Back from Canada!

Hello everyone, I’m baaack! Thank you for all your comments wishing me a nice time away, we had an amazing adventure that I would love to tell you all about :) The route is apparently a pretty much standard visitor’s loop starting in Vancouver  and then heading across to Jasper and Banff, taking in the Okanagan on the way back.

We flew out from Hamburg, Germany via Minneapolis to Vancouver (with KLM). With this extra stopover, it brought our cost down from a whopping €1,000 each way for each person down to a very reasonable €1,440 for everything for both people and it took approx. 24 hours door to door. We hired a little Chevvy Spark through Avis directly for around $500 CAD for the three weeks with unlimited kilometers. Our accommodation was mostly in cabins located near to the main provincial parks. I will go into more detail on some tips for how to save some money while traveling in Canada and how to avoid some of our boo-boos and some other info to be aware of towards the end.

Since I knew we would be extremely tired on arrival, I decided to try to find us somewhere “comfortable” (read: swanky) to stay for our first two days in Vancouver, so we chose the Moda Hotel through Expedia because it halved the room price more or less. I thought that honestly, it was not nearly as plush as it looks and was not great value, but that the location was great.

We really only had one full day in Vancouver, so we went for a walk around the city, down to Canada Place and the Waterfront, to Chinatown – just getting lost in the city. The weather was a fabulous 30°C and we just loved sitting outside and watching the little planes land in the bay and looking at the starfish along the walkway. For dinner we ate a pizza because we got a coupon from the hotel.

Canada Place, Vancouver, BC
The next day we took the Monorail out to the airport to collect our rental car. For some reason the ticket to the airport was half the price it was two days previously to come into the city centre. We stopped into a Best Buy in Richmond and bought a GPS device (my lack of map-reading skills already had thrown us about an hour in the wrong way), so we decided to buy a GPS with the North American maps and sell it on Ebay when we got home if we couldn’t get European maps for it. This option was still $50 CAD cheaper than renting it!

It took us around 6 hours to drive to our first accommodation, Seawood B&B which I think was our overall favourite. It’s located about 25km outside Lone Butte and it was a cabin-style accommodation with free use of canoes, mountain bikes and campfire. The hosts were very kind and easy-going and we had a wonderful, relaxing time just listening to the chorus of birds in the morning, and frogs in the evening. We also saw bald eagles, mule deer and humming birds but no cougars!

Seawood B&B, Lone Butte, BC

We took quite an adventurous drive to Wells Gray Provincial park (only accessible by about 40km of dirt roads that had not yet been cleared of winter gravel). I say it was adventurous because for our little car it really was quite a challenge for it on the steep hills! But it was really worth it to climb up to Deception Falls and Mahood Falls, and we were absolutely fine.

Wells Gray

We had a few days here and then pushed on to our next place, which was Old Entrance B&B Cabins and Teepees near Hinton, Alberta. We chose here for its proximity to Jasper. Overall we thought this place was cosy and good value with some really lovely hiking trails on-site. it was like being in the Wild West or something! Highlights were observing the Beavers in evening time at the Beaver Boardwalk in Hinton and having an outdoor dip at the closeby (albeit hard to find) Miette Hot Springs.

The Beaver Boardwalk, Hinton at Dusk

We also had a day excursion to Jasper, taking in the Jasper Tramway and a walk around Lake Patricia. The Jasper Tramway Cable Car cost $32.60 each, but we both felt that this was a definite highlight of the trip and was very worth it. It is also possible to hike up the mountain which is apparently a 6 hour round trip, but there was still a lot of snow lying around so we felt it was safer to do it the lazy way :)

View from the Summit of Mount Pyramid

Around Jasper there was a lot of wildlife all around and felt that with hindsight we personally could have skipped Banff entirely and spent more time around Jasper. Banff is a larger town that has everything almost within walking distance, a national park, trails, glacier, cable-car… but we felt that the other harder-to-reach places were far more spectacular.

On our way to the next accommodation in Field, BC (situated in Yoho national park) we took in the columbia ice-field and the Athabasca glacier. This was another huge highlight and we took the coach transfer to walk on the glacier. This was a whopping $102 CAD for the both of us, and despite the hoards of tourists and large price-tag, we still felt it was indeed worth it. The one thing I did not appreciate was that the prices are not displayed openly, they just ask you for it at the cashier and after the queueing, it is a bit late to decide not to pay. They sort of have you at that point!

Columbia Icefields

Stephen Creek Guest Cabin is located in the village of Field, BC adjacent to the owner’s home. Nearby there is an excellent restaurant called Truffle Pigs, and their Bar Food menu is exceptional value. This was the plushest of the cabins we stayed at and we did love having the log fire and the Jacuzzi bathtub. There is also a hostel in Field which looked very nice but I didn’t realise it had private rooms. We probably could have saved ourselves some money there. From Field we visited Banff, Lake Louise, Emerald Lake and Jonston’s Canyon.

Field, BC

Jonston's Canyon, BC

Then it was on to our last stop in the Okanagan wine-making region. We were going to have a blow-out last three nights of pure luxury and relaxation at the Okanagan Oasis B&B in Peachland. It was bliss. We went hot-tubbing under the stars with a glass of local wine in hand and had delicious home-cooked breakfasts cooked for us each morning. One of the big plusses was that we could get some of our washing done when we were there! It was very comfortable and we were even able to make our own dinner on the bbq too. So all in all, that was not cheap but I think it was great value.

Okanagan Oasis B&B

On our way back to Vancouver, we stopped in to visit a giant Cedar boardwalk which was lovely and our last night in Vancouver was spent at the Accent Inn near the airport. It did have a free Airport transfer but not breakfast as I had wrongly understood. We made use of the airport transfer also to go back into town via the airport sky train to have one last fancy meal at the request of my boyfriend in  The Keg. The Accent Inn in my opinion was all in all overpriced and with hindsight it would have been no problem to stay in the city one more night.

Giant Cedars

So that was our trip! I hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as we enjoyed going on it! Perhaps it will be useful for someone planning a trip there. so I’ll go into a few tips now on how to save some money and avoid some pitfalls while traveling the route we took.

Saving Money while Traveling in Canada

FOOD

We were not prepared for how expensive groceries were in Canada. At a rough guess, I think everything is around double to treble the price in Germany.

  • Do a big grocery shop in the larger towns. Most grocery stores have a kind of a loyalty card scheme that gives immediate discounts to the card holder and in effect double the price to the non-card holder. “Save on Foods” in 100 Mile house offered us a “visitor’s card” but this was not offered anywhere else. Walmart had the same prices for everybody.
  • Use the dollar stores when possible to buy mineral water (2 for $1), cereal, cookies, rice, marshmallows etc.
  • Breakfast on the Road. We found the “A&W” chain to be a particularly cheap and cheerful breakfast option and almost cheaper than making breakfast yourself.
  • Save on drinks. Most canadian restaurants will offer you tap water with no hassle or excuses. I thought this was really nice because sometimes in Germany this is the other way around. You can use the money saved for tips. An expected tip is around 15-20%, so I read. This is a lot more than in Germany also.
  • Beef is cheaper than chicken
  • Grocery Shopping was noticeably cheaper in Alberta than in British Columbia. If you’re in Banff or Canmore, stock up! Particularly if you’re going to be in the Lake Louise area. There is only one little grocery store there and it is expensive!
  • Take a Picnic! There are so many lovely places to stop and enjoy the view!

GAS/FUEL

  • Cheaper Petrol. Gas was ridiculously cheap compared to european prices, however even our little Chevvy Spark was only ok when it comes to fuel consumption and it only had a tiny little tank. Not every petrol station sold diesel, especially in the smaller places and often it said their diesel pump was empty. It was cheaper to buy petrol in the state of Alberta than in British Columbia. That means if you are in Banff or Canmore, fill up! Oh and in Canada you ask for “$30 regular” rather than “unleaded” ;) Tomato, tomato.

PROVINCIAL PARK FEES

  • Toll Road Ahead. I did not read this anywhere during my research but between Jasper, Banff and Yoho there is a Park fee of $19.60 a day (for two people or a family) per day. Over a week this really adds up! I don’t think there is a way out of paying it, but if you know about it, then you could maybe plan your itinerary to minimise your expense. Be aware that sometimes you are billed on the way out of an attraction. I read that a few years ago that this fee was only $5. When we mentioned at the toll booth that we were traveling through the park the first day on toward Hinton we were not charged and as we were traveling in early season we did not see this enforced anywhere, but I can imagine in high season that there is no escaping this fee. Other than that we did not come across any other toll roads our entire trip.
  • Miette Hot Springs – save a little money and take your own towel with you. The entrance fee to the springs itself was only $6.50 each (plus you have to pay the above park fee).

CREDIT CARD

  • Carry both Visa and Mastercard. We had difficulty a couple of times to find an ATM that would dispense cash with Visa Cards. If I ever return to Canada I will make sure to also carry either a Mastercard or a bank card with the Cirrus symbol.

Alright, that is all I can think of for right now. If I have missed something, or you have a burning question, just type it into the comments section below and I will do my best to answer :) Thank you Canada for such a lovely and unforgettable experience!

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