Continent in Focus: North America

Last week was South America, so this week it makes sense to go to the north and focus on North America. My instagram page, @my100by40, is updated daily with a different theme related to the continent in focus of the week:

  • Monday’s: An Underrated Gem
  • Tuesday’s: A Place I Would Return to
  • Wednesday’s: A UNESCO Site
  • Thursday’s: Most Impressive Place
  • Friday’s: A Photo in Nature
  • Saturday’s: A Photo of Architecture
  • Sunday’s: My Most Favourite Place

The Candidates

23 different nations make up continent in North America. For clarification purposes let me settle these few areas of ambiguity that I know are a cause for confusion:

  • Central America, is by itself, NOT a continent, rather it is a region within the continent of North America.
  • Similarly, the Caribbean Islands are also classified as North America.
  • The term “America” refers to the groups of landmasses from the Arctic Canadian Islands in the north to the “End of the World” in southern Chile and Argentina. This also includes the island of Greenland. Consequently, you will only ever see me writing “USA” or “the United States of America” and never simply America when referring to the world’s 4th largest nation. A very good habit to get into.

I have had the chance to visit 5 of these brilliant nations within North America. As always, plenty of room for future travelling! It may be obvious, as you read on, which country is my favourite and which is my least favourite.

An Underrated Gem: Hierve el Agua, Mexico

What comes to mind when you think about Mexico? I guess that depends on the type of traveller you are. Tequila, Cancun parties, food, Mayan ruins in the jungle, beautiful beaches. These are all things I associated with Mexico (note: I associated Cancun parties with Mexico with no intention of ever participating in them). But what surprised me when I visited Mexico was it has some amazing geological formations that I think don’t get enough attention.

Like this. This is Hierve el Agua, a formation in the shape of a waterfall or a petrified waterfall if you will. Located just outside the beautiful city of Oaxaca, there are natural springs of which the waters are concentrated with calcium carbonate. When the water falls over the edge, it creates this….

Above these waterfalls are pools which are absolutely perfect to cool down in. The waters are refreshing, the views magnificent – cue some infinity pools insta shots – and the surrounding nature wonderful. You can easily get here through many arranged day trips from Oaxaca and it is definitely worthwhile doing.

Fascinating. Beautiful. Unexpected. Underrated.

A Place I Would Return To: Banff, Canada

Full disclosure: I love mountains. Everything mountains, except maybe the weather in the mountains in winter. So of course I was over the moon with excitement when I got to visit this gorgeous town in Alberta, Canada that is completely surrounded by mountains. In every direction.

This is a view from Sulphur Mountain over the town of Banff which looks minuscule next to the comparatively giant Cascade Mountain.

Banff’s small town vibe, welcoming feel, cool atmosphere and stunning landscape has me wanting to go back. Now! I also loved seeing deer just casually walking on the side of the road. A first for me!

A UNESCO Site: Oaxaca, Mexico

One of my favourite, if not favourite, cities in Mexico has got to be Oaxaca.

The historical centre of Oaxaca is inscribed in UNESCO for being the first city in New Spain to be built in a grid like pattern. This design saw the city’s Zocalo or town square be at the centre of the town and the centre of all the activity of the town.

Here is me enjoying a glass of Oaxacan wine before trying the Oaxacan delicacy of grasshoppers with guacamole while over looking the Zocalo.

Nowadays, this remains and the city is abuzz with a vibrant atmosphere surrounding the town square. Music, dancing, food, crafts, bars, restaurants, cafes, souvenirs, everything to create a memorable atmosphere.

Adjacent to the square are colonial buildings like this one, the Church of Santo Domingo, whose unassuming facade hides a stunning gold leaf interior that’ll leave you speechless.

Most Impressive Place: Teotihuacan, Mexico

Not only is the name of this site a delight to say, this mysterious city was built around 200BC, with the larger pyramids built later around 200-300AD, by an unknown civilisation. Many people wrongly believe the Aztecs build this city. That is incorrect. The Aztecs, when they moved to Mexico City, found this city already built and abandoned. In fact, it was abandoned some 1000 years prior. It was the Aztecs who gave the city its name. It means “the place where the Gods were created.”

Pictured here is the mighty Pyramid of the Sun from a hot air balloon. A sunrise hot air balloon ride over Teotihuacan is a must do when you visit Mexico City. The Pyramid has dimensions of 225m wide and 75m high and is the third largest in the ancient world. You can climb to the top of this Pyramid for a view over the entire site of Teotihucan. A challenging, yet, rewarding climb.

The other pyramid in this site is the Pyramid of the Moon which is linked to the the Pyramid of the Sun by the ominous sounding Avenue of the Dead.

Pyramid of the Moon and the Plaza of the Moon

But who built it? As usual, there are many theories, but there is evidence that conflicts every single one of those theories. Leading to an amazing city built mysterious peoples and a must see destination!

A Photo in Nature: Nassau, The Bahamas

I don’t think it would be right of me to showcase the best of North America and not feature at least one Caribbean Island. So I chose the beautiful island nation of the Bahamas for my nature post. For its beautiful beaches and crystal clear waters. For so long I dreamed of visiting the Caribbean. Swimming in the warm, beautiful blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. I finally got that chance in 2019 with a quick trip to The Bahamas. This beach, would you believe, is about a five minute walk from downtown Nassau, the capital city of the Bahamas.

Now, I know what you might be thinking. Being an Australian, I have the, just as beautiful, island nations of the south Pacific on my doorstep. You’re right. These nations are beautiful, less touristy and unspoilt, but one has to visit the Caribbean at least once!

A Photo of Architecture: New York City, USA

I chose the world’s most famous city, a city that needs no introduction, New York City as the subject for my architecture post. This concrete jungle almost perfectly laid out in squares and blocks with street names as numbers, I must admit, was masterfully designed. Navigation is so easy because of this and with the whole island being one building after another, except for one “small park”, known as Central Park it truly is a testimony to modern architecture and planning.

Now, New York City is by no means by most favourite city in the world, not by a long shot, but the views atop Rockefeller Centre still amaze me.

My Most Favourite Place: Viñales, Cuba

Maybe I should just let the photo do the talking here.

Is this what the eternal paradise will look like? Because if it isn’t, I don’t want to hear about.

The beautiful Viñales Valley is surrounded by mountains and lush greenery as this area is known for its agriculture techniques in the production of tobacco and coffee. This is also why the Valley is inscribed in UNESCO. And let me tell you Cuban coffee…. yum!

The photo above was taken from a farm to plate restaurant, where everything we ate was grown right there. We got to enjoy this stunning view as the sun set and we got to free pour our own rum into our cocktails. Could it be anymore of a perfect setting?

Well, yes because in addition we also got to spend time in the small town of Viñales and mingle with the locals. As part of the Intrepid Trip I did, my accommodation were all home stays and my home stay in Viñales was my favourite. It was just me and my friend in this home and the hospitality of our hosts, Ana and her mum was so warm, genuine and heartfelt. It was like nothing I have ever experienced before. It also helped that her and her mum made some absolutely amazing (read: strong!) mojitos!

Me and my friend enjoying the mojitos on the porch of our home stay.

Honorable Mentions:

Underrated Gem: I am unashamed to admit that I absolutely loved visiting Washington DC. Some impressive structures, museums and history there. Plus I was really annoyed that when I went there was no reflecting pool!

Architecture and Most Impressive Place: Palenque, Mexico. These are without a doubt my most favourite ruins of Mexico.

Nature: Anywhere with mountains in Canada. But Lake Louise is unfathomably beautiful.

Well that concludes the Best of North America. Two more continents to go! Stick around for next week for another post, 7 different places of the same themes, in a new continent…. EUROPE! This one is going to be a big one.

You can follow me on Instagram for more photos and information @my100by40 .

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