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

atacama desert chile


Population: 17.4 million

Currency: Chilean peso

Phrase to Know: Habla ingles? (Do you speak English?)

Fun Fact: Chile was the final country in the Western Hemisphere to make divorce legal (back in 2004). The divorce rate here is still extremely low — just 3 percent, as compared to 53 percent in the U.S., according to Business Insider.

We Recommend: Head to the small town of Curarrehue, where you can weave with local Mapuche women.

10 Best Chile Experiences

Have you been to Chile? 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.

patagonia mountains argentina hiker


Population: 43 million

Currency: Argentine peso

Phrase to Know: No entiendo (I don’t understand)

Fun Fact: Buenos Aires is home to one of the world’s widest avenues; 9 de Julio Avenue stretches up to seven lanes in each direction.

We Recommend: Take a cruise at the edge of the world in Ushuaia, one of the planet’s southernmost cities. The nearby Beagle Channel is home to sea lions, albatrosses and other wildlife.

10 Best Argentina Experiences

Have you been to Argentina? 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

desa familyMike DeSa is a travel journalist, husband, father to three rambunctious boys and former U.S. Marine Corps infantry officer. After nearly seven years of service and a combat deployment to Afghanistan, Mike and his family decided it was time to walk a different path. They left everything behind and are currently in the midst of a seven-country, seven-month trip across South and Central America. To keep up with his family’s travel around the Southern Hemisphere, you can follow them at #dclandromomania on Instagram and dclandromomania.blogspot.com.

Mike recently took time to answer a few questions about his trip for us from his current stopover in Cuenca, Ecuador.

IndependentTraveler.com: What were the most essential things you packed for this trip?
Mike DeSa: The two items we’ve used the most are our waterproof, shockproof and compact-sized camera and our ruggedized laptop. As writers and people who love photography, we knew we needed to invest in a computer and camera that would endure the abuse of this trip. We also needed clothes for warm, humid weather as well as cold and possibly snowy climates. This necessitated several vented fishing shirts as well as zip-off pants that could easily be converted to shorts. Jackets with a waterproof outer shell and a zip-in fleece liner have been perfect for all the cooler climes we’ve encountered to date. Katie and I each have camping-style backpacks that allow our hands to remain free to hold onto the kids through busy bus terminals or airports. For a more detailed list on what we brought, read our Huffington Post blog post.

IT: What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
MD: We assumed the biggest challenges would be mental, such as coping with homesickness. A month in, the biggest challenges have actually been physical, such as traveling on a budget — more specifically, the constraints of that budget to buy the food we crave and the unavailability of some ingredients. When we wanted a certain dish back home, we usually went to the local supermarket and picked up the ingredients, or ate out. Here we’ve found that we can’t always find any ingredient we want, especially in smaller towns, so it’s made whipping up a favorite dish like lasagna or chocolate chip cookies very difficult.

It must sound irrational that our biggest challenge so far during a seven-month, seven-country trek around the Southern Hemisphere with three kids is not having chocolate chip cookies on demand, but our love of food is a big part of our joy as a family.

IT: What has been your favorite moment with the boys so far?
MD: Hands down our trip up the Napo River into the Amazon. We started with a long motorcanoe ride upriver; the low profile of the boat offered a unique perspective like that of gliding on top of the water and was perfect for spotting several different types of Amazonian birds along the way. When we arrived, our guide Gary (a native Ecuadorian) led us on a short walk through the jungle to meet a local woman, Martha, who provided us a demonstration on harvesting and cooking yuca as well as making some of the world’s finest chocolate.

child cacao beans ecuadorOur favorite part of the tour was the making of chocolate from scratch. Gary cut a cacao pod right off the tree, and while he explained the history of the plant and the origins of its famous delicacy, we all chewed and sucked on the seeds, which tasted just like cotton candy. We then helped toast and peel the beans, and the boys got to drop them into the grinder. The product was fresh, 100 percent unsweetened chocolate! The look of joy and anticipation on the boys’ faces as they watched the paste slowly squeeze from the grinder was one we’ll always remember.

Martha then added a little fresh cane sugar and water, and the most gorgeous smell rose from the pan as we watched our favorite treat boil together before our eyes. Fresh bananas and strawberries accompanied the chocolate, and we all spent the next 30 minutes dipping, spreading and smearing chocolate everywhere. We highly recommend taking this trip with Michelle and Gary at La CasaBlanca if you’re ever in Tena.

Photos: 11 Best Ecuador Experiences

IT: What’s the best way to fund this sort of long-term travel?
MD: My wife and I saved as much as we could throughout my seven years in the Marine Corps, enough to fund this trip and search for a family investment. The best financial advice we can offer to a family looking at something like this is to start early, constantly evaluate what you’re spending money on and live within your means. Before we left, we did a great deal of research on the cost of living in different countries in South America and built a strict budget. We’ve made some minor tweaks to it since we’ve been here, but for the most part it’s been fairly accurate.

Once we hit a limit on meals out for the week or souvenirs for the month, that’s it — no more spending. Since our trip spans so many countries with varying costs of living, we had to find ways to save in preparation for the more expensive countries, such as living at a WWOOF operation or staying in a hostel. It may not always be the most comfortable living, but the experience of the trip makes the sacrifices well worth it.

Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay

IT: What can people who don’t travel with children learn from your trip?
MD: Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something you love with the people you love. Children or not, create an adventure around something you’re passionate about. It could be a hunt for the best fish and chips in England, a treasured temples of the world quest or rescuing sea turtles in Honduras. We built our trip around a search for investment opportunities and tourism as well as our love of food. We brought our children because they mean everything to us and we wanted to teach them about the world they live in. Whatever your ideal adventure is, do it with the people you love, build it around your passion and remember that you’re never too old to learn new things.

9 Creative Ways to Save for a Vacation

To read more about the DeSa family’s trip, check out our sister site, Family Vacation Critic.

— interview conducted 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!

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

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

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

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 sweet spots to visit during summer in the Southern Hemisphere.

Would you rather …

… hit one of the world’s most famous beaches in Rio de Janeiro, or …

ipanema beach rio de janeiro brazil



… take a scenic coastal drive to see the 12 Apostles in Australia?

12 apostles australia


Famous beaches Ipanema (pictured above) and Copacabana have put Rio on the map, but the city is home to numerous sunny stretches of sand. Looking to visit? Consider family-friendly Praia de Leblon and beautiful Praia Vermelha. For a different kind of coastal view, drive the Great Ocean Road, which runs along Australia’s southern coast and is one of the world’s most spectacular drives.

Escape the Cold: 8 Warm Weather Winter Vacations

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 destinations at the extreme ends of the earth.

Would you rather …

… visit Longyearbyen, Norway, in the remote Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, or …

longyearbyen svalbard norway



… travel to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in Argentina?

ushuaia argentina


Longyearbyen, with a population of just 2,000, is located on the island of Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard chain. This part of the Arctic region is most popular with travelers looking to view polar bears in their natural habitat. At the other extreme is Ushuaia, near the very southern tip of South America — a common jumping-off point for cruises to Antarctica.

Photos: 9 Best Destinations to See from the Water

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 world-famous waterfalls.

Would you rather…

… see Iguazu Falls (visible from both Brazil and Argentina) or …

iguazu falls brazil argentina



… check out Victoria Falls on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe?

victoria falls zambia zimbabwe


Iguazu Falls (also spelled Iguassu) is located in the heart of the jungle on the border between Argentina and Brazil. In addition to the falls themselves, the park is worth a visit for wildlife such as butterflies, coatis, monkeys and colorful birds. Victoria Falls can be visited from either Zambia or Zimbabwe, and activities include bungee jumping, whitewater rafting and flightseeing.

9 Easy Hikes That Will Take Your Breath Away

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

— written by Sarah Schlichter