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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22 books about obsessive searches

All travel to some extent is about searching. It may be a deep and yearning search for fulfilment, a soul-wrenching quest for absolution, or something far more base (Thailand, anyone?).

For some, travel is a way to silence an echoing need, be it for knowledge, enlightenment, glory or revenge. These obsessive searches take travellers on great journeys across the wild, usually giving rise to incredible tales of incredible lands. At times, these tales are humbling; at others, they are exasperating but never are they boring. Continue reading

Baños, Ecuador: why a little research goes a long way

There’s a certain romance attached to the ‘just turn up and see’ style of travel. It upholds the carefree, let-me-roam, Alexander Supertramp way of seeing the world; the travel touted by inspirational posters and idealised Instagram accounts, surfboard in one arm, skinny-limbed woman in the other.

In reality, just ‘turning up and seeing’ doesn’t always work so well. It was on the streets of Baños, Ecuador, that we bumped into a party of five friends with whom we had shared some meals in Cotopaxi. We asked if they were on their way to the hot springs, a set of baths heated by the nearby Tungurahua volcano (Baños translates as ‘baths’). Continue reading

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Natural wonders vs manmade sights

Atlas & Boots host Lonely Planet’s #LPChat.

In August, we hosted Lonely Planet’s #LPChat on Twitter to celebrate the release of their Ultimate Travelist, a list of 500 unmissable attractions across the world ranked by their global community of travel experts. The subject in question was natural wonders vs manmade sights.

On our travels, we’ve stood awed beneath a wide range of manmade sights, from Angkor Wat and Petra to the Easter Island moai and Incan ruins at Machu Picchu. We’re also desperate to discover unknown architectural wonders we haven’t yet seen. Continue reading

Diving the Galápagos

10 places to see before they’re gone – or perhaps not

Friends and readers often ask us about the Galápagos. Is it worth the expense, they say. Would you recommend going?

The truth is it’s hard to encourage people to visit when we’ve seen first hand the damaging effects of human presence on the islands. Equally, it’s hard to discourage people from visiting because a) it would be hypocritical and b) underneath the frenzied tourism lies a unique destination with some of the best beaches we’ve seen and the best diving we’ve ever done (sharks, rays, sea lions and turtles). Clearly, the islands are worth a visit. 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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Visiting Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

Before writing this post, I lamented to Peter that once you’ve been travel writing for a while, it’s hard to come up with fresh superlatives.

“I mean, you can’t say gaze-catching instead of eye-catching and you can’t say stride-stopping instead of heart-stopping, can you?” I asked, forlornly sipping my tea. The cause of my dilemma was Perito Moreno Glacier, a sight so overwhelming it’s utterly, er, step freezing. Nevertheless, I shall try my best to describe what followed our foray to this giant Argentine wonder. 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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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 Islands

Diving the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

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 Islands 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 rather luxurious Royal Palm Hotel in the centre of Santa Cruz island. 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

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 male, 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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Guatape: the best day trip in Colombia

When I’m about to visit a country for the first time, one of the first things I do is scan a guidebook and pick out a few highlights or must-sees. This can be dangerous business as you’re often putting yourself at the author’s subjective mercy. When I first scanned our guidebook’s Colombian highlights I saw colonial towns, national parks and coffee plantations. After a month in Colombia, I can safely say that the best day I had there barely gets a mention in the guidebooks. Continue reading

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On the road to Zion National Park

One of my favourite things about travel is its continuous ability to surprise me. Whether it’s discovering hidden beaches in Vanuatu or coming across sea turtles on a dive in Samoa, travel often presents the unexpected. The latest example was during our unplanned visit to Zion National Park in Utah on our (again unplanned) American road trip.

We had spent a couple of days exploring Grand Canyon National Park and were enjoying our final meal at our lodge when we got chatting to another group of hikers. They suggested adapting our route to take in Zion National Park. “It’s like a red Yosemite in the desert,” they told us. “You’ll love it.” Continue reading

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Off the beaten canyon: exploring Grand Canyon’s hidden gems

This article featured on Lonely Planet as one of their top posts from February 2015.

There’s something familiar about the Grand Canyon. Its dramatic landscape and red-gold hues have been depicted in movies, posters, pencil cases and postcards. It’s a recurring symbol of the road movie, a faithful slice of wholesome Americana – and, yet, when you see it for the first time, it’s still daunting, still overwhelming. Its sheer scale stretches for 277 miles (446km) along the course of the Colorado River, reminding you that America isn’t just a land of super-sized McDonald’s and greasy hotdogs; it’s home to some of the most beautiful scenery on the face of this Earth. Continue reading

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Things to do at the Grand Canyon

A trip to the Grand Canyon can be overwhelming, not only because of the incredible vistas on display but the sheer range of activities, hikes, trails and viewpoints to choose from. To make your visit as easy as possible, we put together the top things to do at the Grand Canyon during your trip. Note that numbers 1-4 can be done in a single day but you will need several days should you wish to do the rest. Continue reading