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globe woman world travelWhat do Cape Town, Christchurch and Calgary have in common … besides all starting with the letter “C”?

They’re all on the New York Times’ annual Places to Go list. This year the much-anticipated list numbers 52 places, up from last year’s 46 recommended destinations. And they’re all pretty phenomenal.

Examples include the Albanian Coast, which the Times says combines the rugged beauty of the Dalmatian Coast with Greece’s ancient ruins and the easygoing nature of rural Italy (No. 4 on the list); Fernando de Noronha, a 21-island archipelago 330 miles off the coast of Recife, Brazil, that boasts 250-foot black cliffs and peach-sand beaches and to which only 246 visitors are allowed per day (No. 14 on the list); and Chennai, one of India’s cultural capitals, home to several dance and music schools that offer regular performances around the city (No. 26 on the list).

13 Best New Zealand Experiences

Several of the places on the list matched up with IndependentTraveler.com’s Top 9 Destinations for 2014, including two exactly: Nepal (No. 45) and Iceland (No. 30). Others fell within broader destinations we picked for 2014. The New York Times, for instance, includes the Arctic Circle (No. 38), while IndependentTraveler.com chose the Far North (defined by us as anywhere you can see the Northern Lights).

The Places to Go list is a great resource for discovering new must-visit destinations — I added five items to my bucket list including the Albanian Coast; Krabi, Thailand (No. 28); the North Coast of California (No. 3); Varazdin, Croatia (No. 48); and Xishuangbanna, China (No. 32) — and reaffirming that several places already on my bucket list really are worth visiting, like Namibia, the Seychelles and the Arctic Circle.

Another thing I love about the Places to Go list is ticking off places I’ve already been. Of the 52 places suggested for 2014, I’ve already visited seven, though I’m dying to go back to Cape Town (No. 1), Perth (No. 9) and Scotland (No. 16).

Cool Tools for Planning Complicated Trips

How many of the 52 places have you been to? How many are already on your bucket list? And how many — and which — new places did you add to your list?

– written by Dori Saltzman

Today’s post is part of a weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

This week’s toss-up offers a choice of two awesome excursions for wildlife lovers.

Would you rather…

… travel to Antarctica to see penguins, or …

antarctica penguins



… look for polar bears in Arctic Canada?

polar bears arctic canada


Tell us your preference in the comments below!

Photos: 9 Up-Close Animal Encounters

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Today’s post is part of a new weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

This week’s toss-up offers a choice of two desert adventures.

Would you rather …

… take a camel ride through the dunes of the Sahara in Morocco, or …

morocco sahara desert camel dune


… explore the ancient city of Petra, Jordan?

petra jordan


Tell us your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

This week’s shot captures New Year’s fireworks over Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, Italy.

rome fireworks new year italy


Photos: 11 Best Italy Experiences

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

See Our Favorite Rome Hotels

– written by Sarah Schlichter

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!

copper canyon train mexicoIn this month’s featured review, reader vagabondginger shares the highlights of a seven-day trip through the Copper Canyon region of Mexico. “We boarded the El Chepe train in El Fuerte to the Posada Barrancas stop, winding through tunnels and across bridges,” wrote vagabondginger. “It goes from sea level to 8,000 feet in 150 miles. Barranca del Cobre or The Copper Canyon is actually several canyons and its gigantic gorges are larger and deeper than the Grand Canyon, but it is different as it is more verdant.”

Read the rest of vagabondginger’s review here: Copper Canyon Trip Nov 23-29, 2013. Vagabondginger has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

– written by Dori Saltzman

Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

This week’s shot captures a Christmas market in Frankfurt, Germany.

frankfurt christmas market germany


Photos: 12 Best Germany Experiences

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

See Which Airport Has a Christmas Market

– written by Sarah Schlichter

amazon river la estrella amazonicaI’ve cruised the Amazon River before — but this time was different.

My first two voyages stuck to the Brazilian part of the waterway and were on mainstream ships. The regions we traveled through were a backdrop to life onboard — a variety of restaurants, formal nights and lavish entertainment. Shore excursions on these trips barely scratched the surface of local life and nature, and there was little Amazon influence in our food, beverages or entertainment.

In contrast, this trip — a seven-day International Expeditions itinerary departing from Iquitos, Peru — was the most immersive cruise I’ve ever taken, with Peruvian music, food and wine onboard, and a wide range of in-depth experiences, both natural and cultural.

As a first-timer to the world of expedition cruising, I wondered if I’d miss the little luxuries of big-ship cruise travel. I need not have worried. The 31-passenger La Estrella Amazonica was delightful, and as you can see from my wrap-up, the trip contained very, very few missteps.

HITS

Amazonian Education: All International Expeditions’ trips emphasize wildlife, and our ship’s pair of naturalist guides, who both hailed from the region, were passionate and knowledgeable. They could identify what seemed to be thousands of species of birds, guide a kayaking trip down a creek while offering sightings of monkeys swinging between trees, and expertly bait a hook to catch a fleet of piranhas.

For me, though, it was the interaction with locals that really captured the spirit of the trip. Both guides chatted up people we came across — in villages, even fishermen in their dug-out canoes.

amazon river la estrella amazonicaThe Boat: Cruising the Amazon for nearly 20 years via chartered boats, International Expeditions cemented its commitment to the river this year by designing and building its first-ever custom ship. The result, La Estrella Amazonica, is lovely. All cabins have private balconies — a first for any Amazon river operator.

The best spot onboard is the fabulous open-air sundeck and bar, with super-comfy wicker couches, barstools and round tables that make it feel like an airy, spacious Peruvian living room.

Peruvian Food: The ship’s Peruvian-born chef didn’t pander to American palates, and menus strongly reflected comfort-style Amazonian cuisine. Occasionally there was a theme night — such as Chinese, which is hugely popular in this region, and even Italian — but the real stars were the seafood, rice, beans, fresh fruit juices and salads.

6 Reasons You’ll Love an Expedition Cruise

The Music: We loved the nightly jam sessions held onboard during the pre-dinner cocktail hour. Almost every member of the crew — from housekeepers to boat drivers — participated, playing an eccentric mix of songs, from Peruvian folk tunes to the Beatles.

Waterlogged: Being part of a 31-passenger ship gives you the up-close-and-personal access you’d never find on a big ship. There was lots to see along the river — villages, bus-boats that transport locals (and their cows, coal and crops) between Iquitos and Nauta, and other similar-sized cruise ships operated by Lindblad and Aqua Expeditions.

But the real discoveries, particularly wildlife, were better found on smaller tributaries via flat-bottomed skiffs. In a week, we logged some 185 miles on the skiffs (La Estrella Amazonica itself trawled nearly 500 miles during the cruise), where we embarked on jungle walks, swimming and kayaking.

MISSES

amazon river piranhaGetting There: Iquitos, the largest city in Peru’s Amazon basin, is the starting point for cruises operated by all the major players in the region, but getting there is an adventure in its own right. First, you fly to Lima, then catch a connecting 1.5-hour flight to Iquitos. For some cruises, it’s then another 1.5-hour drive along a winding jungle road to a village called Nauta (thankfully, we were spared that extra long drive).

Most international flights from the U.S. arrive in the wee hours of the morning and depart in the middle of the night. Our advice: Plan to get to Lima with a couple of days to spare — and explore that city before heading out on your Amazon adventure. Iquitos is also an interesting outpost.

Moving Around: Aside from a kayaking adventure and a couple of jungle hikes, it was surprising how sedentary the activities were. Much time was spent eyeing wildlife from the skiffs, and unlike in Europe where towpaths for cyclists and joggers line the rivers, there’s no easy access to exercise on the Amazon.

On the plus side: La Estrella Amazonica has a small fitness facility, with two treadmills and two spinning cycles.

Shops, Restaurants and Nightlife: There aren’t any! Aside from a pair of village visits, where local women presented their handicrafts for sale, this is a nature-oriented experience. The best shopping and dining we had was in Lima.

Photos: 9 Best Destinations to See from the Water

– written by Carolyn Spencer Brown

Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

This week’s shot captures sunset over Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro from a viewpoint in Amboseli, Kenya.

kilimanjaro amboseli kenya savanna sunset


How to Plan an African Safari

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

Kenya Trip Reviews by Real Travelers

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

This week’s shot captures colorful hammocks for sale at a market in Mexico.

hammocks market mexico


Traveling During Mexico’s Independence Day

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

The Best 9 Cities to See Cool Public Art

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

This week’s shot captures a view of Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook on the South Island of New Zealand.

lake pukaki mount cook new zealand


Photos: 13 Best New Zealand Experiences

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

Our Favorite Auckland Hotels

– written by Sarah Schlichter