This post is part of Matador’s partnership with Canada, where journalists show how to explore Canada like a local.

The Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) recently launched the Explore Canada Like A Local (ECLAL) website and mobile device app to facilitate travel research for people traveling in or planning a trip to Canada. I’ve spent the past couple of days playing around with the app (installed on my iPod Touch) — the content is still being populated, but that’s to be expected with it being relatively new.

It has some great features for trip planning, whether you know where you want to go or just what you want to do. The information is crowd sourced, from both local experts and other travelers.

If you want to get started using it, or help share local knowledge, your first step is to install the app. Then, follow along to get the most out of it:

How to “explore”

ECLAL home screen

Explore by destination

Even if you don’t know exactly where you want to go, this is a good place to start. It’s separated by region: Western, Central, Atlantic, and Northern Canada. You can drill down to specific cities, towns, or spots or stay within the larger region. You can also search directly for a destination.

Once you’re at your desired level, you can scope the “Spots of interest” — the more popular locations, based on number of check-ins — or you can start going through the “categories”:

  • Accommodations
  • Adventure & Sports
  • Culture & Attractions
  • Restaurants
  • Scenic tours
  • Shopping
  • Spas & Wellness
  • The great outdoors
  • Wineries & Breweries

Each of these categories will give you a number for how many “spots” they contain.

Browsing ECLAL by Theme

Explore by theme

Know what you like to do but not sure where in Canada is best to do it? This is where you want to begin. What I think is cool about this is that, once you’ve chosen your theme, you can sort by different conditions:

Near me — Based on your location, it will suggest, in order of proximity, the spots that are closest to you.

Trending — This sorts the spots based on the number of people who’ve checked into them, giving you what is currently popular.

Spots of interest — A list of suggested spots.

By region — Start narrowing your destinations. Once you’re sorting by region you have the option of specifying which parts of that region you want to filter (e.g., Banff in Western Canada). You can select multiple cities / areas.

Live Map

ECLAL Live Map (click to enlarge)

The Live Map takes you to a Google map of where you are. You can view spots of interest around you; by clicking on the green bubbles you can read what the spot is, and then by clicking it further you are taken to the description of the spot.

Spots of interest include the option to check in and to add to your list (more on this later). They also include the spot’s address and contact information, as well as a description and comments from users who’ve visited. If users have uploaded pics, you can view photos of the spot too, or upload your own.

Using the travel lists

There’s a reason why Top 10s are popular on the internet. People love lists. From the app’s home screen you have two options: Travel Lists and My Lists.

ECLAL Travel Lists (Click to enlarge)

Travel Lists

This is where you get to view other travelers’ lists of things to do. You can filter them based on travel theme (City breaks, Outdoors, etc.) and destination (Western Canada, etc.). I wish you could filter further down to a specific location. Who knows, maybe in a future version. For now, you’ll just have to browse the entire region.

At the top are the Suggested lists — most of these look to be sponsored by ECLAL, compiled by names you might recognize, like National Geographic’s “Digital Nomad” Andrew Evans, and Lonely Planet’s Robert Reid.

Further down, you can browse all the lists compiled by just about anyone. The great thing about these lists is that they’re hyper-specialized (“A wild weekend in Whistler”, “Michele’s Favourite Beaches”). Once you enter a list, you can map its spots to visually see where they are in the location, and you can also choose to add all the spots to your own list…

It's easy to create your own lists

My Lists

This is where it gets really cool. Your list is essentially a compilation of your bookmarks. It’s like a customized mini-guidebook for you to reference either in your planning phase or when you’re actually on location.

From each spot of interest, there’s an option to “Add to my lists.” It’s that easy. Before you can add, though, you need to create a list. This you can do from the home screen (or by using the nav bar at the bottom), by going to “My Lists” and choosing “Start a new list.” You can give it a name and a description.

Once that’s done, you can start adding spots (if you have created multiple lists, you’ll choose which list to add to). When you view your list, you can choose to map the spots, to share the list (via Twitter, Facebook, or email), and post the list to ECLAL for others to view. You also have the option of syncing your lists to the ECLAL website, so they appear in your profile when you visit.

Speaking of the website…

The ECLAL website

Along with everything above, the site has a couple more functions. One is the Resources tab, which links you to other helpful sites for your trip planning, like passport and visa information, weather and seasons, currency, time zones, and measurements and voltage.

And remember what I was saying about how the site content will fill out in time? By filling out a form you can suggest a spot to include in ECLAL. If you’re a Canadian, start tossing in your favourite haunts in your hometown now!