Judging the Wanderlust World Guide Awards is a bittersweet challenge. It’s a joy because the judges and I are always blown away by the wonderful testimonials sent in by you and the guides’ colleagues. But it’s also very difficult because choosing winners from that star-studded shortlist is almost impossible. I spend hours reading your impassioned, inspirational anecdotes – often with a tear in my eye.
Even now, in the 13th year of the awards, the job never gets easier, but it is always a privilege to honour the people who go out of their way to make your adventures unforgettable. In addition to the Bronze, Silver and Gold awards, we have introduced three ‘Special Awards’ to mark the 25th anniversary of Wanderlust: a commendation for the top safari guide, conservation guide and UK guide.
I established the World Guide Awards after the death of Wanderlust co-founder (and my late husband) Paul Morrison in 2004. He championed the importance of great guides, so I wanted to create something fitting in his memory – and I am sure that he would have been as enthusiastic about this year’s finalists as we are.
We announced the results at London’s Royal Geographical Society on 4 October, joined by the guides themselves as well as hundreds of their supporters. It was, as always, a joyous and emotional evening – but if you couldn’t make it on the night, you can meet all of the winners right here on these pages. We think they’re amazing, and we’re sure you will too.
We asked you to nominate your favourite guides, and you sent over 4,000 recommendations – a record-breaking year. We narrowed down these nominations to a shortlist of ten before inviting further testimonials from their clients and colleagues. The judging panel then decided who’d win Gold, a £5,000 bursary; Silver, £2,500; and Bronze, £1,000. The bursaries were kindly donated by Craghoppers.
Where she guides: Worldwide
Booked through: Dragoman
Julie has led countless tours all over the world, but one thing remains constant: her dedication to making every trip unforgettable. Her passion and talent shone through in every testimonial we received, and it’s clear that she always goes beyond the call of duty.
Originally from Preston, Julie left home at 19 in search of adventure. She quickly gained an impressive CV (from designing self-drive tours in New Zealand to managing a ski company in France), and joined Dragoman in 2013 as a trainee guide. Since then, she has risen through the ranks – leading trips all over the world.
But Julie doesn’t stop there: she’s actively involved with training new guides, and is praised by her colleagues for her quick thinking, willingness to help others and endless enthusiasm for creating incredible experiences.
“I am deaf, so travelling can be difficult. But Julie always spoke clearly so I could lipread, made sure I knew exactly what was happening and gave me the confidence to join in. She did something much more valuable than many other guides I’ve travelled with: she gave a bit of herself to help me. She was more than just a guide.”
“The best guide I have encountered in 40 years of adventure travel.”
“A top-notch leader and an excellent driver of 18-tonne trucks!”
“She leaves a trail of happiness wherever she goes, and as a mentor she is unrivalled”
The judges picked up on Julie’s humour, empathy and organisational skills. Gill Russell said, “I was really impressed with her negotiation skills at checkpoints that others couldn’t penetrate, and by her peers saying they would trust her with their lives.”
Julie plans to split her £5,000 bursary between many charitable projects, including Zara Charity, in Tanzania, which are fundraising to replace the solar panels that power a school for Maasai children, and a charity in Sierra Leone that supports victims of female genital mutilation (FGM).
Where he guides: South America
Booked through: G Adventures
It’s his attention to detail and excellent rapport with his clients that marks Neil as one of the top guides in the business. The testimonials were full of stories about his warmth and wit, and we were amazed to learn that he writes personalised postcards to each of his guests at the end of their trip. He has encyclopedic knowledge, but he’s often spotted with his head in his books, learning even more about the destination’s history and culture.
Neil caught the travel bug while studying in Hong Kong, and since then he has lived in Barcelona, climbed mountains all over the world and cycled from England to Turkey. In 2011, he joined G Adventures and has led groups in South America for them over the past five years.
We were inundated with anecdotes from Neil’s clients, describing how he opened their eyes to new experiences, cultures and destinations – always with lots of laughter along the way.
“One hundred percent devoted to ensuring that everyone has their best trip ever.”
“He empowers his clients to put themselves into the fabric of the destination. Neil reveals the richness of a place with humility, confidence and abounding energy.”
“Neil is so knowledgeable. He was always telling us stories of the area to enrich our experience, and was always reading his history books. He made sure that not one of our questions was left without an answer.”
“Neil is the Chuck Norris of guides; the Batman of travel!”
Lyn Hughes said, “Neil was born to the job. Indeed, it’s not his job, it’s his life and he wants everyone who travels with him to have the trip of a lifetime.”
Neil is a big supporter of Planeterra, G Adventures’ charitable foundation, which supports community-owned enterprises all over the world. “I’d like to support a project in Latin America, my adopted home,” says Neil.
Where he guides: Morocco
Booked through: Intrepid
Abderrahim’s passion for his native Morocco is infectious: your anecdotes were filled with tales of how he went the extra mile to connect travellers with his country. While his tour itineraries are already packed with memorable experiences, he takes the initiative to organise more: a sunset camel ride, for example, or the opportunity to simply sit down and chat to local people.
Born to a large family on a farm high up in the rugged landscape of the Atlas Mountains, Abderrahim (known to his clients as Abdu) has been leading tours for Intrepid for over six years. He’s very much a people person, and one traveller described him as “knowledgeable, always on hand to help with any problems and sensitive to_everyone’s needs”.
But while he works hard to keep every client happy, Abderrahim also cares deeply for Morocco itself. He is an ardent campaigner for travelling sustainably and responsibly, encouraging guests to explore with the lightest of touches, and ensuring that the group’s money is spent on local businesses that benefit the community.
“Abdu goes out of his way to promote sustainable travel.”
“This being Morocco, most of our interactions had been with local men, and we mentioned how refreshing it would be to talk to some women about their lives. That same night he arranged for some local women to sit with us, and he translated a wonderful discussion. He always goes above and beyond.”
“Laughing and learning while travelling – what more could we want?”
“Abdu looked after me like I was family: I always felt safe, comfortable, and cared for. His knowledge is endless and his love for his country contagious”
Myles Farnbank was impressed by how Abdu gets his customers engaged in local life. Derek Moore commented on Abdu’s great customer care and ability to bring a group together.
Abderrahim will put his bursary towards a new school for Berber children, in a rural village called Tarzout.
Where he guides: Worldwide
Booked through: Abercrombie & Kent
Whether he’s leading sunrise game drives or mixing sunset cocktails in the middle of the bush, Garth is tireless in his pursuit of the perfect tailormade safari holiday. Our inbox was full of testimonials about his ability to make clients feel connected to the landscape; to spot even the most camouflaged wildlife from afar; and to enthrall everyone, whether they’re aged two or 92, with tales of the African wilderness.
“By the end of the trip, we were calling him ‘Indiana Jones’", wrote one of Garth’s previous clients, “because we felt we were on an amazing journey of discovery with him.”
Born in 1975 in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe and raised in Botswana, Garth grew up with a passion for wildlife and adventure, and has achieved some of sub-Saharan Africa’s toughest guiding qualifications. Over the last 24 years he has led hundreds of people on tailormade safaris – and many of them return to travel with him time and again. Garth now ventures all over the world to lead trips for his repeat clients, but his first love will always be Africa.
“We’ve been on dozens of safaris. The best were with Garth – hands down.”
“Our family has travelled with Garth all over the world. He does endless preparation before each trip to make sure it is perfect. We actually don’t want to recommend him, because we want him all to ourselves! But our love for him as a friend and (almost) member of our family overwhelms such selfishness. We have already planned another two trips with him.”
“In addition to his flawless guiding, he is an excellent photographer, and provides us with a beautiful hardcover book after every trip.”
“We run a tourism company in South Africa, and deal with hundreds of guides. Garth always stands out for his knowledge, professionalism, and excellent care of each one of his guests”
Myles Farnbank said, “The depth of Garth’s passion jumped out. He really does transform and change lives, and his many repeat customers regard him as a lifelong friend.”
Where he guides: UK
Booked through: Unique Devon Tours
“Every day I’m out with guests is a treat for me,” enthuses our top UK tour guide, Alex – and it’s clear that the feeling is mutual. His clients love that he puts a personal twist on each tour, taking them not only to Devon’s best beaches, prettiest landscapes and most fascinating historical sites, but also revealing many of the region’s hidden gems. His knowledge about the area is far-reaching and impressive: whether you simply want to find the perfect cream tea, or follow in the footsteps of your Devonshire ancestors (as many overseas guests want to do), Alex is your man.
When he was a boy, he would take guests on tours around the gardens of his mother’s B&B – the first step in his dream of becoming a tour leader. Now he runs his own tour company and shares his industry knowledge with many local tourism businesses – a gesture that inspired many of them to send us glowing testimonials. It’s clear that leading unique trips around Devon is more than just a business for Alex – it’s a vocation.
“Alex is the consummate professional: relaxed, warm and welcoming – and a friend to all who meet him. He always ensures his clients leave feeling a deeper connection to this beautiful region of England.”
“We run a B&B, and many of our guests go on tours with Alex. Without fail, they are blown away by their experiences with him”
“Within five minutes of us meeting Alex, we knew we had found a gem. His knowledge of people and places is amazing, and he took great pains to tailor our visit to precisely what we had hoped to see. What a find he was!”
“I work in tourism, and Alex is one of those few people you meet in a lifetime who inspire you to think differently about your business. He is a massive asset to tourism in the South-West.”
Derek Moore said, “For a UK guide to stand out among guides from exotic locations is quite a feat. This is the second time Alex has been a finalist, and he appears to be someone who really inspires those who meet him.”
Where he guides: Ecuador
Booked through: Galakiwi
Pablo, a native Ecuadorian, has made his home on the Galápagos island of Isabela, where he has become one of the highest-regarded conservation guides in the business. Whether his guests are regular holidaymakers or eminent wildlife scientists with an intimate knowledge of the islands, Pablo always has the ability to surprise and delight those who travel with him.
His fascination with wildlife inspired him to move from mainland Ecuador to the Galápagos archipelago decades ago. He originally split his time between working at the Charles Darwin Research Station and the Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre, before guiding tours around the Sierra Negra volcano. Today, he reveals the magic of these unique islands to guests from all over the world.
But it’s not all about wildlife for Pablo; between his family, friends and work, somehow he manages to find the time to volunteer in his local community, too. “He knows that the future of the islands rests in the hands of those who live there,” wrote Dr Mark Collins, Chairman of the Galápagos Conservation Trust, in his Guide Awards testimonial. We couldn’t think of a better guardian of the Galápagos isles than Pablo.
“He really loves the work he does, and his passion for the Galápagos isles is astonishing. This is what makes such a difference. Guiding is so much more than his job – it is his life.”
“Pablo genuinely cares for the islands and their inhabitants, and is passionately working to preserve and support them for many generations to come.”
“He made me see not only the Galápagos differently but life in general. He is head and shoulders above any other guide I have used.”
Mark Carwardine commented, “Pablo is an influencer in the best sense of the word. He is clearly admired by all who know the Galápagos, while he is loved by his customers for whom he inspires a passion for conservation.”
Ashraf loves leading groups around his native Egypt; he has even guided a few star names, including actor Hugh Jackman. One person who travelled with him said: “We not only learned about Egypt’s ancient splendours but also the complexities of its culture – and came away with a deeper appreciation of this interesting country.”
Where he guides: South-East Asia
Booked through: G Adventures
A self-confessed history buff, Phauk is passionate about sharing cultures, beliefs, food and, in his own words, “Being part of something much bigger than me”. He goes above and beyond in his role, and loves introducing travellers to local projects that give back to the communities that they visit.
Where she guides: Worldwide
Booked through: Exodus Travels
Having begun her career 23-years ago with the Outward Bound Trust and The Prince’s Trust, Sara is now adept at leading all kinds of tours, from snowshoeing trips in the Dolomites to K2 Base Camp treks. She loves building local relationships, and she also fundraises for many charities, including doing a 1,000km challenge run.
Where he guides: Europe
Booked through: G Adventures
Gabo’s colourful career has included being a theatre actor, rock ’n’ roll band manager and even a master of reiki. In 2010, he spent a year working in New Zealand before taking in 87 countries in a two-year epic adventure. He joined G Adventures in 2014 and hasn’t looked back, sharing his infectious passion for travel with everyone who roams with him.
Lyn Hughes: Editor-in-chief, Wanderlust
Derek Moore: Travel industry guru/AITO
Myles Farnbank: Experienced wilderness guide
Gill Russell: Craghoppers UK
Bill Bryson: Legendary travel writer
Mark Carwardine: Author, photographer & TV wildlife expert
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