Mountains for mortals: 12 non-technical mountain climbs

As a climber, I have completed several indoor climbing and winter mountaineering courses but my technical climbing skills still leave a lot to be desired. I have mastered basic rope, ice axe and crampon skills but don’t practise them as often as I’d like. All too often I only find time for some wilderness backpacking in Europe or low-altitude scrambling in the UK. Regardless, I still have high hopes of climbing the seven summits. One day…

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Spotting leopards at Yala National Park: 10 practical tips

We’ve been generally lucky in terms of travel ephemera. In the Norwegian Arctic, we saw incredible displays of the northern lights. In Tonga, we swam with whales on the very last day of the season and in the Galápagos, we snorkelled with penguins. Despite this, I kept my expectations low for our leopard safari at Yala National Park.

It was raining heavily and our guide, a Sri Lankan Scotsman named Damian, warned us that leopards tend to retreat to caves when it’s wet. In addition, fellow tourists had been out on two safaris the day before with no luck in sight.

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10 easy ways to travel green

Travelling green takes a little extra effort at first – but can soon become second nature. Here are some easy ways to travel green which will save you money too.

We at Atlas & Boots strongly believe that travel is a force for good. However, when you consider the environmental impact of commercial aviation, the overwhelming numbers flocking to sensitive ecosystems and the tourist-driven strain on resources, travel doesn’t look quite so pretty.

Whether it’s an appetite for low-budget air travel, air conditioned rooms or fully charged smartphones on the end of selfie sticks, the compulsion to travel takes a heavy toll on our planet. Continue reading

The world is not getting better

Life for humans may be improving but what about everything else that shares our planet?

In trying times, social media users tend to share think pieces, charts and graphics proving that humanity has never had it so good.

These graphics focus on the growth of lovely things like basic education, literacy, democracy and vaccination, and the decline of awful things like extreme poverty and child mortality.

The charts are often accompanied by pithy captions like “awesome proof that humanity hasn’t actually botched it.” Continue reading

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10 long-distance hiking trails from around the world

I’m always looking for new outdoor challenges (to add to my current bucket list of climbing the seven summits and sailing the Pacific Ocean). Completing some epic long-distance hiking trails sounds like the perfect challenge for me. Traipsing along quiet hiking trails in the backcountry for weeks on end is my idea of heaven (and I dare say Kia would enjoy the time away from me too!). But, which one to choose?

Below, I list some of the best long-distance hiking trails from around the world. From trail hiking to trail blazing, these present perfect ways to enjoy the wilderness, nature and seclusion I so often yearn for. Continue reading

Is it time for tourism caps?

As world population grows, so too will mass tourism. Will capping visitor numbers help or hinder? We take a look below.

In June this year, approximately 30,000 Icelanders flocked to France to support their team in Euro 2016. What’s remarkable is that the exodus accounted for almost 10% of Iceland’s entire population.

Iceland is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world with only 330,000 residents spread across its vast expanse of land. With this in mind, it’s worrying to learn that an estimated 1.6 million tourists visited the country this year, far outstripping the number of residents and demonstrating a 20% increase on 2015 numbers. Continue reading

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Does the outdoors really have a diversity problem?

My younger sister watches the Arctic reindeer roam around on my screen. She smiles as one nips at a basketful of grain. Then, she double takes.

“Wait. Is that you?” she asks.
“Yeah. Of course.”
“You look like a farm girl!” she says in a tone somewhere between amusement and disdain. “Where’s your long coat?”
“I was in the Arctic,” I say. “I wasn’t going to wear a floaty coat from Zara.”

She tosses aside the phone, mystified as to why I’d choose comfort over style 350km north of the Arctic Circle.
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The best national parks in the world – by continent

The best way to see the world’s greatest natural wonders is to visit the best national parks in the world. Thankfully, governments around the world have taken steps to preserve their areas of outstanding natural beauty, their diverse animal and marine life, and tracts of pristine wilderness.

From the plains and deserts of Africa to the waterfalls and glaciers of South America, every continent has something different to offer. Here we list the best national parks in the world by continent.

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Feeding Arctic reindeer in Tromso

I’m not an animal lover. I mean, yes, I’m vegetarian and, yes, I had one of those dinky green badges from Blue Peter when I was young, but this was due more to general environmentalism than a love for animals.

I’m wary of dogs, indifferent to cats, and have been known to ask how often people trim their kittens (answer: never). With this in mind, you’ll understand why I was unsure about our Arctic reindeer trip in Tromso. There was no snow on the ground so sledding was off the cards and we weren’t even sure if the reindeer would make it down from the mountains in time for our visit (two weeks before the official start of the season).

Nevertheless, we had a day spare and decided to spend it at Tromso Arctic Reindeer, 16km from the centre of town. Continue reading

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Chasing the northern lights in Tromso

We travelled 350km north of the Arctic Circle to chase the elusive northern lights in Tromso. Here’s what happened.

I pulled the duvet up over my head and huddled against the headboard.

“I don’t want to go out,” I said, the words hot and sulky beneath the cover.

Peter pulled the duvet off the bed. “Come on, we’ve got to go.”

I sighed a weary sigh and dragged myself up. It’s true: I didn’t want to go out. We were in the Arctic Circle for God’s sake! It was six in the evening and freezing outside! And dark! And freezing! Continue reading

Horse riding in Cappadocia

Stone rangers: horse riding in Cappadocia

In his 2009 memoir, journalist Sathnam Sanghera recalls a date with a Sikh girl who describes in detail the intricacies of the movie Police Academy.

Sathnam asks how she happens to remember so much about the film and she replies, “Asian girl. Didn’t get out much in the eighties.”

I laughed because her quip so perfectly captured my early years as an Asian girl in Britain. Despite being born and bred in London, I lived (and chafed) under an extensive set of strict rules which governed what I wore, what I ate, where I went, who I saw and what time I would be home after a day at school/college/university.

I tell you this now to try and relay the small moments of wonder that tend to hit me when I’m travelling – because here I am, in cowboy gaiters, on a horse, riding through the dusty landscape of Cappadocia and the best way to describe the feeling is freedom. Continue reading

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Cappadocia balloon ride: a fairytale flight

A Cappadocia balloon ride gives passengers an unrivalled perspective of the area’s unique landscape of fairy chimneys, towering boulders and ridged valleys peppered with caves.

We had already spent three days exploring the lunar-like environment of Cappadocia. We had hiked, driven, ‘caved’ and ridden our way around Göreme National Park (the modern encompassment of the historic region of Cappadocia) and were soon ready for a full, unobstructed view from above. 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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Lowest point on Earth: visiting the Dead Sea

Peter loves collecting titles. So far, we’ve seen the driest place on Earth (Atacama Desert), the hottest place on Earth (Death Valley), the northernmost capital in the world (Reykjavik), the highest capital in the world (be it La Paz or Quito), the highest point in Africa (Mt. Kilimanjaro), the seven world wonders, the tallest mountain in the world (Mauna Kea), the end of the world (Ushuaia) and the international date line.

So, when the prospect of visiting the lowest point on Earth presented itself, Peter was predictably keen. Continue reading

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What is the greenest country in the world?

In January of this year, Yale University presented their latest Environmental Performance Index (EPI) Report naming Finland as the greenest country in the world. We take a look at the report and its key findings.

What is the EPI?

The EPI builds on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), formally adopted in September 2015. The main objective of the report is to assess and rank how 180 countries protect their ecosystems and human health, while in the process naming the greenest country in the world.  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

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Arctic vs. Antarctic: how to pick your polar adventure

The North and South Poles were only “conquered” in relatively recent history. The South Pole was first set foot upon in 1911 by the Norwegian Roald Amundsen after his epic race with the ill-fated Scott. The conquest of the North Pole is a little murkier thanks to its location in the middle of the Arctic Ocean amid waters that are almost permanently covered with permanently shifting sea ice.

It’s possible that Frederick Cook was the first to reach the North Pole in 1908, or perhaps it was Robert Peary in 1911 or maybe Richard E. Byrd who was the first to fly over it in 1926… But it wasn’t until Roald Amundsen’s definitive flight over the Pole on 12th May 1926 that the first consistent, verified and scientifically convincing attainment of the North Pole was recorded. Continue reading

Baños, Ecuador: why a little research goes a long way

There’s a certain romance attached to the ‘just turn up and see’ style of travel. It upholds the carefree, let-me-roam, Alexander Supertramp way of seeing the world; the travel touted by inspirational posters and idealised Instagram accounts, surfboard in one arm, skinny-limbed woman in the other.

In reality, just ‘turning up and seeing’ doesn’t always work so well. It was on the streets of Baños, Ecuador, that we bumped into a party of five friends with whom we had shared some meals in Cotopaxi. We asked if they were on their way to the hot springs, a set of baths heated by the nearby Tungurahua volcano (Baños translates as ‘baths’). Continue reading