer than 100 people—the 2022 cruising season is set to steam ahead, as Transport Canada plans to lift the ban on November 1, 2021. With major cruise operators like Princess and Royal Caribbean offering flexible booking policies, it’s a strategic time to book for next year. While the season runs May through October, rates are priciest between late June and early September. Waiting until late September to mid-October to sail rewards with cheaper deals and colorful fall foliage.
With the pandemic putting several luxury hotel openings on hold last year, Toronto is embracing the long overdue arrival of some of the world’s most coveted chains. The country’s most cosmopolitan city will have its own millennial-minded W Toronto this winter, aptly set in the posh neighborhood of Yorkville. A couple streets over, luxury seekers can swap the W’s DJ parties for a peaceful, upscale retreat at the recently renovated Park Hyatt Toronto, where soaring ceilings, spacious suites, and midcentury decor exude Yorkville sophistication. Further south, the ecoconscious are flocking to the new 1 Hotel Toronto, where Canada’s great outdoors are celebrated with zero-waste, vegetable-forward fare served amid reclaimed wood furnishings and greenery-adorned concrete.
Those with an eye for aesthetics will want to keep tabs on the rebranding of the art-centric Gladstone House and the Drake Hotel, where a 32-room expansion of the Queen West location is the latest in the works from the beloved brand that now has two design-savvy properties in Prince Edward County and several restaurants downtown. Down the street from one of those restaurants, the Drake One Fifty, in Toronto’s Entertainment District, you’ll soon find a new Nobu Residences set in a heritage site–designated glass factory, and Canada’s first Ace Hotel, where red brick and raw concrete will draw inspiration from the surrounding 19th-century industrial buildings. (Both are slated to open in 2022.)
While Toronto is the current hub of hotel openings, new properties worth traveling for can be found throughout the country. Wellness-enthusiasts can follow a workout on renewable wood equipment and get a vegan spa treatment at the new Humaniti Montreal. Shaped like the letter “H”, the innovative multi-use property marks the first Marriott Autograph hotel to open in Québec. Nova Scotia also gets its first hotel from the Marriott Autograph Collection with Muir, a serene oceanfront property celebrating coastal life with contemporary Atlantic eats, marine-inspired wellness (cold plunge and hydrotherapy pools), and striking installations by local artists, like Ned Kahn’s 40-foot interactive light sculpture overlooking the harbor.
Wilderness seekers will want to head west to British Columbia, where the surf town of Tofino has new 70’s-inspired digs—Hotel Zed Tofino—complete with a psychic’s den, mini disco, and retro arcade. Set in B.C.’s coastal rain forest, on the traditional land of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, the retro hotel embodies a true West Coast experience with live fire cooking at on-site restaurant Roar.
If visiting between May and September, take a seaplane to Vancouver Island to glamp in one of the 25 luxury tents (they have heated floors and outdoor cedar showers) at the newly rebranded Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge. While on the mainland, in the temperate rain forest of B.C.’s Desolation Sound, an Indigenous guide can introduce you to the local grizzly bears at the new Indigenous-owned Klahoose Wilderness Resort.
All travelers arriving in the U.S. must present a negative COVID-19 laboratory test result obtained no more than three days prior to departure. The only exception is for travelers under the age of two, as well as airline crew members, federal law enforcement personnel, and on-duty U.S. military. Travelers who test positive before arrival will be required to self-isolate in their destination and delay further travel until they can provide a negative test result.
Test centers are readily accessible and free to all across the country. While rapid testing is available and test centers are prevalent at airports, pharmacies, and hospitals, you’ll want to look up testing locations on local provincial and municipal government sites in advance, as you may need to book an appointment.
Much like the U.S., vaccine uptake and compliance with regulations vary widely across the country. At press time, Alberta was running out of ICU hospital beds following an overly optimistic summer without masks or capacity limits. Meanwhile, the province next door—British Columbia—has been one of the most successful at keeping COVID rates low, with 78.9 percent of residents now fully vaccinated. While in some places, like Newfoundland, masking requirements are at the discretion of individual business owners, by and large, social distancing and mandatory face coverings indoors are the new normal across the country.
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With generous capacity limits and few curfews (save for Québec, where bars now close at 2 a.m. instead of 3 a.m.), the spirited air of hot vax summer lingers in cities. In Toronto, following an extended series of lockdowns that resulted in a $8.35 billion loss of revenue from visitors, pent-up energy overflows onto the street, literally, with most restaurant patios extended onto the road. In Halifax, locals are returning to concerts, theater productions, and restaurants, while on the opposite coast, Vancouverites are similarly celebrating being out of lockdown—a friend who works in theater tells me that “people are hungry for live art, to be together again with other humans.”
But in true Canuck tradition, city life has taken a backburner to the great outdoors. From extended cottage getaways to weekend wine retreats to cross-country road trips in newly purchased RVs—stir-crazy Canadians are taking advantage of their newfound freedom by exploring the natural wonders they might have previously overlooked. So much so that regional destinations have been overwhelmed with crowds and traffic congestion. (If you’re looking to book a rural retreat or small town accommodation, you might be in for a wait.)
While the increase in domestic tourism has certainly helped keep some businesses afloat, it hasn’t been enough to make up for the absence of Americans. On average, U.S. visitors—who typically account for almost half of overnight tourism receipts—spend more than double what Canadians do on overnight trips. It’s for this reason, Canadians working in tourism are eager for their southerly neighbors to return.
“Never before has the Canada-U.S. border been closed for so long,” says Marie-Hélène Hudon, director of marketing at Bonjour Québec. “This has surely had a major impact on tourism businesses and sectors throughout Québec.” To that end, a spokesperson from Destination Canada tells me, “We are excited and ready to welcome back our U.S. friends and family; tourism in Canada not only enriches the lives of visitors but enhances the quality of life of Canadians.”
The return of U.S. visitors is especially welcome among those working in Indigenous tourism, an industry that lost upwards of 30,000 employees and over $1 billion in revenue during the pandemic. “This has been devastating for Indigenous entrepreneurs, nations, and communities who rely on tourism for cultural revitalization and economic diversification,” says Keith Henry, president and CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada.
With Indigenous tourism expected to take three years longer to recover than its non-Indigenous counterparts due to inadequate federal funding, the influx of U.S. visitors following the border reopening could prove crucial to the industry’s survival. “Since 80 percent of our bookings are coming from the States, it’s very welcome news,” says David Daley, founder of Wapusk Adventures, an Indigenous-owned tour operator in Churchill, Manitoba.
As the Delta variant of COVID-19 continues to spread, regulations are subject to change at a moment’s notice. Still, optimism reigns supreme across Canada’s tourism industry. For some hoteliers, like the Fogo Island Inn, located on the remote Fogo Island off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, the long pause has catalyzed the emergence of a new kind of tourism, one innkeeper Zita Cobb describes as “more community-based, nature-focused, and carbon light.” Despite the island’s protective nature (it has not had a single case of COVID-19), those working in hospitality are ready to put this more mindful tourism into practice. “We all grew up with the belief that it’s better to see the lights of boats coming into the harbor than to see them going out,” Cobb says. “With this reopening, we are overjoyed that the metaphorical boats are coming back in.”
They’re not the only ones feeling hopeful. “Both marketers and operators are planning for a full season of winter tourism and look forward to welcoming guests from all over,” says Mika Ryan, manager of travel relations at Destination BC. Similarly, Tannis Gaffney, vice president, destination promotion at Travel Alberta, tells me, “We’re looking ahead to winter, inviting Canadians, Americans, and international travelers to enjoy the winter activities Alberta is famous for.”
As Canadians hunker down for the long winter and domestic travel wanes, the country will be looking to the alpine adventurers, wildlife enthusiasts, and those simply seeking a remote winter getaway from south of the border to keep Canadian tourism alive. “Everybody is excited for the coming season,” says Daley of Wapusk Adventures. “Tourism dollars pay the bills and put food on the table.”
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