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Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

cinque terre italy


Population: 93 million

Currency: Dong

Phrase to Know: Ban co noi tieng Anh khong? (Do you speak English?)

Fun Fact: Next time you add a pinch of pepper to a dish, think of Vietnam; it’s the world’s largest exporter of black pepper.

We Recommend: Have a taste of Vietnam’s imperial cuisine in Hue. Here kings in the 19th century commonly ate meals consisting of up to 300 tiny, exquisitely presented dishes. These days you can sample similar fare at restaurants in Hue, such as steamed rice-flour dumplings with dried shrimp and pork.

11 Best Vietnam Experiences

Have you been to Vietnam? What was your favorite spot?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

cinque terre italy


Population: 62 million

Currency: Euro

Phrase to Know: A presto (see you soon)

Fun Fact: What do thermometers, espresso machines and dentures have in common? They’re all believed to have been invented in Italy. One thing probably not invented in Italy: pizza — though the Italians have certainly perfected it. (Flatbread dishes have long been popular in Greece and parts of the Middle East.)

We Recommend: Why take the same old Venetian gondola ride every other tourist takes when you could learn to pole a gondola instead? Row Venice will teach you this traditional skill on your next visit to La Serenissima.

11 Best Italy Experiences

Have you been to Italy? What was your favorite spot?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

blyde river canyon


Population: 48 million

Currency: Rand

Phrase to Know: Lekker (good/nice/pleasant)

Fun Fact: South Africa is one of the few countries on earth to have more than one capital city. In fact, it has three: Cape Town for legislative functions, Pretoria for executive responsibilities and Bloemfontein for the judiciary arm of the government.

We Recommend: If you love local crafts, you won’t want to miss the Midlands Meander, a 50-mile route through KwaZulu-Natal. Along the way you’ll meet artists who create everything from stained glass to windchimes.

10 Best South Africa Experiences

Have you been to South Africa? What was your favorite spot?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

This Friday’s challenge is a photo of an unidentified place somewhere in the world. Can you tell us where the photo was taken? Leave your guess in the comments below — and check back on Tuesday to see if you were right!

world destination


Hint: This Tibetan Buddhist monastery is a very old training center for Lamas, settled almost two and a half miles high in a Himalayan valley.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, February 9, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com prize. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Dick Blackburn, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Ki Gompa (also known as Key, Kee or Kye Monastery) in India‘s Spiti Valley. Dick has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

See All “Where in the World?” Challenges

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

tokyo skyline nightThe world’s largest city is also the world’s safest, according to a new report. Tokyo has been declared the winner in the 2015 edition of the Economist’s Safe Cities Index.

Right behind Japan’s capital were two other Asian cities, Singapore and Osaka, with European favorites Stockholm and Amsterdam rounding out the top five. The highest ranked U.S. city was New York at number 10. At the bottom of the barrel was Jakarta, Indonesia, coming in at number 50. Its overall safety score was just 53.71 out of 100 (as compared to Tokyo, which scored 85.63).

On hearing the word “safest,” you might picture a place where you’re unlikely to get pickpocketed or mugged, but this type of personal safety is only one of four broad categories measured in the study. The Economist is also looking out for your digital security — how common are cybercrime and identity theft? — as well as health safety (pollution, quality of hospitals) and infrastructure safety (roads, rails, pedestrian deaths).

11 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft While Traveling

A few interesting tidbits from the report:

Barcelona, long infamous for pickpockets, has taken steps to get safer; crime has dropped by 32 percent over the past three years.

– In a comparison of perception vs. reality, the study found that Americans tend to feel less safe than they really are (based on their cities’ rankings in the list), while locals in Middle Eastern cities such as Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are not actually as secure as they feel.

– Safety is only one factor in determining the world’s best cities. After combining various indexes — including not just Safe Cities but also Liveability Rankings, Cost of Living and more — the Economist came up with a different winner: Toronto was voted the overall best place to live.

Essential Hotel Safety Tips

Which cities would you consider the most safe?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

beach st john usvi


Population: 104,000

Currency: U.S. dollar

Phrase to Know: Callaloo (also spelled kallaloo), a dish made with leafy greens that you’ll see on menus throughout the Caribbean

Fun Fact: Unlike the rest of the United States, Virgin Islanders drive on the left side of the road.

We Recommend: Head to Water Island (a short ferry ride from St. Thomas) and watch a movie on the beach at Heidi’s Honeymoon Grill.

10 Best U.S. Virgin Island Experiences

Have you been to the U.S.V.I.? What was your favorite spot?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

In light of all the precipitation flurrying around in our forecasts and our backyards, we figured why sully winter’s reputation with complaints about shoveling and commuting? Winter can be a downright beautiful season, and it’s so much prettier when you can look and don’t have to touch. We bring you five frozen snowscapes from across the globe to remind you that winter’s wrath can be worth a serious marvel (right after you’re done digging yourself out of it).

Vogel, Triglav natural park, Julian Alps, Slovenia
Triglav National Park in the Julian Alps of Slovenia

The only national park in scenic Slovenia, Triglav gains its name from the country’s highest mountain. Its first recorded ascent was in 1778.

jade dragon snow mountain yunnan china
Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Yunnan Province, in Southwestern China

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is a mountain massif, or small mountain range in southwest China. Its highest peak, Shanzidou, has only been climbed once — by an American expedition team in 1987.

How to Pack for a Winter Vacation

siberian winter in tobolsk
The Old Siberian Capital of Tobolsk

Once a capital of Siberia, the town of Tobolsk is located at the confluence of the Tobol and Irtysh rivers. Once a strong center of Russian colonization, the region declined when it was bypassed by the Trans-Siberian Railroad. It is now one of Russia’s largest petrochemical complexes.

patagonia ice glaciers
A Vast Glacier in Patagonia

Shared by Argentina and Chile, Patagonia is a dense region of natural wonders, including this stretch of glacier that goes for miles. The Perito Moreno glacier is one of the region’s top tourist attractions.

winter greenland tasiilaq
The Town of Tasiilq in East Greenland

With about 2,000 inhabitants, Tasiilaq is the most populous community on the remote eastern coast of Greenland. This tundra region occasionally experiences piteraqs, or cold and damaging winds. Piteraq means “that which attacks you” in the local language.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

Each month, we’ll highlight one new trip review submitted by an IndependentTraveler.com reader. If your review is featured, you’ll win an IndependentTraveler.com logo item!

cairo saladin citadelIn this month’s featured review, reader Dr. Alex Cullison dispels a few misconceptions about traveling to Egypt. “The press has been unfair to Egypt — capitalizing and dramatizing protests into something more than what they are,” writes Alex. “The Egyptians are passionate about their country and they take their politics very seriously. Like us. They will publicly demonstrate, like us, when they feel they need to capture the attention of a greater audience for mutual support. We walked all over Cairo and felt perfectly safe.”

Read the rest of Alex’s review here: Rethink Egypt. Alex has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

peruvian woman


Population: 30.1 million

Currency: Peruvian nuevo sol

Phrase to Know: Buenos dias (good day or good morning)

Fun Fact: Peru has a unique New Year’s Eve tradition: everyone wears brand-new yellow underwear! It’s considered good luck for the coming year.

We Recommend: Learn to prepare ceviche, Peru’s national dish, during a cooking class in the capital city of Lima. Naturally, the best part of the class is tasting your creation at the end.

10 Best Peru Experiences

Have you been to Peru? What was your favorite spot?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

church milos greece


Population: 10.7 million

Currency: Euro

Phrase to Know: Efharisto (thank you)

Fun Fact: Greece’s national anthem, “Hymn to Liberty,” has the longest text of any national anthem — a poem of 158 verses. Fortunately, only the first two stanzas are typically performed.

We Recommend: Stay in a villa or guesthouse and take part in the autumn olive harvest. In between picking sessions, you can take a cooking class or wander through local wildflower fields.

10 Best Greece Experiences

Have you been to Greece? What was your favorite spot?

– written by Sarah Schlichter