Simien Mountains National Park: trekking Africa’s Grand Canyon

After Erta Ale and Dallol, would Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains National Park live up to the hype?

If Simien Mountains National Park really were ‘Africa’s Grand Canyon’, how was it that I knew nothing of it? Was this just Peter’s ploy to drag me out camping again?

I knew of the park by name, but couldn’t point to it on a map, or tell you what I might find there. To be honest, prior to planning our trip, I had no idea there were proper mountains in Ethiopia – a result perhaps of TIA syndrome which conjures dusty, flyblown vistas and not the vast gorges of lush beauty that populate Simien Mountains National Park. Continue reading

best passport to have

World’s most powerful passport 2018

Travelling can be a bureaucratic nightmare for those on restricted passports. Here we look at the best passport to have in 2018 based on the freedom it provides.

Ten years ago, in my first job after graduation, I shared an office with a researcher called Munir who I nicknamed Dr2 because he not only had a PhD but was also qualified as a medical doctor. (I recognise it’s not the wittiest name in the world but it was the best I could do at the time.) Continue reading

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Atlas & Boots’ top 10 posts of 2017

Let’s face it: 2017’s been a bit of a dumpster fire. The consequences of Brexit are becoming clear here at home in the UK while over the pond in the US, Trump’s administration has promised disaster for the environment.

At Atlas & Boots, it’s been a mixed year. On a professional level, we passed 200,000 monthly users on the site, hit a milestone in monthly income and accepted an invitation to become brand ambassadors for Lonely Planet. On a personal level, however, we’ve had serious illness and bereavement in our families. So, yes: a mixed year. Continue reading

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“This is Africa”: useful mantra or ugly prejudice?

“This is Africa”, or TIA, is used to shrug off a range of inconveniences, but does its casual use perpetuate harmful stereotypes?

Africa, more than any other continent, has a PR problem. Popular culture tells the west that Africa is a land of conflict and famine where progress is slow and corruption is rife. Even the ‘better’ half of Africa is riddled with cliché: the giant red sun, open savannah and fearsome tribes in native garms.

The most pervasive cliché perhaps comes wrapped in a snappy epithet: “This is Africa” or its diminutive form, TIA. Continue reading

Dallol in Ethiopia, the hottest place on Earth

Dallol: visiting the hottest place on earth

We visit Dallol, a collapsed volcano crater filled with acid ponds, poisonous chlorine and sulphur gases, inside the Danakil Depression of Ethiopia.

I wasn’t daunted at the prospect of visiting Dallol, dubbed the hottest place on Earth. Despite its temperatures regularly reaching 45°C (113°F), I knew that after visiting Erta Ale volcano in the region, Dallol would be a walk in the park – if the park was a collapsed volcano crater filled with acid ponds and geysers, poisonous chlorine and sulphur gases.

Dallol lies 116m (380ft) below sea level in the Danakil Depression of the Afar region in Ethiopia and is part of the East African Rift where three continental plates are being torn apart. Continue reading

10 tips for photographing local people

At Atlas & Boots, we have photographed some incredible landscapes, from the crackling blue ice of Perito Moreno glacier to the mythical moai of Easter Island. What we’re less good at is photographing local people.

This may be rooted in an article I once read which asked how we in the west would feel if someone stopped in the street to snap a picture of us or our children and then walked off without saying a word. Clearly, we would find this intrusive. And yet the field of portrait photography flourishes with sumptuous pictures of nomads and tribespeople gracing every issue of National Geographic and the like. Continue reading

Christmas gifts for travellers fireplace

10 Christmas gifts for travellers

Every year, we write a quick update about where we’re spending Christmas. This year, we’ll be home in the UK, wedged between longer trips to Ethiopia and Djibouti in Nov-Dec and Australia and New Zealand in Feb-Mar.

We’re excited about the travels ahead, but also looking forward to a few weeks at home. It’s not Christmas in Tahiti, but it’ll do just fine.

In another of our yearly traditions, we’ve put together our list of 10 Christmas gifts for travellers, perfect for long sojourns abroad or comfy Christmases spent at home.

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best countries to visit in 2018: china

Are these really the best countries to visit in 2018?

Winter is coming and, with it, the customary slew of ‘Best Of’ and ‘Must Do’ lists summing up everything from the funniest one-liners on Twitter to the best countries to visit in 2018. Everyone’s at it, from The New York Times who are readying to publish their 52 Places, to industry stalwarts Lonely Planet who have just released their Best in Travel.

These peppy lists of perfect places do exactly what they’re supposed to: inspire intense wanderlust, but amid the desk-bound dreaming, it’s wise to ask if there’s a danger in genuflecting to the experts. Should we really gather these pearls of wisdom and place them in our bucket lists? Continue reading

Interesting facts about Montenegro: Tara Canyon

19 interesting facts about Montenegro

At Atlas & Boots, we try to spend at least two weeks in any given country. Sadly, my recent horse riding trip in Montenegro was limited to just seven days. Given that I spent most of my time in the saddle, I had little interaction with the locals. Any chance I had was usually spent refusing second (and third) helpings of rakija, a colourless brandy of 40% alcohol!

I was keen to learn more about the country and thus set out to gather some interesting facts about Montenegro. Here’s the best of what I found. Continue reading

Saddle up: horse riding tips for your first tour

Essential horse riding tips for your first tour, gathered from a challenging week in the mountains of Montenegro.

Some may say that I’m poorly qualified to write this piece. After all, in the few years since I first mounted a horse, I’ve been trodden on, kicked in the shin while riding, kicked in the back while not riding and, more recently, fallen off a horse and got pinned beneath it with my foot stuck in the stirrup.

I’d argue that as a relative novice I’m actually well placed to offer horse riding tips for your first tour. I understand the threats, challenges, and surprises of riding as a newbie and can help others navigate around them (a reason perhaps why my novice’s guide on how to pass the PADI Open Water Diver course has been used by over 45,000 people). Continue reading

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Lone ranger: horse riding in Montenegro

While Peter went climbing in Russia, I opted for something far more amenable: horse riding in Montenegro.

I was alone in more ways than one.

I was travelling without Peter for the first time this year; I was the only non-French speaker on our seven-night tour; I was the only vegetarian in the group; and I was the least experienced rider by far.

‘No matter,’ I thought on Day 1. I could spend the week improving my riding and my French all at the same time.

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It’s sexist to assume I’m not adventurous

Despite what some may think, I don’t do adventurous things just because my boyfriend likes them.

Last week, Peter and I were talking to an acquaintance (let’s call him Jack) about our possible trip to Australia next year. Over a shared pizza, Peter mentioned that he would love to dive with sharks in Perth.

Jack threw me a look and laughed. “Ha, I don’t suppose you’ll be joining him for that.”
I nodded. “Yes, as long as the sharks are treated responsibly.”
“‘Responsibly?'” He nudged Peter. “It sounds like she’s trying to get out of it, mate.” Continue reading

Announcing Remote Jobs at Atlas & Boots

Do work that matters from a place you love.

We are super excited to announce Remote Jobs at Atlas & Boots, a new section that matches skilled digital nomads and expats to companies genuinely committed to remote working.

We wanted to take a moment to tell our readers about the new section and to explain why it’s an important addition to our site.

As most of you know, Peter and I spend our time travelling and working on the road. In between our trips abroad, we are based in a tiny French village called Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes. It’s a good life; exactly the sort of life you would imagine of a tiny French village. Continue reading

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Hiking Le Morne Brabant in Mauritius: a guide

A guide to hiking Le Morne Brabant in Mauritius including a map to the trail entrance and our hard-earned tips and caveats.

I wasn’t worried about hiking Le Morne Brabant in Mauritius. After climbing Nevis Peak in St Kitts & Nevis and navigating sections of sheer rock on Spencer Trail in the US, I thought hiking Le Morne Brabant would be easy. I certainly wasn’t expecting to quit a few metres from the top… Continue reading

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Idiots abroad: should you speak out?

What’s the appropriate reaction to tourists behaving badly?

I’ve always been sceptical of the introvert vs. extrovert dichotomy. A common interpretation of this theory suggests that people’s personalities belong in one category or the other. In reality, however, most of us likely lie somewhere on a spectrum between the two.

I’m generally a confident person, I’m comfortable with public speaking and I enjoy meeting new people, but I also have a healthy dose of British reserve. I’d rather avoid confrontation if possible and am more likely to silently seethe about manspreading or queue jumping than speak out and create a scene. Continue reading

Turtles seen while diving at Trou aux Biches

Diving at Trou aux Biches, Mauritius

Diving at Trou aux Biches after a year’s break reminds us why we fell in love with scuba in the first place.  

We’ve arrived. In Mauritius. To hike and dive. For a month! What an absurd set of sentences for an ex-teacher and jobbing writer.

We’ve tooled together our month-long stay through a local contact and so here we are on the extraordinary island of Mauritius amid soaring volcanic mountains, yawning valleys and of course some of the best beaches in the world.

We waste no time in finding an idyllic stretch of coast at our first stop of Trou aux Biches. Continue reading

Mont Saint-Michel: 10 dos and don’ts

Essential tips for visiting the most fantastical building in France.

When it comes to French architecture, there are myriad contenders for the throne. The most notable is the Eiffel Tower, a world-famous symbol of Gallic ingenuity.

Then there’s the Louvre, possibly the most famous museum in the world. After that we have the Notre Dame and, in any chosen order, the Arc de Triomphe, Sacre Coeur, Palace de Versailles and the Pantheon.

Less famous but more impressive is Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy’s abbey on a rock in a bay. Continue reading