Elephant safari at Udawalawe National Park

I wasn’t enamoured with the prospect of camping at Udawalawe National Park in Sri Lanka. I’d had a particularly challenging run-in with a cockroach (a flying cockroach) at a hotel down the road and wasn’t quite ready for more.

As usual, Peter employed all his rugged country charm to convince me that ‘it’s safer in a tent’ because ‘there’s an airlock so nothing can get in’. So, despite the fact that I was done with camping, I agreed to do it once more at Udawalawe National Park. Continue reading

leopard at yala national park

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.

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

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A night’s tail: Aurora husky hike in Norway

An aurora husky hike in Norway is an essential Arctic experience for all animal lovers. Even the arresting scenery plays second fiddle to these beautiful animals.

While Kia does not describe herself as an animal lover, I most certainly do. I grew up in the countryside always in the company of animals. Over the course of my childhood we kept dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters. The presence of animals in my life has had a lasting effect on me. Continue reading

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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

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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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

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18 interesting facts about Ecuador

Despite its relatively small size compared with local giants Brazil and Argentina, Ecuador is home to an astounding array of wonders that include picturesque colonial towns, Amazonian rainforest, the spectacular peaks of the Andes and of course the fragile but alluring Galápagos Islands. Whether it’s nature, wildlife, culture, anthropology or language, this diverse country is sure to impress.

Here are the most interesting facts about Ecuador we picked up on our journey through its lands (and seas). Continue reading

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8 things to do in Puerto Natales, Chile

“We wanted an adventure holiday, but we wanted to come back in the evening to somewhere cozy and comfortable,” said Matt and Kirsty, two Americans we met during our stay in Puerto Natales.

Like them, we visited the windswept plains of Chilean Patagonia out of season meaning multi-day treks through Torres del Paine were out of the question. But that didn’t put a complete dampener on our experience. There was still plenty of adventuring to be enjoyed outside of Torres del Paine National Park without spending our days stomping along a hiking trail with only a fitful night’s sleep under canvas (not that I mind that of course). Continue reading

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How to visit the Galápagos on a budget

We thought twice about writing this post. The Galápagos were once an exclusive destination, but are now teetering on the precipice of mass tourism. We wondered if posts like this were contributing to the devolution of this once-secluded paradise. But, as we said in Eco-friendly tourism in The Galápagos, independent travel to the area is arguably more eco-friendly than visiting on a 100-strong cruise ship. If you’ve always wanted to visit, consider doing it yourself. Not only will you have more flexibility, you won’t have to spend several thousand pounds on your visit. Here’s how we saw The Galápagos on a budget and how you can too. Continue reading

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10 things to do on San Cristóbal, The Galápagos

The great thing about San Cristóbal is that there are so many sights within walking distance of the main town, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Many of these offer abundant wildlife opportunities that (usually) don’t cost a penny. We spent three days exploring the island’s many natural wonders and didn’t break the bank. If you’re lucky enough to visit The Galápagos, take the time to head over to San Cristóbal and visit these lesser-known but never underwhelming sights. Continue reading

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Eco-friendly tourism in The Galápagos

It’s a dream destination for many: the pristine islands of The Galápagos, haven to some of the world’s most unique and rare species of animal – or so we thought. There were certainly pristine sections of the islands but there were also roadworks in Puerto Ayora, broken beer bottles at Cerro Tijeretas, plastic bottles on Tortuga Bay and, saddest of all, a baby seal playing with a plastic spoon. Continue reading

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Swimming with Galápagos penguins

I once asked Peter how often people have to take in their cats to be trimmed.
He looked at me, confused. “What do you mean?”
“To trim their fur. How often do you have to do it?”
“Erm, normal people don’t trim their cats.” He started to laugh, amused as ever by my lack of knowledge when it comes to nature  especially when as pedestrian as looking after a cat.

As a child growing up in Tower Hamlets, I never had any pets, never experienced wildlife outside of a zoo, never really developed an affinity for animals. Peter’s watched me cringe at over-affectionate dogs (how can you let them lick your face!?), shoo away the cutest of kittens (I don’t like them near my food!) and roll my eyes as a delicate finch sipped water from our breakfast jug on Santa Cruz. In short: I’m not an animal lover. Continue reading

Diving the Galápagos

Diving the Galápagos Islands

Having just completed my PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course, I was keen to put my new skills to the test. Diving in the Galápagos Islands seemed the perfect way to do this.

We were pretty much winging our trip to the Galápagos but we decided to pre-book our first hotel as well as our diving. In the spirit of the Galápagos, we decided to break our budget for our first stop, and so checked into the luxurious Royal Palm Hotel in the centre of Santa Cruz. It was nice to be away from bustling Puerto Ayora, cocooned within lush gardens with epic views across the island. The hotel grounds include a lava tunnel, extensive gardens and even a barn owl! There is also a gym, large pool, a tennis court and in-room hot tub(!) as well as complimentary bikes to explore the surrounding interior where giant tortoises roam freely in the fields. It was a great base for starting our Galápagos adventure. Continue reading

Horse riding in Cotopaxi, Ecuador

Horse riding in Cotopaxi, Ecuador

Horse riding in Cotopaxi amid the Ecuadorian highlands in the shadow of volcanoes and mountains. A bit different to my horse riding lessons in London!

Our Ecuadorian guide smiles at the motley crew of would-be horse riders assembled in front of him. In Spanish, he asks if anyone has any experience. A few people shuffle their feet nervously. When no-one else speaks up, I put up my hand reluctantly.

“Yo tomó doce clases hace dos años,” I tell him in my faltering Spanish, explaining that I took 12 lessons two years ago.

He beckons me forward and leads me to a young buck, one of the bigger horses in the group. I swallow. During my lessons at Lee Valley Riding Centre, I was always given a small horse corresponding to my size, not to mention a platform to step up onto the horse. Today, I need a leg up. Continue reading

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The day we almost didn’t swim with whales

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

natural wonders of samoa

5 unmissable natural wonders of Samoa

Samoa is made up of two main islands, ‘Upolu and Savai’i. We split our time evenly between the two and were never short of activities to fill our days. Despite its tiny size, the natural wonders of Samoa are vast. I suggest hiring a 4WD on each of the islands and spending a day driving round and taking in the natural landscapes along the way. The roads are quiet and pretty much hug the coast on both the islands making it almost impossible to get lost. (I say ‘almost’ because I had Kia as my navigator…) Continue reading

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50 things to do before you’re 12

Two years ago, I came across The National Trust’s charming ’50 Things To Do Before You’re 11 ¾’ campaign, designed to get more kids out and about. I read through the list (below) and, to my dismay, realised that I had completed less than half the list. As I said at the time, growing up in London sucks.

I was reminded of the list a few days ago halfway up a tree on Tanna Island’s Little Beach. A mere two weeks on the road and I was more in touch with nature than in the two years since I first read the list. Evidently, living in London also sucks. Continue reading