Star struck: exploring the world’s Dark Sky Reserves

Stars shine over the South DownsDreamstime

International Dark Sky Reserves are protected areas that offer exceptionally starry nights. We review the 16 places that hold this hallowed status

They sound like something out of Star Trek, these ‘Dark Sky Reserves’ – like they may have been conjured one evening in a lively LA writers room. Unlike the ‘Delta Quadrant’ or ‘Delphic Expanse’, however, International Dark Sky Reserves actually exist.

Happiest countries in the world 2020

happiest countries in the world lead image 2020

The happiest countries in the world 2020 have been ranked in the latest World Happiness Report. For the third year running, Finland holds on to top spot

Happiness is a nebulous thing; hard to grasp and harder to hold onto. Scientists, economists and philosophers have defined it through the ages as a combination of different things, among them health, wealth, companionship and security.

17 megadiverse countries of the world

A tiger lazes in Ranthambore in IndiaOndrej Prosicky/Shutterstock

We profile the world’s megadiverse countries, from obvious contenders like Ecuador and Brazil to one or two surprise entries

It should be comforting to know that a mere 17 countries hold more than 70% of the world’s species. It should be easy to rally this small group of ‘megadiverse countries’ to protect the planet’s extraordinary biodiversity. Alas, some of these countries are also the world’s biggest consumers and polluters. 

Non-technical mountain climbs: 12 trekking peaks

mountaineering calendar whitney usaDreamstime

There are no ‘death zones’ on these non-technical mountain climbs but they offer plenty of challenges for mere mortals like me

As a climber, I have completed several indoor climbing and winter mountaineering courses but my technical climbing skills sill 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.

Stewards of the wild: 10 famous environmentalists that give us hope 

Jane Goodall is one of the most famous environmentalists of our time.The Nature Conservancy/Fair Use

We profile 10 famous environmentalists, from the girl who lived in a tree for two years to the sea captain faced with Interpol arrest

I recently read a fact that stopped in me my tracks: in optimum conditions, some trees can live forever. They are vulnerable to predators, disease and natural disasters, but unlike humans, these ‘biologically immortal’ trees rarely die simply because they get old.

Most peaceful countries in the world 2020

most peaceful countries in the world 2020

The most peaceful countries in the world have been updated for 2020. Read our insights from the study and browse the rankings below

The world has become slightly more peaceful for the first time in five years, according to the latest Global Peace Index (GPI) report.

However, over the last 10 years the world has become less peaceful overall with the average level of global peacefulness deteriorating by 3.78%.

The GPI report is the only statistical measure of its kind and makes it possible to rank 163 independent states based on how peaceful they are. The 163 states cover over 99.7% of the world’s population and are assessed using 23 indicators, each banded or normalised on a scale of 1-5.

Wall diving in the Turks and Caicos: a glimpse at the abyss

Peeking into the blue while diving in the Turks and Caicos

Diving in the Turks and Caicos will no doubt lead you to its famous wall. There you will stare into a literal abyss that dives 2,000m to the bottom of the sea

There’s a moment in the Jude Law film Black Sea where a deep-sea diver falls off a murky underwater ridge and careens into the pitch-black depths of the ocean. For someone who struggled to learn to dive, the idea was pretty bloody terrifying. 

Of course, in recreational diving, this sort of thing doesn’t happen – especially when you dive no deeper than 18m. Nonetheless, I was reminded of this scene when wall diving in the Turks and Caicos on the ninth day of our Caribbean cruise.

Eye-opening moments from our Caribbean cruise

After a busy year of trekking and writing, we decided to treat ourselves to a touch of indulgence

I’m not going to lie: I was in two minds about our Caribbean cruise. We had initially planned a cruise in Alaska but it clashed with commitments around my book. We pushed back our dates to December and were left with one obvious destination: the Caribbean. 

World’s most powerful passports 2020

We take a look at the world’s most powerful passports based on the ease with which you can enter foreign countries

Japan has been named the world’s most powerful passport in 2020, beating Singapore in second place and Germany and South Korea in third. 

The Henley Passport Index uses data from the International Air Transport Authority to measure how many destinations a passport-holder can enter without a prior visa. It analyses 199 different passports and 227 travel destinations to produce what is considered the most authoritative ranking of its kind.

Poorest countries in the world – ranked

interesting facts about Ethiopia poor countryAtlas & Boots

African nations dominate the ranking of the poorest countries in the world based on the latest data from the World Bank

We all have preconceptions about places. Take Ethiopia for example. As children of the eighties, Kia and I were only too aware of the struggles Ethiopia has faced historically: political unrest, civil war and, of course, famine.

It was easy then to imagine a vast desolate dust bowl ahead of our visit in 2017. 

30 most beautiful mountains in the world

Ama Dablam is a thing of beautyDaniel Prudek/Shutterstock

The most beautiful mountains in the world have captivated climbers for centuries. Here, we examine their lethal appeal

“You are not in the mountains. The mountains are in you,” said John Muir, the renowned naturalist, author and environmental philosopher.

If our resident seven-summit hopeful is an apt barometer, Muir makes a valid point. Those who spend time in the mountains seem to be driven by a deeper force. These brave men and women will face vertiginous vertical falls, sub-zero temperatures and 8,000m death zones in pursuit of their summit dreams. It’s in ode to them that we present this list.

UNESCO’s newest World Heritage Sites

Fanjingshan in Chinasanyanwuji/Shutterstock

From Inuit hunting grounds to sacred mountain monasteries, UNESCO’s newest World Heritage Sites have been formally recognised for their outstanding value

The aim of UNESCO’s list is to identify, protect and preserve sites of cultural and natural heritage considered to be of exceptional value to humanity. These sites include a range of locations such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, east Africa’s Serengeti, the Pyramids of Egypt and Machu Picchu in Peru.

To be included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, nominated sites must be of “outstanding universal value” and meet at least one of 10 selection criteria.

10 most visited countries in the world

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul, TurkeySamet Guler/Shutterstock

We profile some usual suspects plus one or two surprises in the top 10 most visited countries in the world

Have you dreamed of a romantic kiss atop the Eiffel Tower? Perhaps you’ve thrown a wish into the Trevi Fountain or stopped and stared at the Sistine Chapel. If so, you’re certainly not alone.

According to the latest UNWTO Tourism Highlights report, France and Italy are two of the most visited countries in the world.