Animal instinct: eco-friendly wildlife tours

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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 Norway

Polar bear death: has extinction tourism gone too far?

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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.

Diving Steve’s Bommie in the Great Barrier Reef

Diving Steve’s Bommie in the Great Barrier Reef coral moorish idol 1Atlas & Boots

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.

Phillip Island Penguin Parade: the day we saw 613 penguins

The Plus seating area offers the best view of the penguinsPenguins.org

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.

Things to do on Kangaroo Island, Australia

We chose not to visit Kangaroo Island Wildlife ParkAtlas & Boots

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.

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).

Swimming with whale sharks in Djibouti

interesting facts about Djibouti whale sharks in djibouti close upAtlas & Boots

Swimming with whale sharks in Djibouti promised to be the highlight of our trip – but would it live up to the hype?

I’m a pessimist and Peter’s the opposite, so while he was brimming with anticipation at the prospect of swimming with whale sharks in Djibouti, I sat dolefully in a corner wondering if a) we would even see a whale shark and b) if I would be able to keep up with it.

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.

Arctic vs. Antarctic: how to pick your polar adventure

Arctic vs. Antarctic cold weatherDreamstime

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.

Simien Mountains National Park: trekking Africa’s Grand Canyon

interesting facts about Ethiopia simien mountainsAtlas & Boots

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.

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.

Lone ranger: horse riding in Montenegro

Your fellow riders can offer a host of horse riding tipsAtlas & Boots

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.

Idiots abroad: should you speak out?

Elephants in Sri Lanka

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.

Bentota river safari in Sri Lanka

A crafty chameleon spotted on our Bentota river safariAtlas & Boots

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.

The best national parks in Sri Lanka for…

Elephants at Kaudulla National Park in Sri LankaAtlas & Boots

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.

Why we regret whale watching in Mirissa, Sri Lanka

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Whale watching in Mirissa is touted as a must-do, but tetchy tourists, crowded boats and unethical practices make for a deeply unsettling experience

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.

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

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Our safari photography tips gleaned from a decade of photographing wildlife

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.

Elephant safari at Udawalawe National Park

Best national parks in Sri Lanka for elephantsAtlas & Boots

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.