US national parks: 20 weird and wonderful sights

As spring takes hold in earnest, nearly all US national parks are preparing for a special week.

The National Park Service turns 100 years old this year and, to celebrate, is offering free entrance to over 120 US national parks and monuments on select dates. These include 16-24th April for National Park Week, 25th-28th for the official National Park Service birthday, 24th September for National Public Lands Day and 11th November for Veterans Day, as well as Martin Luther King Jr. Day which was on 18th January.

To help promote this fantastic celebration of the great outdoors, Atlas & Boots has hand-picked 20 weird and wonderful sights from a number of US national parks that you can see for free next week. Continue reading

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Visiting the international city of Geneva

Geneva in Switzerland is the very definition of a global city. With nearly half its population made up of foreign nationals and expats, it seems only right that the city is home to the United Nations headquarters as well as a further 20 international agencies including the Red Cross and World Trade Organization.

It was here that the Geneva Conventions were signed and today the city is a symbol of progress. From a charming and historic city centre to international landmarks and institutions, the city of Geneva is emblematic of modern 21st century Europe. Continue reading

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12 things to do in Montevideo, Uruguay

When we arrived in Montevideo we had less than two weeks of our round-the-world trip left and very little money. There are plenty of things to do in the city but it’s a relatively expensive destination in an already relatively expensive country. With just two days and near-empty pockets we made the best of the situation and saw the city by way of a DIY walking tour.

Stretching 20km from east to west, the cosmopolitan city of Montevideo is home to nearly half of Uruguay’s population. Like other major international cities, Montevideo has a historic financial centre, bustling markets, a plethora of fine museums and an expanding expat community. Continue reading

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Visiting the historic quarter of Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

We earmarked Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay as a place in which to stop and take a breather from our hectic travels. Much like our time in Tahiti in the South Pacific, we thought it would be an ideal place in which to pause for a few weeks and reset before continuing onto another chapter of our trip.

Unfortunately, by the time we reached Buenos Aires in Argentina – just 50km across the Río de la Plata – we were running desperately short on both funds and time. Therefore, what should have been an extended stay with some much-needed downtime turned into a brief stopover with little more than a whistle-stop tour of the major sights of the historic quarter (Barrio Histórico). 

Nonetheless, what we saw in Colonia del Sacramento, we liked. Continue reading

The oldest cities in the world

There’s a certain aesthetic attached to the oldest cities in the world: bustling souks beneath a bright blue sky, flowing garments made of whispery white cotton, stone masonry painted yellow by the sun.

In reality, however, the oldest cities in the world have faced deep unrest throughout their long histories. Tragically, some are still uninhabitable. The Syrian town of Aleppo, for example, is likely the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world but rages with civil war today. Damascus too is categorically off limits.
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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

21 dos and don’ts of visiting Cusco, Peru

Peru’s Incan gem is testament to the fact that tourism need not destroy a town’s charm and soul. Here’s what to know before visiting Cusco.

Cusco is one of the prettiest, cleanest and, yes, most consistent towns in which we’ve ever been. The imposing colonial architecture, the trimmed lawns and sweeping views work in flawless harmony to negate the pernicious effects of tourism. Even the ubiquitous golden arches of McDonald’s are coloured an inconspicuous black. Continue reading

15 interesting facts about Peru

Peru’s Machu Picchu tops bucket lists everywhere, most recently appearing at number three on Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist, a compilation of  500 unmissable attractions across the world ranked by the publisher’s global community of travel experts.

There’s no doubt that our Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu was one of the highlights of our trip around the world, but there’s certainly more to Peru. From gargantuan canyons to archaeological enigmas, this South American gem offers an abundance of culture and adventure. Here are the most interesting facts about Peru we picked up on our trip across its lands. Continue reading

7 cultural faux pas in London

On every corner: the extraordinary history of London

London lacks many things: picnic weather in July, a resilience to winter snow, an effective solution to the hipster invasion. What it does have in abundance – more so than almost any other city in the world – is an inexhaustible well of intriguing history. It spills forth from domes and spires, flows amid the currents of the River Thames, and rushes through the veins of our subterranean network.

In fact, so bountiful and broad is the history of London, one could easily walk past something different every day without realising its significance. Here we list 10 extraordinary historical sites hidden beneath a banal facade. Continue reading

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Visiting Easter Island: the middle of nowhere

I’m going to begin with a bold statement: visiting Easter Island deserves a place amid the Seven Wonders of the World, easily surpassing Christ the Redeemer and arguably one or two others as well.

Between us, Kia and I have visited all seven wonders and believe that visiting Easter Island deserves a place among mankind’s greatest constructions. Out there in the middle of nowhere, it is often forgotten compared with mainstream monuments and structures. But it shouldn’t be forgotten and it really shouldn’t be missed. For so many reasons, we left our hearts on Easter Island out there in the middle of the Pacific. Continue reading

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6 interesting Easter Island facts

We examine the island’s history and explain some of the most interesting Easter Island facts. This remote Pacific island is not only beautiful but full of mystery. 

First thing’s first, Easter Island is far. Very, very far. 

Map of Easter Island

In fact, it is one of the most remote communities in the world. Its closest inhabited neighbour is Pitcairn, 2,000km (1,200mi) to the west while the nearest continental land lies in Chile at a distance of 3,700km (2,300mi). In short, it’s not a short hop.

And so the question one must ask is: are the Easter Island statues worth the slog? Are these great hunks of rock worth the expense of a long voyage? Continue reading

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6 tips for visiting Isla Del Sol, Bolivia

If your trip to Bolivia is anything like ours, you’ll need a place to catch your breath and reset. Visiting Isla Del Sol is the perfect answer.

Like most round-the-world trips, ours has not been a big yellow ball of shining happiness but rather a gradient of colours. At one end lie vivid and soaring reds: the Mount Yasurs and Salar de Uyunis of the trip. At the other end are greys and browns: the 32-hour bus journey from Guayaquil to Lima, the insurance claim for ruined electronics. And in the middle are large swathes of greens and blues: the days that aren’t breathtaking or life affirming, but pleasant and fun nonetheless.

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10 real-life fairytale buildings

One of the best parts of travel is visiting a surreal place previously seen only in pictures. Whether it’s an unknown abode hidden in the hills of Portugal or an iconic structure plastered in the pages of National Geographic, these places are eye catching, heart halting, jaw dropping. In short, they could be straight out of a storybook. Here are our favourite fairytale buildings from across the world. Continue reading

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Nazca Lines flight: discovering one of the world’s great enigmas

Very little ignites my wanderlust as strongly as a great travel mystery. And as travel mysteries go, the mysterious lines of the Nazca Desert in southern Peru are one of the greatest.

The network comprises over 800 straight lines, 300 geometric figures known as ‘geoglyphs’ and 70 animal and plant drawings or ‘biomorphs’. The lines are largely indiscernible from ground level – however, from the skies above they reveal an arresting network of figures and channels which spread across the desert below. Continue reading

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Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu: highlights and lowlights

I look back on the highlights and lowlights of our Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu in Peru, to help future trekkers prepare for the challenge ahead.

There are three things I feared when embarking on our year-long trip around the world. First: the bugs (let’s face it, that was warranted). Second: our multi-day Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu (was I fit enough? Could I cope with the altitude? What about the lack of commode? Would I break down after a long bout of camping?). Third: Dealing with the Patagonian winter (I’ll face that battle when I come to it).

Having completed the 5-day Salkantay trek with Alpaca Expeditions, I can happily report that it was much easier than I expected. Day 1 was in fact the most challenging with several hours’ hiking uphill but after that it was all fairly straightforward.

I’ve put together a list of tips, highlights and lowlights to help future trekkers prepare for the challenge ahead.

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Best Machu Picchu trek: a comparison

What is the Best Machu Picchu trek for you? We compare the pros and cons of each route to help you choose the trek that’s right for you.

Machu Picchu, that great Wonder of the World, that icon of South America so ubiquitous on travel websites and agency storefronts. Is it any wonder would-be visitors fret about choosing the perfect trek?

Some book their trip months in advance to make sure they get their trek of choice, others are left heartbroken when they turn up to find that they’ve missed the boat.

Prior to our trip, we had one pressing question: is the Inca Trail worth it?

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San Agustin: the mystical funny faces of Colombia

San Agustin in Colombia is a sleepy little town buried in the rolling green hills of the southwestern part of the country. The town unfortunately lacks the pretty and quaint charms of colourful Guatape or adorable Salento, but makes up for it with Colombia’s finest archaeological park within walking distance.

Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, Parque Arqueológico is home to over a hundred 3,300-year-old statues carved from stone by the area’s famous pre-Hispanic masons. Comparable to Easter Island’s Moai statues, although not quite on the same scale, they depict some rather beguiling, if not creepy, animal-human hybrid creatures. Fanged faces smile awkwardly at you from all angles as you wander the forested trails and climb the green hilltops. Continue reading

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Escape to Alcatraz: visiting Alcatraz prison

I often joke that if you label any old building a tourist attraction and put it in a guidebook, people will come. It might be a prosaic power station, a random rock formation, or even a tour of a sewage factory – with enough PR, people will come.

In theory, visiting Alcatraz prison could fit into this category of non-attractions. It’s a prison. It has cell blocks, cells, walls and bars. Each cell is indiscernible from the next and the entire building, at least from the inside, should be largely unremarkable. Continue reading