Niagara Falls - Planning and Preparing for Your Trip

Planning and Preparing for your trip to Niagara Falls?

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This page covers the following topics:



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VISA REQUIREMENTS
Niagara Falls is shared between the United States and Canada. If you want to see the falls from both sides (well worth it), you'll have to abide by the Visa and Passport Requirements for both countries. Since we're American citizens, we don't have much to say regarding Visa requirements, but I do know that for foreign visitors to the States, that Visa process could be a rain pain in the rear (we know this indirectly from how other countries have made the Visa process for Americans difficult).

For the United States, there are some pretty strict Visa Requirements making it real inconvenient for non-Americans (except Canada and Bermuda). There are a handful of countries that are also eligible for the Visa Waiver Program in which short-term stays for pleasure also don't require a Visa. A lot of the stringent Visa process was largely a result of the George W Bush Administration who instituted the whole Homeland Security initiative after the 9/11 attacks. Like it or hate it, this is the reality of the situation.

If you do require a Visa, I must warn that the process is quite involved and convoluted (at least I've heard this anecdotally). Get as early of a start on this as possible or else you'll risk not getting your Visa in time for your trip. The details of the process as well as common questions and answers are found in the government website here.

For Canada, Visas are required for mostly developing countries. You don't need one if you're a permanent resident of a developed country such as the United States, England, France, Norway, Iceland, etc. A comprehensive list can be found here.

If you do require a Canadian Visa, follow the instructions on the Canadian government website here.

Keep in mind that Visas can't be obtained at any of the border crossings. You'll have to do that in a local consulate or embassy prior to your trip.



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VACCINATIONS
There are no mandatory vaccination requirements for neither the United States nor Canada for short-term Visitor Visas. If you want to know more about this, here's a good page pertaining to immunization exemptions in Canada. For the United States, vaccinations are required for longer term Visas.



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WHAT TO BRING
In order to ensure a relatively safe and hassle-free trip, here are a few things you might want to consider packing for your trip in addition to your basic toiletries and clothes.

  • Passport - I know this issue has been in flux recently, but to be safe, I'd bring it. This can easily trip up Americans or Canadians who live in either country since normally passports are not needed for domestic trips (and it's easy to think of this as a domestic trip). However, you have to keep in mind that there are two countries involved here and you certainly don't want to be left stranded in a foreign country with no way home. In fact, we were asked for our passports during our June 2007 trip.
  • Comfortable Shoes - it's probably wise to wear something comfortable because there's quite a bit of walking to fully experience the falls. Yet even as I say this, I've seen people in dress shoes (including women in heels) around the falls.
  • Hat - even though sunburn isn't normally associated with the falls, don't take for granted the dangers of UV radiation. A hat will at least keep your scalp from getting severely burned. If you're wearing a broad-rimmed hiking hat, it could also help protect your neck, ears, and face.
  • Sunscreen - again, given the sun's harmful UV rays, it's a good idea to protect other exposed parts of your skin from sunburn.
  • Sunglasses - prevents cataracts or other harmful effects of prolonged exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays on your eyes


Some other things worth bringing to enhance your experience include...

  • Lots of Memory or Film or Portable Hard Drive - the first and third items are for digital photographers. In any case, you'll be taking heaps of photos and you'll want to make sure you can bring all your photos home
  • Wide Angle Lens - useful for expansive landscape photos, especially for a waterfall as wide as Niagara Falls




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SAFETY
Both sides of the falls are quite safe. However, this doesn't mean you should be naive and leave your guard down as crime can occur anywhere anytime. The greater danger is getting too close to moving water (requiring you to jump the railings, which you shouldn't be doing anyways). You're not likely to survive a drowning or a plunge down the waterfall if you manage to get too close to the river and get swept away.



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CURRENCY
The Canadian Dollar is the currency of Canada while the US Dollar is the currency of the Unitd States. As of June 2007, the exchange rate was around 0.95 Canadian Dollars for every American Dollar. Around Niagara Falls, many Canadian stores accept American Dollars but return change in Canadian Dollars. However, the converse is not true as American stores will generally not accept Canadian currency. If you can help it, the easiest thing to do is to use your credit card.



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LENGTH OF VISIT
How much time should you spend at Niagara Falls?

I'd say give yourself at least 2 nights. We were able to experience just about everything we wanted to do with Niagara Falls in a span of a day and a half (i.e. the half day we got there plus the entire next day). The first half day was plenty of time to walk around the falls on our own. The full day was enough time to do the paid excursions (we had time to do Maid of the Mist, Cave of the Winds, and Journey Behind the Falls as well as some independent walking on the American side; see more activities here). You could even spend a little bit of more time around the falls the morning you leave as well. However, if you want to do even more things, then you should consider staying for more nights.



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Was in Toronto, after L.A. Olympic Games, a life experience, have lunch at Minolta Tower, and enjoy the water dance at night , now want to repeat that …

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