From the top of the Canadian Rockies to the bottom of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, North America is a treasure trove of bustling cities, breathtaking scenery, and internationally famous landmarks.
Boasting incredibly diverse geography, the continent of North America offers something to everyone, whether you want to breathe in the crisp mountain air of the Canadian Rockies or sip a Mai Tai while luxuriating on one of the white sand beaches of the Caribbean Coast. Let this travel guide to North America act as your starting point for creating an amazing and memorable visit.
Countries Covered in North America
Given the size of North America, you’ll want to drill down on a particular country or destination. Before getting into our travel guide, here are the countries we’ve covered within North America, each as a standalone travel guide.
Best Things to Do in North America
New York City, New York, United States of America
If you were to choose one place to visit in North America, you might choose New York City. This iconic North American city is home to legendary landmarks like the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and Central Park. Manhattan is an incredible crush of humanity, history, and innovation, and you could spend a lifetime touring The Big Apple and still have more to explore.
New York City played a major role throughout the early history of the United States. However, it was also home to various cultures like the Algonquian for thousands of years before Dutch settlers came to the area in the 1600s.
New York City and other towns along the East Coast are filled with museums and notable landmarks to explore. Still, it’s also one of the best places to visit on the continent for luxury hotels, fine dining, and mingling with the monied elite of the United States.
Spending about five days in New York City should allow you to see all the major attractions. Still, if you’re limited on time, three days is sufficient for an itinerary that includes notable features like the Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central Station, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The best part is that you don’t need to rent a car for your stay in NYC since local transportation options are excellent. The subways and taxis will take you everywhere you want to go.
Mexico City, Mexico
Mexico City is a sprawling metropolis that boasts the largest population of any city in the Western Hemisphere, with around 22 million residents. Founded in 1325, Ciudad de México is Mexico’s capital city and the oldest city in North America.
The city is also the largest metropolitan area on the continent at 7,350 feet. The city was named Tenochtitlán when the Mexicas founded it in the 1300s, but the Spanish would build over the original city centuries later and rename it Ciudad de México (Mexico City).
With its beautiful historic architecture, Mexico City resembles any number of European countries. Still, it retains vestiges of the old Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan that stood on the site thousands of years ago.
Start your morning with a cup of coffee at one of the cozy cafes found throughout the city, and then head out for adventures at famous stops like the ancient Teotihuacán and its iconic Pyramid of the Sun. Towering over the landscape at 210 feet, the pyramid is the third-largest in the world.
If you only have a few days to spend in the city, put the Plaza de las Tres Culturas (Plaza of Three Cultures) on your list. The square is a fascinating combination of Aztec, Spanish, and Mexican architecture.
Then, get a dose of history at the Museum of Anthropology, one of the most popular museums in all of Mexico. If you yearn for more history, a stop at the Frida Kahlo Museum is a must, but buy tickets early because the museum is often filled and sells out of tickets.
Las Vegas, Nevada, United States of America
Las Vegas, Nevada, is the ideal staging point for a trip to America’s desert southwest. Not only will you be in awe of all the casinos that run along the famous Vegas Strip, but you’ll also enjoy easy access to some of the country’s best outdoor adventures, like Death Valley and the Hoover Dam.
If you plan on visiting attractions outside the Strip, you’ll definitely benefit from having a rental car for your Vegas visit. However, you can also set up guided tours to each attraction that feature transportation to and from the venues.
If you begin your North American journey with a visit to New York City and then head to Sin City, you’ll marvel at the incredible differences between the two locales. NYC and Vegas have lots of flashing lights, but the wide open deserts outside Las Vegas are like another planet compared to the lush hills and green forests of New York.
It’s hard to believe a city like Las Vegas was founded by a group of ranchers and railroad companies and that it would become an international beacon of neon lights, frivolity, and excess.
One of the best parts of staying in Vegas is that you can enjoy your evenings in a luxury hotel on the Strip and take day trips out to some of the region’s natural wonders during the day. Even better, many of the beautiful hotels in Las Vegas are incredibly affordable when you visit on a weekday, which puts a luxurious Las Vegas vacation within almost any traveler’s reach.
Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada
North America boasts incredibly large metropolises with millions of inhabitants, but the continent also offers some beautifully remote and peaceful places to explore. One such place is Vancouver Island, on the western coast of the North American continent in Canada, just north of Seattle and on the border with the United States.
The First People of Canada lived along the coast for millennia, and in the modern era, it’s remained a rugged, beautiful, and untamed place with charming towns like Victoria nestled amongst the wilds.
As you plan your Vancouver Island escape, you’ll probably start your journey in Victoria, in the southern part of the island. If you’re traveling with little ones who aren’t ready for the true wilderness of backwoods camping, Victoria is an excellent base of operations with a great mix of hiking and biking routes.
Beyond the reaches of Victoria and the small towns that dot the island, Vancouver Island also offers one of the best places on the continent for a quiet and rejuvenating vacation.
The first provincial park ever dedicated in Canada, Strathcona, is on Vancouver Island, and the island is also home to Pacific Rim National Park. Vancouver Island offers travelers beautiful sandy beaches along the coast, as well as snowcapped peaks and crisp lakes deep within the island.
The island is a paradise for lovers of the great outdoors. From winter storm-watching to sunny summer escapes, Vancouver Island is an adventure paradise for everyone.
Chichén Itzá, Yucatan, Mexico
The Yucatan Peninsula is famous for its gorgeous beaches, dense jungles, all-inclusive resorts, and ancient Mayan archaeological sites. The peninsula was once home to the ancient Mayan people, and the Chichén Itzá pyramid complex is one of Mexico’s most popular tourist sites.
The famous pyramid and the surrounding ruins are an incredible experience because they’re so old yet well-preserved. Some Mayan ruins are an incredible 4,600 years old. The resorts that line the coastline of the Yucatan Peninsula offer the perfect setting for a family vacation near Chichén Itzá, and you’ll find frequent tours of the complex that make bringing the family to this historical and educational venue easy.
If you’re a history buff, don’t miss the best sights of Chichén Itzá, like the Temple of the Warriors, El Castillo, and the Tomb of the High Priest.
Not only can the Yucatan Peninsula deliver a great trip when you’re interested in a fascinating history lesson, but it’s also home to some amazing natural features that beg for adventure, a bottle of sunscreen, and a bathing suit.
Find time to explore one of the incredible cenotes where old collapsed limestone caves reveal deep, crystal-clear groundwater pools amidst the lush tropical rain forests. The ancient Maya used these pools for drinking water, and they’re a popular venue for diving today.
The Grand Canyon, Arizona, United States of America
The Grand Canyon in Arizona is one of the world’s most incredible natural wonders, stretching for 277 miles and maintaining a depth of at least 4,000 feet the entire way. Some of the canyon’s deepest sections reach an incredible 6,000 feet and offer some of the most amazing photo ops anywhere on the continent.
The Grand Canyon welcomes visitors, from those seeking to hike to the bottom of the canyon on a grueling 20-mile roundtrip to those who want to gaze across the canyon with their camera.
It’s difficult to convey the true magnificence and majesty of the Grand Canyon through pictures, and it’s well worth the flight into nearby Flagstaff, Arizona, and the quick drive to the park. The Grand Canyon is so large that it’s bigger than the entire state of Rhode Island.
The canyon also boasts a unique and varied climate that changes dramatically depending on your elevation. With almost six million annual visitors, Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most popular parks in the United States.
You may want to pair a visit to the Grand Canyon with a stay in Vegas, anywhere from 130 to 280 miles away, depending on what side of the Grand Canyon you visit. Should you decide to drive from Las Vegas, the canyon is so large that it takes more than a hundred extra miles to reach the South Rim versus the West Rim.
Cabo San Lucas, Baja California, Mexico
Baja California Sur is a state in Mexico and a popular tourist destination with its beautiful beaches and attractions like the Arch of Cabo San Lucas, which sits at the very bottom of the peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez. Baja California Sur covers the bottom half of the Baja California Peninsula, and you’ll travel to the very southern edge of it to see the Arch of Cabo San Lucas.
You have a few options for seeing this unique and notable geological formation. You may take a sunset cruise past the rocks or get dropped off on the beach that’s near the arch and only accessible by boat. The arch is worth seeing at least once in your life, whether you view the arch from Lover’s Beach or on a luxury cruise. Cabo San Lucas might also offer the best luxury beach experience anywhere on the continent.
If you want to relax with a cocktail on the beach or luxuriate in a gorgeous beach resort, Cabo San Lucas might be your best option. Not only is the area home to dozens of classy resorts, but it’s also a popular destination for celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and the Kardashian family. Cabo is a beautiful destination for relaxation, fun beach cocktails, and lazy summer days under the bright Mexican sun.
Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
Some travelers want sunshine, waves, and the beach on their North American vacation. Others seek the quiet solitude of the mountains or winter sports action on the slopes. If your interests run toward the latter, you’ll want to check out Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. The park is certainly one of Canada’s most majestic national parks, with over 2,500 square miles of mountains, lakes, and forests to explore.
Banff National Park was once known as the Rocky Mountains Park of Canada, but the government eventually renamed the park. Some sights you shouldn’t miss at Banff National Park include the eerily blue Moraine Lake, which is fed by a glacier, and Banff Upper Hot Springs, which probably has some of the best views of any mineral springs in the world.
Lake Louise is another picturesque lake with an incredible view, and the Mount Norquay ski resort is a must-see for outdoor recreation activities. Sometimes, you can even see the Northern Lights from Vermillion Lakes.
Banff is a majestic experience, but it’s important to plan carefully if you’re on a budget because lodgings and activities in the area can get pricey in the busy seasons. May and June are two of the best seasons to travel to Banff, as the prices are generally at their lowest in the late spring. The crowds are usually a little lighter during these months, too. If you’re keen on a skiing vacation in Banff, try to book your stay for March.
The Florida Keys, Florida, United States of America
You’ll find so many special experiences when you travel to the famed Florida Keys in Florida, USA. The Keys are a National Marine Sanctuary home to the only barrier reef in the continental United States.
The reef is so incredible and expansive that it’s the third largest in the entire world. The Keys welcomes avid SCUBA divers and snorkelers, as well as beach bums and travelers interested in the unique and vibrant history of islands like Key West.
The Florida Keys welcomes all sorts of watersports enthusiasts, and if there’s an activity on the water you enjoy, you can pursue it in the Keys. Rent a boat, cruise along the reef in a sailboat, take a kayak trip or jump on a jet ski. On a calm day, jump on a stand-up paddleboard. Try windsurfing or parasailing if you’re seeking the ideal marriage of wind and surf. If you’d rather enjoy a slightly less adventurous time in the Keys, visit the Turtle Hospital, which is home on Marathon Key.
The Florida Keys is an excellent place to experience outdoor adventures, but there is no shortage of tours, historical venues, and good food to explore. If you visit in July, you’ll love the famous Hemingway Days festival, which lasts more than a week in July.
Take a trip to Dry Tortugas National Park, located west of Key West, and tour the 19th century Fort Jefferson, which will make you believe you’ve landed in the middle of “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Where to stay in North America
The continent of North America is a huge place, so how do you choose where to stay? From five-star luxury hotels to cute boutique establishments, you’ll find a beautiful hotel, vacation home, or cottage to suit your every need while you tour North America. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
- Baccarat Hotel and Residences New York
- The Whitby Hotel
- Four Seasons Hotel Mexico City
- Wynn Las Vegas
- Oak Bay Beach Hotel
- Fairmont Heritage Place Mayakoba
- Bespoke Inn Flagstaff
- Nobu Hotel Los Cabos
- Fairmont Banff Springs
- Simonton Court Historic Inn & Cottages
How to Get Around in North America
Unless you’re visiting New York City, where subway lines are plentiful, the best way to get around North America is by rental car. Sometimes you can get away with taking taxis and walking, as with Vegas, but most of the places you’ll explore around the continent are most easily seen with the keys to a rental car in your pocket.
Prices for gas can get a little expensive in Canada, but you’ll find that costs for filling up across most of the United States and Mexico aren’t unreasonable and are quite a bit less expensive than gas prices on continents like Europe. If you’re interested in reducing costs for your trip, you may want to inquire with your rental company about an electric or hybrid motor vehicle.For example, Hertz has added electric cars from Tesla to their fleet, and there are also small regional rental agencies that offer access to electric cars, too. You’ll find it very easy to find a rental car anywhere in North America, whether in Anchorage, Alaska, or Baja California, Mexico.
It’s also worth researching the public transportation in the city you plan to visit. You can reduce your need for a rental car by going on tours that feature bus rides. In some areas of North America, you’ll even find trains available for your trip. Taking a train across Canada via their transcontinental system is amazing.
Travel Tips North America
North America is as diverse and spectacular as any other continent. Still, there are a few things to know before you book North American tours, especially if you’re from another continent. Understanding the local cultures of the countries you visit always makes traveling easier.
However, don’t worry if you forget a few of these tips. People throughout North America are pleasant, outgoing, and enthusiastic about talking about their beloved countries and sharing their favorite tourist attractions with travelers. Before you book your trip, consider the following travel tips for your North American vacation.
Tipping Culture Exists Throughout North America
Americans are well-known for their tipping, and you’ll see tip jars on the counter at several types of businesses. Not only do Americans always tip their restaurant servers, but they also tip the service people at hotels, like the bellhops and cleaning staff.
Tipping in Mexico isn’t quite as common as in the United States, but tips are always welcomed by those providing a service, like restaurant servers. Likewise, tipping in Canada isn’t required, but you won’t offend anyone if you add a tip to your payment.
Throughout most of North America, tipping is either an expected part of the experience or a relatively common and accepted practice.
North America is Full of Anti-Smoking Laws
Throughout several European countries and Asia, smoking is a common habit in all sorts of public spaces, but that’s not the case in Mexico, the United States, and Canada. Smoking rules are incredibly strict when you visit North America, particularly in Mexico, where it’s against the law to smoke in virtually any outdoor space like a park or beach.
In the United States, smoking laws vary throughout the country, but smoking bans in public places like commercial businesses and national parks cover the majority of states. The only variance you’ll find is that some places ban smoking virtually everywhere the public might gather, while other states have slightly less strict laws.
Like the United States, Canada also prohibits smoking in most public areas. Some facilities offer designated smoking rooms in certain provinces, but most places ban smoking everywhere. Always look at the local laws before you arrive at your destination if you’re a smoker and want to smoke during your travels.
North America is Very Large
Travelers from North America who visit Europe are often elated that traveling between distinct countries is as easy as jumping on a train and relaxing for a few hours.
North America is quite the opposite, and travelers from other countries are often shocked at how long it takes to get from one side of the third-largest continent on the planet to the other.
Suppose you’re planning on visiting a few locations in North America. You might need to take a flight unless you’re traveling within a single state or province. For example, if your travel plans are focused on Canada, and you want to visit national parks in Vancouver Island and Banff, you’ll need to drive for 13 hours to reach one destination from the other. A flight is usually the quicker option.
Likewise, if you have dreams of visiting national parks throughout the United States, you might actually need to fly. For example, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming is more than 10 hours by car from Zion National Park in Utah. If you want to add Death Valley National Park to the mix, you’re looking at an additional 300 miles of driving.
If you’re not keen on a road trip covering thousands of miles, you might want to plan to fly to each place you visit in North America.