whale watching in Mirissa

Why we regret whale watching in Mirissa, Sri Lanka

Our first mistake was yielding to the hype. Sri Lanka is said to be the world’s only country in which you can see the largest land mammal (the elephant) and the largest water mammal (the blue whale), so we made whale watching in Mirissa a priority.

Our second mistake was using a local recommendation instead of our Sri Lanka guidebook – and thus we found ourselves at Mirissa harbour at 7am being herded onto a two-storey boat with 80 other people.

We placed our shoes in the communal storage box and gingerly headed upstairs. We found two empty seats at the back and pulled on our life jackets, watching in dismay as more and more people filed onto the boat with giant lenses and selfie sticks in tow. Continue reading

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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

Visiting Kon Tiki, the raft that crossed an ocean

In 1947, Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl crossed the Pacific Ocean on Kon Tiki, a rudimentary raft made of balsa wood. We took a trip to see the legendary vessel.

“Your mother and father will be very grieved when they hear of your death,” Thor Heyerdahl was told as he prepared to cross the Pacific by raft.

The raft’s dimensions were wrong, it was so small it would founder at sea, the balsa logs would break under strain or become waterlogged a quarter distance into sea, gales and hurricanes would wash the crew overboard, and salt water would slough the skin right off their legs – there was no end to the warnings. Continue reading

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Fram Museum in Oslo: a window into polar exploration

The Fram Museum in Oslo strikes the perfect balance between fact and fantasy, appealing to exploration junkies, history buffs and culture seekers alike.

Norwegians have a rich and successful history in polar exploration. Here in the UK we revere the names of Shackleton and Scott while only whispering those of Nansen and Amundsen. The legends of Shackleton and Scott are lauded for against-the-odds survival and ultimate sacrifice, while their Norwegian counterparts are known for triumphing in relatively undramatic glory. Continue reading

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Before they’re gone: landscapes affected by climate change

Climate change is taking an unprecedented toll on the Earth’s World Heritage Sites and natural wonders. Below, we take a look at some of the worst affected landscapes.

With the surprise news this week that Donald Trump will be the next president of the USA, it would be easy to overlook that with the news comes one of the biggest threats to the historic agreement on climate made in Paris earlier this year.

Trump has previously described climate change as “fictional” and “created by the Chinese”, and has promised to “cancel” the Paris climate deal completely. On the domestic front he also plans to repeal all federal spending on clean energy, including research and development for wind, solar, nuclear power and electric vehicles. Continue reading

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Hiking the South West Coast Path: Newquay to Penzance

The South West Coast path, Britain’s longest national trail, has long been on my hiking to-do list. It’s one of the finest long distance hiking trails in the world and showcases Britain at its best. Tent on back, I set off for a taste this summer.

I would love to spend a couple of months hiking the entire path but I didn’t have time for a thru-hike this summer, so decided to complete a section between Newquay and Penzance in Cornwall. Continue reading

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

Poles of inaccessibility: the middle of nowhere

The poles of inaccessibility are arguably the true last frontiers for explorers. But where and what are they?

I’ve long been fascinated with the most remote places on Earth and the epic journeys of discovery to reach them. I’ve spent countless long mornings lying in bed leafing through giant reference books on the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration and even longer afternoons poring over immense maps detailing epic quests across untamed oceans.

It was the names of Amundsen, Livingstone and Magellan and their unfathomable tales of distant lands, high seas and adventure that first inspired me to travel. For modern explorers the poles of inaccessibility represent the outer limits of mankind’s grip on our planet.

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

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

PADI Advanced Open Water Diver

10 reasons to do the PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course

In February last year, we arrived in South America after six months island-hopping across the Pacific Ocean. I knew we’d be spending more time on dry land here than we had in  SamoaTonga and Vanuatu where I passed my  PADI Open Water Diver course. Nonetheless, I was keen to improve my diving skills as we were planning to visit the Galápagos Islands with its excellent range of  sea life.

We stopped on the Atlantic coast of Colombia for a few days so that Kia could complete her Open Water Diver course. Not wanting to sit around on the beach for three days I decided to complete the PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course at the same time. It proved to be one of the best decisions of our trip. Many aspects of my diving improved dramatically, particularly my energy and air efficiency. Additionally, my confidence grew, as did my safety awareness. I discovered that with my new skills I could enjoy my time underwater even more. Continue reading

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Punta Arenas: following the Ferdinand Magellan route

The sprawling city of Punta Arenas, situated on the historic Ferdinand Magellan route, is not easy to define. It’s possible that the city itself is confused about its identity. Once a penal colony, it is today part roughneck, part modern metropolis, part open-air maritime museum.

The town’s position overlooking the coarse and inhospitable Strait of Magellan – the most important natural passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans – makes it essential to Chile’s maritime trade and provides access to the Antarctic peninsular. Continue reading

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11 surreal man-made dive sites

If you’ve ever dreamed of discovering the mysterious lost city of Atlantis, then these dive sites are sure to intrigue.

Man was designed to walk on land, but these underwater worlds suggest an alternative reality. From historic cities that have crashed into the sea at the hands of nature to artificial scenes constructed beneath the sea, these surreal man-made dive sites are utterly fascinating. Continue reading

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5 best South Pacific cruises

The Pacific Ocean is the largest body of water in the world and the South Pacific is arguably the most beautiful. Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan first entered the Pacific on an expedition of world circumnavigation from 1519 to 1522. He named the ocean Pacífico, meaning “peaceful”, as he was surprised at how calm the waters could be. Centuries later, sailors still flock to the great ocean to catch the trade winds in their sails. Continue reading

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How to pass the PADI Open Water Diver course

In theory, an expert diver should be writing this post. Logically, he or she could tell you what to expect, give you insider tips and prepare you for the challenge ahead. Of course, as a newly qualified diver, I have one advantage over the experts: I know first-hand just how hard it is for the nervous first-timer. I know what it’s like to almost back out of your first dive and to quit the course altogether. I also know how to get back on it.

Five months after my first attempt, I passed the PADI Open Water Diver course. Continue reading

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Why everything we thought about cruising was wrong (but also sort of right)

Our Serbian waiter, Damir, introduces himself to our table. His eyes alight on me and a smile itches at the corner of his lips.

“I remember you from boarding. You had on a huge backpack. I was wondering if you were going to fall backwards or forwards.”

Busted.

Colour spreads across my cheeks. “Ah, yes, that was me.” I explain to Damir and the table that we are indeed interlopers: two backpackers who’ve just happened to hitch a ride on a Princess luxury cruise. Everyone finds us terribly amusing and, if I may be allowed to say so, somewhat endearing. We are the youngest (and most likely poorest) passengers on the boat. I joke that I have two dresses I’ll be alternating at dinner. They laugh. Continue reading

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Bora Bora lagoon tour: money well spent

When we landed in Bora Bora, we were worried. Really worried.

It was the worst weather we’d seen in the Pacific. And I’m not talking about the tropical storm with torrential downpours and billowing breakers kind of bad weather, which is wretched but at least dramatic. I’m talking about miserable damp-towel, grey skies and sodden ground kind of bad weather. The sort of bad weather that signifies winter (and autumn and spring and often summer) in London – the sort of tedium we were trying to escape.

“I’m sure it will burn off,” I said confidently to Kia, not entirely convinced by my own optimism.

Luckily for us, it did burn off… after three days! Continue reading

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Swimming with humpback whales in Tonga

Swimming with humpback whales in Tonga was a truly humbling experience that very nearly didn’t happen for us! But luck was on our side that day.

It was late October, approaching the very end of Tonga’s whale watching season. We had been delayed in Samoa about a week longer than expected and arrived in Tonga just two days before the last day of the season. Desperate not to miss our opportunity to swim with whales, we hastily flew north to the Vava’u Islands, one of the best places to see the humpbacks. These majestic creatures migrate north from the Antarctic every summer to breed in warmer waters, heading back as soon as their young are strong enough for the journey. Continue reading

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Diving Juno Wreck with turtles in Samoa

Diving Juno Wreck with turtles in Samoa was a unique experience. Getting up close and personal to underwater wildlife like this is just incredible.

“You’ll either love it or find it extremely depressing,” reads the guidebook description of Satoalepai Turtle Sanctuary.

I’ve never been a huge fan of zoos and captive wild animals, so when I read about the chance to go diving Juno Wreck with turtles in Samoa at the sanctuary I decided to pass. Maybe I’d get a chance to see them in the wild… Continue reading