Wild continent: the best National Parks in Europe

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The best national parks in Europe are home to the wildest scenery and most thrilling outdoor pursuits the continent has to offer

Europe’s finest wilderness has quite rightly been enshrined and protected in its national parks. Great glaciers, soaring mountains and primeval forests stretch across Europe’s 50 sovereign states. We take a look at the wildest and best national parks in Europe.

Bentota river safari in Sri Lanka

A Bentota river safari promises all sorts of creepy things: crocodiles, snakes, bats and lizards. Here’s how we fared on ours

I was sceptical about our skipper. Small and slight and in his mid teens, he barely uttered a word of welcome. Peter and I boarded the boat and set off on our Bentota river safari with nary an instruction.

We had some information from our hotel about the length and price of the tour (2.5 hours, 1,800 LKR / 12 USD per person), but beyond that, we had little idea of what we might see.

Mekong river cruise: an indie traveller’s first time on tour

Flags and loudspeakers or authentic local experiences? We weren’t sure what to expect on G Adventures’ Mekong river cruise from Saigon to Siem Reap

I didn’t know what to expect of my Mekong river cruise through Vietnam and Cambodia. Firstly, I was travelling without Peter for the first time in four years. Secondly, I’d read mixed reviews of Vietnam and, thirdly, I was embarking on a tour with a pre-planned itinerary.

I won’t pretend that my ‘indie’ travel has been all hostels and roaches. My commissions outside of Atlas & Boots have taken me to numerous luxury resorts around the world, but I’d never before joined a scheduled group tour.

Geeking out at Itaipu Dam

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Peter thought I was joking when I suggested booking the special extended tour of Itaipu Dam. The mega-structure, split geographically and politically between Brazil and Paraguay, is one of the world’s largest hydroelectric projects. With 18 massive turbine generators and a reservoir stretching 160km (100mi), Itaipu Dam generates 90 million megawatt hours of energy every year. To put that into context, Brazil would have to burn 536 thousand barrels of oil per day to obtain equivalent energy from thermoelectric plants.

Naturally, I wanted to know more.

Iguazu Falls boat ride: drenched beneath a natural wonder

The Iguazu Falls boat ride experience was frantic and completely exhilarating! Getting beneath the roaring cascades was like nothing I’ve ever experienced

Atlas & Boots recently co-hosted Lonely Planet’s natural wonders vs manmade sights #LPChat debate on Twitter.  We were both firmly in the natural wonders camp, with Mt Yasur volcano in Vanuatu and Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina among our top travel experiences of all time.

Millennium Cave in Vanuatu: exploring in the dark

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Millennium Cave in Vanuatu is a fun and adventurous hike through Vanuatu’s biggest cave located on the outskirts of Luganville

We’re two weeks into our long-awaited round-the-world trip and already in the midst of a haze of activity. So far, we’ve had a day at Kiwanis (Vanuatu’s annual horse-racing event), swum beneath Mele Cascades waterfall, kayaked to Erakor Island, dived for the first time ever and seen the wreck of the SS Coolidge.

Every day has brought a new experience, the most demanding of which has been the Millennium Cave Tour, a trek through Vanuatu’s biggest cave located on the outskirts of Luganville on the island of Espiritu Santo.

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We set off with a group of six other adventurers, trekking through lush rainforest to the small village of Vunaspef where we were told to leave anything that couldn’t get wet. A few of our companions handed over expensive cameras, checking and rechecking that the guide would keep them safe.

Navigating the Li River, China

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I was backpacking with a friend through China in 2008 (my first big trip out of Europe!) and was keen to see as much of the country as possible.

So, when we arrived in Guilin after a long flight, we decided against the bus journey to Yangshuo and opted instead to take a boat (really just a motorised raft) along the 83-kilometer section of the Lijiang or Li River as it’s also known.

Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland: captivating, surreal, stunning

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Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland rages with sensational beauty and power

Kia has many talents but there are three things she just doesn’t do: cook, drive and navigate. This is fine – unless I’m on a snowy and slippery road with low visibility and she’s by my side insisting that she can’t read the map.

Luckily, on this occasion, I spotted a sign with a familiar name, þingvellir, and managed to navigate to our destination without the help of my lovely ‘assistant’.