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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!

underwater, sculpture


Hint: This sculpture garden is renowned for its scenic diving and unique underwater inhabitants.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, May 19, 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 travel mug. 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 Margot Wilson, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was the Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park. Margot has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

As a traveler, is there any better feeling than finally crossing a trip off your bucket list? I did it myself last week with an expedition cruise to the Galapagos Islands aboard the 32-passenger Evolution; the trip was run by International Expeditions, which offers nature-based trips around the globe.

After so many years of building up expectations in my head about this trip, I can confirm a few things: the wildlife was just as exotic and unafraid of humans as I’d been told (swimming with sea lions is a memory I’ll never forget), and all those light-colored, quick-drying clothes I was advised to pack were definitely useful under the harsh equatorial sun. But as with any trip, there were a few lessons I could only learn through experience.

galapagos tortoise


1. Bring an umbrella (and not just for rain).
Are you sensitive to the sun? Bring your own beach umbrella! I’d initially packed an umbrella in case of rain in Guayaquil (where I spent a few nights before and after the cruise), but I ended up using it to provide shade during a few ultra-sunny beach days. It can also be useful for hikes, as trees can be scarce on the more arid islands.

2. Always keep your camera with you, even at meal times.
You never know when a pod of dolphins or a magnificent frigate bird will cruise by the bow of the ship, and you might miss a sweet photo op if you have to run back to your cabin to grab your camera.

3. Arrive at least a day early.
This advice applies to anyone boarding a cruise ship or joining an organized tour, but it’s particularly important in the Galapagos, where flights are limited and not all islands have airports. One family on our sailing arrived a couple of hours too late to catch our flight from Guayaquil to the islands, and ended up missing two full days of our weeklong itinerary.

How to Pack for a Galapagos Cruise

4. Pack properly for snorkeling.
While your ship may provide wetsuits for snorkeling, consider packing a dive skin to wear under it both for warmth (especially between June and November when the water is colder) and for sun protection. Also, don’t forget your head! One fellow passenger, whose hair was thinning a bit, said that he wished he’d brought a swim cap to protect his scalp from the sun. Finally, consider bringing some alcohol-based drops to help dry your ears after snorkeling; this can help prevent swimmer’s ear and other infections.

galapagos sea turtle


5. Consider altitude sickness when planning your route.
The two gateway cities for flights to the Galapagos are Quito and Guayaquil, and they each have their pros and cons. While many travelers consider Quito to be the more interesting city, keep in mind that it’s located at an altitude of more than 9,000 feet, while Guayaquil is at sea level. Not everyone suffers from altitude sickness, but it can be debilitating — something to consider if you’re only going to be in town for a day or two.

6. Put the camera away.
When you’re standing incredibly close to an animal, it’s tempting to keep click-click-clicking away with your camera. But at one point, when I found myself watching a pair of albatrosses courting each other through the lens instead of with my own two eyes, I decided it was time to drop the camera and simply drink in the experience for a few moments — because who knows when I’d ever have this chance again?

In Your Face: 9 Up-Close Animal Encounters

– written by Sarah Schlichter

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 colorful shopping experiences.

Would you rather…

… wander through the chaotic souks of Old City Jerusalem, or …

jerusalem market old city



… browse the offerings at the Jean-Talon Italian market in Montreal?

jean talon market montreal


Jerusalem’s Old City is home to sprawling Arab souks selling everything from exotic spices and brightly colored pottery to traditional headdresses and ultra-modern T-shirts. In the heart of Montreal’s Little Italy neighborhood, Jean-Talon Market offers a mouth-watering selection of fruit, vegetables, bread, chocolate, maple syrup and other locally sourced foodstuffs.

Photos: 12 Delicious Destinations for Foodies

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Domino SparrowI have a weird sense of humor. I admit it. So I was intrigued to discover that the Museum of Natural History in Rotterdam, Netherlands, is home to an exhibit entitled “Dead Animals with a Story.”

Sure, there are dead animals in natural history museums all the time, but these had stories that involved things like dominos and McFlurry cups. I had to see this exhibit for myself.

So while everyone else from my river cruise went to see yet more Dutch artistry, I found my way to Rotterdam’s Museum of Natural History. It took three sets of directions before I found the small building tucked into the corner of Museum Square. That was just fine with me; all the wandering added to my sense of adventure. I was on a quest to find these storied animals.

For such a small museum, it also took me a while to find the exhibit that had so caught my attention. For starters, neither the map nor the museum’s signage was in English. So I headed up the stairs and into every room I could find. Nothing, just your usual stuffed animals on display.

Could I be mistaken? Had I found my way to the wrong museum? Had they scrapped the exhibit?

The World’s Weirdest Museums

Back down the stairs.

I was exiting yet another exhibit room, disappointed at my failure, when I spied the stuffed remains of a hedgehog with his head inserted into a McFlurry cup in a display case right at the entrance to the museum. I’d passed right by it!

The low, long, narrow display case was placed unobtrusively along the wall immediately inside of the entryway. The stuffed animals in the case were small and easy to miss — a house mouse, a tiny bat, a sparrow, the unfortunate hedgehog, numbered among the maybe 10 animals displayed.

But what made these poor critters different from the hundreds of other animals in the museum?

Well, the house mouse, for instance, wasn’t killed in just any old house. He (or she) was one of several hundred killed in 2012 when the Second Chamber (part of the country’s House of Representatives) experienced a mouse infestation. When the curator at the museum saw the news of the problem, it occurred to him that his collection did not have a house mouse in it. So he sent a request to the government asking if they would send one of their dead mice to him. His request was soundly refused. The government, he was told, does not give away its trash — of any kind. And yet, a few days later, a package in the official envelope of the Second Chamber showed up, no return addressee listed, with a dead mouse still in the trap enclosed.

Then there is the “domino sparrow.” This unfortunate bird had the dubious honor of garnering international attention when he was shot and killed after knocking down some 23,000 dominos (of nearly 4 million!) at the annual Domino Day event in Leeuwarden just four days before the event. The shooting outraged animal rights groups around the country, and they took the shooter and the organizers of Domino Day to court. Prosecutors opened an investigation and issued a 200 euro fine to the man who killed the bird.

In Your Face: 9 Up-Close Animal Encounters

And then there’s the hedgehog. His is a tale of environmental caution for everyone. Once quite large, the Netherlands’ hedgehog population has almost halved in the past 20 years. Though the main cause of death is cars, a significant number die after inserting their heads into ice cream cups (the kind with triangular openings for spoons) and then being unable to get back out because of the structure of their neck and spine. These poor critters either starve to death or run around blindly until they fall into a canal and drown. The specimen in the Rotterdam museum is one such unlucky hedgehog. The good news is that an animal lovers’ group in England lobbied McDonald’s to replace the McFlurry covers with those that have smaller holes, thereby protecting hedgehogs from this sad fate.

One caveat about the museum exhibit: all the signage is in Dutch. I had to turn to a Dutch guide on my river cruise for translations (based on photographs I’d taken of the exhibit). Therefore, most of my enjoyment of the displays came after the fact.

What’s the strangest exhibit you’ve ever come across in your travels?

– 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 exotic types of lodging.

Would you rather…

… sleep in a traditional yurt in Mongolia …

yurt mongolia



… stay in a jungle lodge in the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon?

jungle lodge ecuador


A yurt, or ger, is a tent-like structure traditionally used by the nomadic people of Mongolia; it’s constructed of wool felt over a wooden frame, and can easily be erected and collapsed when the group is ready to move on. Yurt stays are available through groups such as Stone Horse Expeditions & Travel and Legend Tour. Ecuador is home to a number of remote lodges that allow guests to get up close and personal with the jungle’s unique wildlife and plants. A few to consider include Sacha Lodge, La Selva Amazon Eco Lodge and Kapawi Ecolodge.

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

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 experiences that will have you “seeing red.”

Would you rather…

… explore the Forbidden City in Beijing

forbidden city beijing



… stroll through the Netherlands during tulip season?

tulips windmill netherlands


As we write in our Beijing travel guide, the Forbidden City lies just beyond Tiananmen Square, and is a “sprawling, walled encampment [that] once housed the Imperial Court during the Ming and Qing dynasties … It’s so huge that many erstwhile residents are said to have gone their whole lives without leaving the 30-foot high walls of the city.” The Netherlands is famous for its colorful tulip season, which runs throughout April and May in various parts of the country. The gardens of Keukenhof are one of the best places to take in the display.

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– 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!

cemetery, colorful




Hint: This UNESCO site draws crowds each year to its “happy” colorful grave markers.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, April 28, 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 travel mug. 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 Liz Lyons, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was the Merry Cemetery in Sapanta, Romania. Liz has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

– 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!

blenheim marlborough new zealandIn this month’s featured review, reader Caroline Hanson writes about the trip of a lifetime to New Zealand. “In Blenheim, we stayed at the Old St. Mary’s Convent Vineyard Estate. The B&B was elegant. I found the hostess, Maria, especially friendly and helpful,” says Caroline. “Of course, since she had cats, she was my immediate friend. The grounds and gardens were so peaceful. My husband loved his walk in the morning among the exquisite gardens. The B&B is situated among the picturesque vineyards. We marveled at how straight the seemingly endless rows of vines appeared.”

Read the rest of Caroline’s review here: Bucket List Trip to New Zealand. Caroline has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

globeHappy Earth Day!

This year’s global theme is Green Cities, part of an initiative to reduce pollution and strain on the environment as a result of a growing urban population.

Despite what you may believe, activities surrounding this holiday of environmental awareness aren’t all educational brochures and planting trees. Events around the U.S. are as varied as biodiesel-powered amusement park rides and healthy food trucks in Ohio to “a parade of human-powered vehicles” that will deliver kegs of beer from local breweries to the Harmon Tap Room in a Washington Earth Day competition.

Earth Day is recognized by more than 190 countries across the world. Here are five examples of how other nations are celebrating April 22 with an earthly appeal.

Albania: This European nation is holding events in two different cities. In Durres, the public is invited to play a rousing game of Eco-Monopoly (based on the Green Cities theme) and join a pot-making workshop to plant flowers in containers made of recycled materials. In Vlore, students, youth and other citizens will gather in the main square to sign a petition to increase green spaces in the town.

Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City Green Talk will host Earth Day activities for representatives from across Vietnam. Students from 50 local schools will take part in a green flash mob to increase awareness for environmental issues and participate in the day’s other events.

Top Five Destinations for Ecotourism

Uganda: Uganda has numerous events planned, including tree planting, town cleaning, and a seed and soil program involving local farmers. An organization called LCD is creating a green map to develop areas of environmental significance in their community (such as planting shade-giving trees in areas like their stadium, where inhabitants suffer from too much sun exposure).

Dominican Republic: Barcelo Bavaro Beach Resorts across the country will turn off their lights to increase awareness of energy use.

Lebanon: In Dekwaneh, Earth Day events will take place in the city square and feature music, dance, art and the announcement of the city’s new green plan. Baldati.org, a Lebanese NGO focusing on social responsibility and sustainability, will host the events, which include a hike that will begin in a green area and end in a heavily built-up urban area to demonstrate the dramatic difference.

Do you have plans for Earth Day? Have you celebrated it in a different country? Let us know in the comments.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

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 unique musical learning experiences.

Would you rather…

… learn to play the didgeridoo in Australia

didgeridoo aborigine australia



… take a tango class in Argentina?

tango argentina


The didgeridoo is Australia’s most famous instrument, and you can learn to play it in places such as Perth (see DidgeridooBreath.com) and Melbourne (DidgesbyBruce.com.au). It’s easy to catch a tango performance in Buenos Aires, but many of the venues that offer shows also have lessons for beginners who want to get a taste of the dance. See our Buenos Aires guide for more info.

11 Best Australia Experiences

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter