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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

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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

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The best national parks in Sri Lanka for…

We explore the best national parks in Sri Lanka, their finest features, and when and where to see the country’s most celebrated animals.

For a relatively small nation, Sri Lanka has an abundance of wildlife in its 26 national parks. Considering that the UK (which is nearly four times the size) has 15 national parks, this is a huge number for such a small nation. In addition to its parks, Sri Lanka has scores of nature reserves and sanctuaries. Continue reading

whale watching in Mirissa

Why we regret whale watching in Mirissa, Sri Lanka

Our first mistake was yielding to the hype. Sri Lanka is said to be the world’s only country in which you can see the largest land mammal (the elephant) and the largest water mammal (the blue whale), so we made whale watching in Mirissa a priority.

Our second mistake was using a local recommendation instead of our Sri Lanka guidebook – and thus we found ourselves at Mirissa harbour at 7am being herded onto a two-storey boat with 80 other people.

We placed our shoes in the communal storage box and gingerly headed upstairs. We found two empty seats at the back and pulled on our life jackets, watching in dismay as more and more people filed onto the boat with giant lenses and selfie sticks in tow. Continue reading

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Safari photography tips: how to shoot wildlife (with a camera)

Having spent a considerable amount of our travels in jeeps on game drives, I’ve managed to photograph some beautiful and rare wildlife over the years. Along the way, I’ve picked up some indispensable safari photography tips be it through trial and error, talking to expert rangers, or just comparing photos with other enthusiasts. 

Here are some essential safari photography tips to help you get the most out of your wildlife experience. Continue reading

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11 countries for spotting rare wildlife

We love the great outdoors: hiking, cycling, sailing and swimming, and in particular spotting rare wildlife. We’ve been lucky enough to swim with humpback whales in Tonga, walk among giant tortoises in the Galápagos and, most recently, to watch herds of elephants in Udawalawe National Park in Sri Lanka.

Wildlife goes hand in hand with beautiful scenery and in most cases minimum human impact as well. There is still so much incredible and diverse wildlife to see and so many beautiful countries in which to see them. Here’s our wishlist of the best countries for spotting rare wildlife.

In every case, we’ve focused on destinations that support conservation efforts and sustainable tourism. Continue reading

Elephant safari at Udawalawe National Park

I wasn’t enamoured with the prospect of camping at Udawalawe National Park in Sri Lanka. I’d had a particularly challenging run-in with a cockroach (a flying cockroach) at a hotel down the road and wasn’t quite ready for more.

As usual, Peter employed all his rugged country charm to convince me that ‘it’s safer in a tent’ because ‘there’s an airlock so nothing can get in’. So, despite the fact that I was done with camping, I agreed to do it once more at Udawalawe National Park. Continue reading

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Spotting leopards at Yala National Park: 10 practical tips

We’ve been generally lucky in terms of travel ephemera. In the Norwegian Arctic, we saw incredible displays of the northern lights. In Tonga, we swam with whales on the very last day of the season and in the Galápagos, we snorkelled with penguins. Despite this, I kept my expectations low for our leopard safari at Yala National Park in Sri Lanka.

It was raining heavily and our guide, a Sri Lankan Scotsman named Damian, warned us that leopards tend to retreat to caves when it’s wet. In addition, fellow tourists had been out on two safaris the day before with no luck in sight.

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10 easy ways to travel green

Travelling green takes a little extra effort at first – but can soon become second nature. Here are some easy ways to travel green which will save you money too.

We at Atlas & Boots strongly believe that travel is a force for good. However, when you consider the environmental impact of commercial aviation, the overwhelming numbers flocking to sensitive ecosystems and the tourist-driven strain on resources, travel doesn’t look quite so pretty.

Whether it’s an appetite for low-budget air travel, air conditioned rooms or fully charged smartphones on the end of selfie sticks, the compulsion to travel takes a heavy toll on our planet. Continue reading

The world is not getting better

Life for humans may be improving but what about everything else that shares our planet?

In trying times, social media users tend to share think pieces, charts and graphics proving that humanity has never had it so good.

These graphics focus on the growth of lovely things like basic education, literacy, democracy and vaccination, and the decline of awful things like extreme poverty and child mortality.

The charts are often accompanied by pithy captions like “awesome proof that humanity hasn’t actually botched it.” Continue reading

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A night’s tail: Aurora husky hike in Norway

An aurora husky hike in Norway is an essential Arctic experience for all animal lovers. Even the arresting scenery plays second fiddle to these beautiful animals.

While Kia does not describe herself as an animal lover, I most certainly do. I grew up in the countryside always in the company of animals. Over the course of my childhood we kept dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters. The presence of animals in my life has had a lasting effect on me.

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Feeding Arctic reindeer in Tromso

I’m not an animal lover. I mean, yes, I’m vegetarian and, yes, I had one of those dinky green badges from Blue Peter when I was young, but this was due more to general environmentalism than a love for animals.

I’m wary of dogs, indifferent to cats, and have been known to ask how often people trim their kittens (answer: never). With this in mind, you’ll understand why I was unsure about our Arctic reindeer trip in Tromso. There was no snow on the ground so sledding was off the cards and we weren’t even sure if the reindeer would make it down from the mountains in time for our visit (two weeks before the official start of the season).

Nevertheless, we had a day spare and decided to spend it at Tromso Arctic Reindeer, 16km from the centre of town. Continue reading

Horse riding in Cappadocia

Stone rangers: horse riding in Cappadocia

In his 2009 memoir, journalist Sathnam Sanghera recalls a date with a Sikh girl who describes in detail the intricacies of the movie Police Academy.

Sathnam asks how she happens to remember so much about the film and she replies, “Asian girl. Didn’t get out much in the eighties.”

I laughed because her quip so perfectly captured my early years as an Asian girl in Britain. Despite being born and bred in London, I lived (and chafed) under an extensive set of strict rules which governed what I wore, what I ate, where I went, who I saw and what time I would be home after a day at school/college/university. 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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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