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

la fortuna costa rica


Population: 4.75 million

Currency: Costa Rican colon

Phrase to Know: Me llamo ____. (My name is ____.)

Fun Fact: More than 25 percent of Costa Rica’s total landmass is preserved in national parks and other protected areas — making this one of the world’s best places to explore the rain forest and scan for wildlife.

We Recommend: Take a nighttime hike to watch a volcano erupt from afar.

12 Best Costa Rica Experiences

Have you been to Costa Rica? 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.

bern switzerland


Population: 8 million

Currency: Swiss franc

Phrase to Know: Was kostet das? (What does this cost?)

Fun Fact: The average Swiss citizen eats nearly 20 pounds of chocolate a year — more than any other country. They have plenty to choose from; Switzerland is home to such famous brands as Nestle, Cailler, Lindt, Toblerone and more.

We Recommend: Head deep into the Alps for the chance to walk a St. Bernard. This locally bred dog is famous for helping travelers stranded in the snowy mountains.

10 Best Switzerland Experiences

Have you been to Switzerland? 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.

french polynesia overwater bungalow sunrise


Population: 280,000

Currency: French Pacific franc

Phrase to Know: Ia orana (hello)

Fun Fact: If you spot a local wearing a tiare flower behind his or her ear, check out which side it’s on; wearing it on the left means you’re taken, while a flower on the right means you’re seeking a mate.

We Recommend: Learn to perform the heiva, a traditional hip-swinging local dance. You can take classes at the Ori Tahiti International School of Tahitian Dance.

10 Best French Polynesia Experiences

Have you been to French Polynesia? 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: The Biodiversity Museum in this country was designed by Frank Gehry, and commissioned to celebrate the region’s natural and geological wonders.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, March 2, 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 Carole Arbush, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Panama. Carole 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

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!

mount roraimaIn this month’s featured review, reader Cami-sphere goes on a trekking adventure to the top of South America’s Mount Roraima. “The plan today was to start out early to explore the summit closer to camp rather than hike to Triple Point where Guyana, Brazil and Venezuela meet,” writes Cami-sphere. “As we headed to the scenic point, Marco identified indigenous plants and he walked us through an area where small quartz crystals lined the path. He also introduced us to a baby black toad he had spotted in one of the plants. Along the way, we greeted other trekkers with ‘Feliz Ano Nuevo.’ It was New Year’s Day and we were all upbeat. As I walked I forgot what it took to get to this point and it came over me that this was a unique and very special experience — there’s probably nowhere else on earth like this!”

Read the rest of Cami-sphere’s review here: The Lost World of Mount Roraima. This reader 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.

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