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

happiest-countries-in-the-world

Happiest countries in the world 2017

The happiest countries in the world have been ranked in the latest World Happiness Report. Norway has snatched the title, jumping up from 4th last year and knocking Denmark into second place.

The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), a global initiative for the United Nations, has just published this year’s World Happiness Report. The SDSN employs an international group of economists, neuroscientists and statisticians to survey citizens on their subjective wellbeing and produce a comprehensive annual list of the happiest countries in the world.

Continue reading

Galle-Fort-featimg

Galle Fort in Sri Lanka: DIY walking tour

Galle Fort on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka is the unmissable destination of the region. It is easily and best explored on foot. Here’s how.

Built by the Portuguese, fortified by the Dutch, modified by the British and restored by the Sri Lankans after the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Galle Fort marks out Galle as Sri Lanka’s most intriguing city.

The 36-hectare Galle Fort occupies a promontory surrounded on three sides by the Indian Ocean. It was built first in 1588 by the Portuguese, then extensively fortified by the Dutch from 1649 onwards. When the British arrived at the end of the 18th century, they applied their own touch with the odd lighthouse here and a coat of arms there. Continue reading

Largest-islands-in-the-world-featimg

Colossal coasts: 10 largest islands in the world

We take a look at the largest islands in the world, from deserted Ellesmere Island in the Arctic Circle to metropolitan Honshu in Japan.

We’ve spent a fair amount of time on islands. Not only were we born and raised on one, but island destinations appear to be a reoccurring theme on our travels.

In 2014, we started Atlas & Boots with a six-month journey across the South Pacific via Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Hawaii. Our latest extended trip has seen us spend a month in Sri Lanka shortly followed by another in Mauritius. Continue reading

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

best books about hiking

Go the distance: 25 best books about hiking

We take a look at the best books about hiking, from thrilling adventure stories to technical trail guides and everything in between.

We’ve used Amazon and Goodreads’ bestsellers lists along with some personal favourites to put together a list of what we believe to be the best books about hiking.

Ranked in no particular order, the list includes a mix of hiking memoirs-turned-feature-films, gear and field guides, and inspirational tales of adventure. Continue reading

Hiking-trails-around-Ella-Sri-Lanka-featimg

5 hiking trails around Ella, Sri Lanka

Some of the best scenery in Sri Lanka awaits you on the hiking trails around Ella in the Hill Country. 

Many people head to Sri Lanka for the beaches – and the country does have some of the finest in the world – but it was Sri Lanka’s Hill Country that really captured our imagination. Carpets of tea plantations and alpine forests emerge from creeping morning mists to reveal some of the most beautiful scenery in the country (if not the world). Continue reading

Safari-photography-tips-featimg

Safari photography tips: how to shoot wildlife (with a camera)

Having spent a considerable amount of our travels in jeeps on game drives, I’ve managed to photograph some beautiful and rare wildlife over the years. Along the way, I’ve picked up some indispensable safari photography tips be it through trial and error, talking to expert rangers, or just comparing photos with other enthusiasts. 

Here are some essential safari photography tips to help you get the most out of your wildlife experience. Continue reading

how to hike to ella rock

Ella Rock: how to hike it yourself

A guide to hiking Ella Rock including detailed directions, a route map and a list of essential tips.

Ella in Sri Lanka is beautiful, they said. ‘The closest thing to an English country village’ and the perfect place to slow down, we’d read.

I dolefully thought of this when darting across the thundering traffic to dodge yet another taxi driver insisting on taking me somewhere I didn’t want to go. The main street, stacked with milkshake huts and charm-free cafes, is a loud and roiling stretch of conveniences set up for the tourist alone.

Only in leaving the village and literally heading for the hills will you see the Ella of the guidebooks: grand and expansive vistas that plummet and soar as far as the eye can fly. Nowhere are they more impressive than at the summit of Ella Rock, a dramatic peak approximately 5km from town. Hiking Ella Rock is fun, confusing, taxing, rewarding. Here’s how to hike it without the help of a guide. Continue reading

Countries-for-spotting-rare-wildlife-featimg

11 countries for spotting rare wildlife

We love the great outdoors: hiking, cycling, sailing and swimming, and in particular spotting rare wildlife. We’ve been lucky enough to swim with humpback whales in Tonga, walk among giant tortoises in the Galápagos and, most recently, to watch herds of elephants in Udawalawe National Park in Sri Lanka.

Wildlife goes hand in hand with beautiful scenery and in most cases minimum human impact as well. There is still so much incredible and diverse wildlife to see and so many beautiful countries in which to see them. Here’s our wishlist of the best countries for spotting rare wildlife.

In every case, we’ve focused on destinations that support conservation efforts and sustainable tourism. Continue reading

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

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…

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

Countries-we-most-want-to-see-featimg

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

Calm-amid-the-chaos-in-Colombo-Sri-Lanka-FEATIMG

How to find calm amid the chaos in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Colombo isn’t as frenetic as other Asian capitals, but it’s still a busy working city. Here are five ways to find calm amid the chaos at any time of day.

Home to nearly six million people, Colombo is the commercial capital and largest city of Sri Lanka. There is no metro or tram system so there’s no escape from the rumbling buses, tooting tuk-tuks and tinted cars that clog the wide boulevards.

In stark contrast to the rolling hills, tranquil tea plantations and picturesque beaches that define Sri Lanka, Colombo can feel like an invasive thorn in an otherwise placid landscape. Continue reading

ways-to-travel-greener-featimg

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

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

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

How-to-photograph-the-northern-nights-featimg

How to photograph the northern lights

We enlist some expert advice on how to photograph the northern lights. 

I’d been hankering after a Nikon ever since ruining mine in the Maldives a few years ago. Stuck with a clunky second-hand Canon, I often found myself fiddling with settings instead of getting the shot I was aiming for.

So, ahead of our trip to Norway, I bit the bullet and bought a new Nikon D610 along with a wide-angle lens. I also spent some time learning how to photograph the northern lights. I knew I may only get one chance and I wanted to be ready. To maximise my chances of getting the shots I wanted, I booked a tour with Andrei, an experienced photographer from Enjoy the Arctic. Continue reading

long-distance-hiking-trails-feat-img

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