spotting sloths in manuel antonio

Searching for sloths in Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

With their sluggish limbs and camouflaged fur, sloths aren’t often easy to spot. We pinned our hopes on Manuel Antonio.

There were two animals we were keen to see on our National Geographic Expedition to Costa Rica: the red-eyed tree frog and the three-toed sloth.

The first was surprisingly obliging and we took a decent snap on mere day two of the tour. The sloth, however, remained elusive. The one we did spot by a roadside was barely discernible from the surrounding branches and left us eager for more.

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monteverde cloud forest

Withering heights: saving Monteverde Cloud Forest

We visit Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica and learn that despite its visible vibrancy, there’s more to it than meets the eye.

In some ways, Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica is its own worst enemy. This dark and dripping place teems with life. Strangler figs tower above the forest floor, their trunks as sturdy as stone. Lush mosses and filmy ferns carpet the canopy in green while spindles of yellow justicia and vibrant red passiflora add a slash of colour.

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Costa Rica: our first National Geographic Expedition

Our trip to Costa Rica was a long time coming. Here’s why it was worth the wait.

I have a bit of a backstory when it comes to Costa Rica and it starts when I was nine years old. It was a perfectly ordinary morning that began with an assembly at my primary school in east London. The teacher on stage ran through some customary notices and then segued into a zany idea: the potential for a group of pupils to travel to Costa Rica as part of an environmental initiative. The chosen ones would live and study in Costa Rica for four weeks to learn about global environmental challenges and solutions.

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Our epic self-drive safari through Namibia

Our self-drive safari through Namibia showed us the finest wildlife and landscapes this arresting country has to offer.

I landed in Namibia three days ahead of Kia. She had some book-related business to wrap up in London so I arrived alone to begin a 17-day self-drive safari through Namibia with Wild Dog Safaris.

We’ve always had mixed feelings when it comes to organised tours. We’ve often preferred to piece together our trips independently to make sure we see exactly what we want. That said, there are some parts of the world – be it for logistical or security reasons – where an organised tour just makes more sense. Continue reading

Tracking leopards and cheetahs at Okonjima Nature Reserve, Namibia

We visit one of the world’s best places to see cheetahs and leopards: Okonjima Nature Reserve in Namibia.

I’ll be honest: in theory, I like the idea of staying at an eco lodge; in practice, however, I’m unenthused by the prospect of drop toilets, limp water pressure, poor ventilation that leaves everything a little damp, or open walls that grant entry to bugs. This might explain why I was sceptical about staying at Okonjima Nature Reserve in Namibia.

As stewards of conservation charity AfriCat, Okonjima is exactly the sort of place that might offer imperfect facilities under the banner of Doing Good. Continue reading

Safari in Etosha National Park lion under tree

Safari in Etosha National Park: where the wildlife comes to you

A safari in Etosha National Park is like nothing else. There is little need to search for animals. In Etosha, they come to you. 

Even if you’ve had a taste of African wildlife-watching before, a safari in Etosha National Park is enthralling. Namibia’s premier national park is one of Africa’s great safari destinations and teems with wildlife, from big game mammals to tiny colourful birds. Animals here don’t come two by two, but by the dozen. Continue reading

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Animal instinct: eco-friendly wildlife tours

A curated selection of eco-friendly wildlife tours that place animal protection at the top of their agenda.

Having just returned from an incredible diving trip in the Great Barrier Reef, we’ve seen first hand how important it is to choose eco-friendly wildlife tours to minimise the environmental impact of our travels.

We’ve always maintained that tourists should be able to visit vulnerable places as long as they do so in a sustainable way. Of course, no tourism is impact-free. Only last month, a cruise ship guard tragically shot dead a polar bear in NorwayContinue reading

Polar bear death: has extinction tourism gone too far?

A cruise ship guard recently shot and killed a polar bear. Did the bear get too close, or the tourists?

I don’t usually dig myself into holes that I can’t climb out of. I like strong arguments and clear answers – but there’s only one answer here and, sadly, it’s one I don’t like.

Let me start at the start: on 28th July, a cruise ship guard shot a polar bear in Svalbard, an Arctic archipelago that lies between Norway’s mainland and the North Pole. Continue reading

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Diving Steve’s Bommie in the Great Barrier Reef

A first-hand report of diving Steve’s Bommie in the Great Barrier Reef including information on when to go, how to get there and what to expect.

It started with a whisper, as if he were revealing a state secret or the coordinates of Atlantis. His shoulders eased into the buttery leather of his seat, his stance loose and casual, as if this were any other drink on any other evening of our small-ship expedition across the Great Barrier Reef. His tone, however, betrayed something different: a low and certain intensity, alerting us to the fact that this dive would be like no other.

He would need special dispensation from the captain, said Colin, our dive instructor on the expedition. We’d have to leave early and take the dinghy and be back before breakfast. Nothing was guaranteed, but he’d talk to the captain and we’d wait and see. Continue reading

Phillip Island: the day we saw 613 penguins

We visit the Phillip Island Penguin Parade in Australia to see if it’s worth the hype.

There is a palpable tension in the air. It reminds me of the atmosphere at a standing-only gig just before the doors open: everyone acts calm but then rushes forward in a desperate attempt to secure a good spot, pushing people like me – short, slight, little – to the outer margins of the room.

Needless to say, I hate standing-only gigs. Continue reading

Things to do on Kangaroo Island, Australia

From charming wildlife to soaring sand dunes, we share the best things to do on Kangaroo Island in Australia.

Kangaroo Island doesn’t get much billing among the famous sights of Australia. There’s Uluru of course and the Great Barrier Reef and the cities of Sydney and Melbourne, but Kangaroo Island remains less known – perhaps no bad thing.

Home to around 60,000 kangaroos, this island has more roos than it does people. The roads are straight and empty and the pace of life is slow: a little bit prairie, a little homegrown. Continue reading

To Penguin Island from Perth, Australia

We visit Penguin Island from Perth to hunt for Australia’s most adorable creatures.

I was determined to see penguins in Australia. My hunt for penguins in the Galápagos was only just successful with a one-minute sighting after three days of searching. I hoped that Australia would deliver a closer encounter.

And so we headed to Penguin Island from Perth a day after arriving in Australia (following a 24-hour delay no less). Continue reading

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Visiting Decan wildlife refuge in Djibouti

Decan wildlife refuge in Djibouti offers an oasis of calm outside Djibouti City and the chance to get close to some charming wildlife.

Decan, which stands for DÉCouvrir et Aider la Nature (discover and help nature), is located just 20 minutes outside Djibouti’s dusty capital city. The refuge is home to an array of species including cheetahs, lions, ostriches, tortoises, Somali donkeys, caracals, squirrels, oryx, antelopes, kudus, zebras and porcupines. Continue reading

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Arctic vs. Antarctic: how to pick your polar adventure

If you’ve ever dreamt about visiting one of the polar regions, use our guide to picking your Polar adventure: Arctic vs. Antarctic.

The North and South Poles were only “conquered” in relatively recent history. The South Pole was first set foot upon in 1911 by the Norwegian Roald Amundsen after his epic race with the ill-fated Scott. The conquest of the North Pole is a little murkier thanks to its location in the middle of the Arctic Ocean amid waters that are almost permanently covered with permanently shifting sea ice. Continue reading

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

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

horse riding in Montenegro

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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Elephants in Sri Lanka

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

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. Continue reading