Sigiriya Rock Fortress: 7 tips for visiting

Sigiriya Rock Fortress is Sri Lanka’s most popular attraction. We show you how to avoid the queues, crowds and touts to make the most of your morning there.

It’s not often people say ‘visiting rock formations’ when asked what they like doing on holiday – a curious fact given that so many of us spend time and money doing exactly that, be it Cappadocia in Turkey, Yosemite in the US, Guatape in Colombia or indeed Machu Picchu which would be only half as dramatic without its rocky backdrop.

One of the world’s less known curiosities in this category is Sigiriya Rock Fortress in Sri Lanka, a gigantic column of rock rising 200m (660ft) from the forested plains below. Located in the approximate center of the country, Sigiriya is one cornerstone of Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle, the others being Anuradhapura to the north and Polonnaruwa to the east. Continue reading

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The countries we most want to see

Despite our best laid plans, we never made it to Africa last year. With renewed plans to visit the continent after our current trip through Sri Lanka and Burma, we found ourselves in an interesting discussion: if you could see only five countries before you die, which would they be?

This question posed a far trickier dilemma than the countries we least want to see. With so much on offer, we had to be ruthless in our choices.

We didn’t choose countries we have already visited, nor stateless territories (e.g. Antarctica). Two of our countries overlapped (Nepal and Canada) so we each chose one more to make a total of 10. Continue reading

Things to do in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Let’s be frank: Colombo isn’t what you would call a ‘world city’. Not many companies boast about offices in ‘London, New York, Colombo’. The city has never been an international player nor does it have a world-class attraction.

Nevertheless, as the launching pad for trips further afield in Sri Lanka, Colombo enjoys a steady footfall throughout the course of the year. Tourists stay mainly for convenience, but don’t discount the city altogether. There are numerous interesting and quirky things to do in Colombo that are well worth a stay. Continue reading

Travel roundup 2016: 12 delightful things that happened this year

In last year’s travel roundup, we spoke of tumultuous events, political instability and acts of aggression across the globe.

As the French would say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Indeed, in 2016, we saw our fair share of tumult, instability and aggression – and Brexit and Trump only promise more.

Much like last year, however, we have also been reminded that there is amusement and delight in even the direst of years. From historic events (March, September) to frivolous fancies (April, June), 2016 hasn’t been all bad. Here’s a roundup of our favourite events. Continue reading

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Visiting Pamukkale: tips to know before you go

Pamukkale, though Turkey’s most popular attraction by numbers, is barely known outside its country borders. It’s the iconic architecture of Istanbul and the cave dwellings of Cappadocia that steal the spotlight, but Pamukkale with its cascading travertine terraces deserves attention as well.

Sweeping limestone cliffs of a blinding white hue rise above pools of powder blue. Petrified stakes of limestone hang from chalky roots – like in Superman’s fortress of solitude or a Tim Burton nightmare if his nightmares were good.

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Ayasofya: 7 tips for visiting

Ayasofya (or Hagia Sophia in Greek) is one of Istanbul’s most iconic structures. It graces travel brochures and glossy magazines and has even made a cameo in video game Assassin’s Creed.

The 1,500-year-old structure is considered the most important of the Byzantine era and is one of the world’s great monuments. Completed in 537 AD, Ayasofya was the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years, until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520.

Ayasofya and its central dome, a giant 32 metres (105ft) in diameter, stands sentry over Istanbul, offering beguiling views both inside and out. Here’s how to make the most of your time there.  Continue reading

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What is the world’s most diverse country?

When Sadiq Khan was voted in as London Mayor, he announced his city ‘the most diverse and fantastic in the world’. This triggered interest from the BBC which ran a podcast examining his claim. The podcast named the Canadian city of Toronto as the most diverse but in doing so, highlighted a number of methodological problems that also apply when measuring the world’s most diverse country. Continue reading

US national parks: 20 weird and wonderful sights

As spring takes hold in earnest, nearly all US national parks are preparing for a special week.

The National Park Service turns 100 years old this year and, to celebrate, is offering free entrance to over 120 US national parks and monuments on select dates. These include 16-24th April for National Park Week, 25th-28th for the official National Park Service birthday, 24th September for National Public Lands Day and 11th November for Veterans Day, as well as Martin Luther King Jr. Day which was on 18th January.

To help promote this fantastic celebration of the great outdoors, Atlas & Boots has hand-picked 20 weird and wonderful sights from a number of US national parks that you can see for free next week. Continue reading

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22 books about obsessive searches

All travel to some extent is about searching. It may be a deep and yearning search for fulfilment, a soul-wrenching quest for absolution, or something far more base (Thailand, anyone?).

For some, travel is a way to silence an echoing need, be it for knowledge, enlightenment, glory or revenge. These obsessive searches take travellers on great journeys across the wild, usually giving rise to incredible tales of incredible lands. At times, these tales are humbling; at others, they are exasperating but never are they boring. Continue reading

10 least visited countries in the world – and how to reach them

There is perhaps no phrase more common in travel writing than “off the beaten track”. It’s applied liberally to all manner of things, from the vast Mongolian Steppe to an empty bar down a Bangkok sidestreet. Clearly, it symbolises the avid traveller’s ultimate goal: to have fresh experiences in unspoilt places with unjaded people. And yet so few manage to find the true secluded ideal.

To inspire travellers to get off the famed beaten track, we list below the least visited countries in the world, based on data from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). Continue reading

Top 10 places for expat romance

Our home town of London can be a lonely place or an amazing one depending on who you are and what you want.

It, like other great cities (New York, Paris, Rome), can be a glittering metropolis of opportunity or a deeply isolating experience. It’s not unusual for first-time expats to have problems settling in and making friends. In fact, finding a partner is one of the most difficult aspects of expat life.

InterNations, the world’s largest community of expats, advises members not to ignore the importance of romantic relationships when choosing a new country. Its survey of 14,000 expats worldwide examines the top places for expat romance and highlights 10 countries in which expats are happiest in their relationships. Continue reading

How to travel without ruining your career

Our trip around the world was the best decision we ever made but it didn’t come without concerns. We both quit our jobs, Peter as head of department at a London school and Kia as product manager at Penguin Random House. We knew we wanted a slower pace of life but also that we would have to find jobs once we returned to London. (Alas, Peter’s great plan to win the lottery hasn’t yet come to fruition.)

This fear of ruining a carefully-built career has put many people off travelling. In some fields, the fear is warranted (for example, most junior doctors can’t leave their jobs for a year) but for most of the rest of us, a long-term trip is perfectly possible especially if we spend time on the road cultivating employable skills. Here are six great ways to do just that. Continue reading

Planning a trip around the world: 6 questions to ask first

There are three basic questions everyone asks themselves when planning a trip around the world: Where do I want to go? How long do I want to go for? How much will it cost?

As plans take shape, several other questions come to the fore: Do I really need travel insurance? Should I pack extra shoes? Rabies vaccination costs how much? (Yes, no, wtf.)

There are several other important things to ask yourself when planning a trip around the world. Consider the questions below well in advance of departure to put yourself in good stead not only for your journey but whatever comes after. Continue reading

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Winter hiking: 6 tips to get you started

Winter hiking is a polarising sport: some love it, others hate it. Too often, people have bad experiences not because they’re inherently resistant to cold, but because they’re under-prepared. They make not just basic mistakes like packing the wrong gear but also arrive mentally ill-prepared.

It’s important to understand that winter hiking can be unnervingly different to its summertime equivalent: simple movement suddenly becomes difficult and skills you thought you’d mastered prove unreliable. Using your body efficiently without falling needs more practice than you might suspect. Winter navigation can also be wildly different. When you can see nothing but the ground in front of you, it takes a great deal of skill to chart an accurate course. With practice and patience, however, you may find that you love winter hiking just as much as others hate it. Here are eight tips to get you started. Continue reading

6 charmless South American towns we couldn’t avoid

Travellers go to Latin America hoping, expecting, knowing they’ll be wowed. Home to three of the world’s Seven Wonders, the region has a wealth of both manmade and natural attractions.

Travellers also know that their journey through this vast continent won’t always be full of rainbows and kittens. Amid the bright, great wonders will be dreary days in dull towns with nary a redeeming feature. In South America, finding these two extremes side by side is almost a guarantee, as illustrated below. Tourist towns inevitably crop up close to major sights and more often than not, they’re completely and utterly charmless. Here are six underwhelming South American towns we failed to avoid on our travels. Continue reading

Rio de Janeiro: the world’s most photogenic city?

We are ensconced in a small Copacabana hostel, the worst accommodation we’ve had in months. Contrary to the decidedly lovely pictures on the hostel website, our bedroom is tiny, stuffy, smelly and inexplicably noisy. With maddening frequency, a loud foghorn judders through the water pipes, keeping us up all night long. We don’t know what it is; just that it’s drip-driving us crazy. Continue reading

10 quirky things to do in Buenos Aires

After several weeks in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego at the southern reaches of the inhabited world, we were very much looking forward to thawing out in Buenos Aires, the “Paris of South America”. We arrived in the bohemian area of San Telmo an hour early and stood on a street corner, wondering where to go to await our host and the keys to our lovely apartment.

We saw a Starbucks sign glittering seductively in one corner and trudged towards it, backpacks growing weary on our shoulders. Alas, just as we arrived, the Starbucks shutters went down and the staff closed shop for the evening. Continue reading

Diving the Galápagos

10 places to see before they’re gone – or perhaps not

Friends and readers often ask us about the Galápagos. Is it worth the expense, they say. Would you recommend going?

The truth is it’s hard to encourage people to visit when we’ve seen first hand the damaging effects of human presence on the islands. Equally, it’s hard to discourage people from visiting because a) it would be hypocritical and b) underneath the frenzied tourism lies a unique destination with some of the best beaches we’ve seen and the best diving we’ve ever done (sharks, rays, sea lions and turtles). Clearly, the islands are worth a visit. Continue reading