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

12 apostles australia


Population: 22.5 million

Currency: Australian dollar

Phrase to Know: Good on ya (well done, good for you)

Fun Fact: Australia is home to the world’s oldest known fossils: cyanobacteria found in the Archaean rocks of Western Australia.

We Recommend: Stay overnight on a remote cattle station in the Outback, where you can participate in a cattle roundup, go for a horseback ride and more.

11 Best Australia Experiences

Have you been to Australia? 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.

waterfall chapada dos veadeiros national park brazil


Population: 202.7 million

Currency: Brazilian real

Phrase to Know: Como se chama? (What’s your name?)

Fun Fact: Brazil became the first country to prohibit the use of tanning beds back in 2009, after first banning them only for minors in 2003. (Guess you’ll just have to hit the beach in Rio if you want that golden, sun-kissed look!)

We Recommend: Head to Fernando de Noronha to watch baby sea turtles leave their nests and make their way toward the sea.

10 Best Brazil Experiences

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

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Although the date isn’t known for certain, the celebration known as Hana Matsuri, or Buddha’s birthday, is widely celebrated on April 8 by Buddhists observing the Gregorian calendar. Much like cathedrals are a major attraction across Europe — regardless of your religion — statues of Buddha are typically a must-see; they can be staggering in size, ornately embellished and set amongst expansive yet peaceful gardens, valleys and monasteries.

These five Buddhas will transport you through Asia to our own backyard, and will amaze you with their stature and history.

leshan grand buddha china festival


Leshan Grand Buddha: Sichuan Leshan, China
The tallest stone Buddha in the world, the 233-foot-tall Leshan Grand (or Giant) Buddha in Sichuan, China, was carved out of a cliff face during the Tang Dynasty between the years 713 and 803. Sources say the idea came from a Chinese monk named Haitong who hoped that the Buddha would calm the rough waters that plagued the shipping vessels traveling the Minjiang, Dadu and Qingyi rivers.

Great Buddha of Thailand


Great Buddha of Thailand: Ang Thong, Thailand
If you’re looking for Buddhas, you will find many of them in Thailand. One you just can’t miss also happens to be the tallest statue in the country, and shimmers with gold paint. Located in the Wat Muang temple in Ang Thong province, the Great Buddha took 18 years to build — from 1990 to 2008 — and sits 300 feet tall. (Beware of nearby “Hell Park,” depicting what happens to sinners in, well, you know.)

Reclining Buddha Chauk htat gyi pagoda temple in Yangon, Myanmar


Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda Reclining Buddha: Yangon, Myanmar
Several hundred monks study near the pagoda that houses this reclining-style Buddha in Yangon. The statue, built in 1966 to replace the damaged original from 1907, is framed by an iron structure to protect it. Feeling cosmic? Fortune tellers and palm readers are usually available on site to tell you about your future.

buddha park near Vientiane Laos, Xieng Khuan


Buddha Park: Vientiane, Laos
Buddha Park, also known as Xieng Khuan, is a sculpture park on the Mekong River in Ventiane. Rather than one large Buddha, the park contains more than 200 statues of Hindu and Buddhist figures. The darkened skulls and worn sculptures look ancient, but were built in 1958 by Bunleua Sulilat, a spiritual leader who emigrated from Thailand during the communist occupation.

chuang yen monastery new york buddha


Chuang Yen Monastery Buddha: Carmel, New York
If you’re looking for a Buddha in the Western Hemisphere, the largest one (indoors) resides at a monastery in Carmel, New York. At 37 feet tall, the Buddha rests on a symbolic lotus, which then sits on an eight-foot platform. The platform is intricately decorated and colorful, unlike the white statue. The highlight? It’s surrounded by 10,000 skillfully carved smaller Buddhas.

12 Travel Photos That’ll Make You Want to Get Up and Go

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

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

alhambra spain


Population: 47.7 million

Currency: Euro

Phrase to Know: Buenos dias, buenas tardes and buenas noches (good morning, good afternoon and good evening)

Fun Fact: Spain’s most bizarre (and messiest) tradition may be the annual Tomatina Festival near Valencia, in which thousands of participants fling ripe tomatoes at each other.

We Recommend: Sleep in a parador — a historical building, such as a monastery or Moorish fort, that’s been turned into a luxury hotel.

10 Best Spain Experiences

Have you been to Spain? 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.

temple tamil nadu india


Population: 1.2 billion

Currency: Indian rupee

Phrase to Know: Aap kaise hain? (How are you?)

Fun Fact: It’s technically illegal for non-Indians to take rupees out of the country upon departure; if you don’t change it back into another currency, it may be confiscated.

We Recommend: Visit a tea estate in Darjeeling. You can pick your own leaves, learn about the production process and taste multiple varieties of the region’s famous tea.

10 Best India Experiences

Have you been to India? 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.

yoho national park canoe alberta canada


Population: 34.8 million

Currency: Canadian dollar

Phrase to Know: Double-double (a coffee with two creams and two sugars, a term popularized by the Tim Hortons coffee chain)

Fun Fact: In a roundabout way, Winnie-the-Pooh got his name from the Canadian city of Winnipeg. A.A. Milne, the English author of the famous children’s books, named his character after his son’s toy bear — who was named after Winnie, a black bear the boy had seen at the London Zoo. The bear was brought to England by a soldier who bought her as a cub in Canada and named her after his adopted home town of Winnipeg.

We Recommend: Go dog sledding under the northern lights in Canada’s remote Northwest Territories.

11 Best Canada Experiences

Have you been to Canada? 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 abbey is considered one of the best locations to view the lavender fields where?

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, March 23, 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 Cindy McCabe, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was the Senanque Abbey in Gordes, France. Cindy 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

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

collage from flytographer.comForget strangers and selfies — hire a flytographer on your next trip and never worry about capturing yourself on location again. What’s a flytographer? More like who. Leading the newest travel trend, Flytographer.com connects you with professional photographers who are available to shoot your vacation as you would a wedding (or even a celebrity sighting). Just when you thought drones were the ultimate travel paparazzo…

Local photographers in more than 130 cities make it easy to connect with someone who is familiar with the best backdrops and locations, turning an average trip into something worth a glamorous (albeit candid) photo shoot. Whether it’s a special event, such as a proposal in Prague, or simply a family vacation in Cancun that you want to be sure to capture, it beats a clunky self-timer, an awkward exchange with a passerby or an uncomfortably tight selfie.

19 Tips for Better Travel Photos

Travel blogger Johnny Jet even tried it out on a recent vacation with his wife in Hawaii.

The idea came from Nicole Smith, a Canadian woman who, after losing hundreds of travel photos due to underexposed old film, realized on a recent girls’ trip that asking a third friend to document the vacation wasn’t only a huge favor, it was a business model. A working mother of two, Smith now runs Flytographer.com full time, tapering off her hours at Microsoft, where she currently still works.

Prices for the experience range from $250, which buys you a 30-minute shoot in one location resulting in 15 photos, to $500 for a 90-minute session in two locations yielding 45 photos. A proposal photo shoot is a flat fee of $450.

What do you think — is a professional vacation photographer worth the splurge? Share in the comments.

— written by Brittany Chrusciel