2023 EcoTripMatch.com Best Nature Tour Guide
Voting has ended for the 2023 EcoTripMatch.com Best Nature Tour Guide award and the winner is:
Jonathan Kasaine Sadera from Mahali Mzuri, Kenya
We think you’ll be inspired by the descriptions of the finalists this year (scroll down).
IN THE WORDS OF THEIR NOMINATORS….
James Mwere, Kampala, Uganda
James Mwere is a senior Tour Guide and Tourism Officer who loves visiting natural attractions in our country to find first hand information about them, with the aim of documenting and sharing his experience with the outside world. He has been working in the field for 10 years and has great knowledge about the tourism industry. He is the current team leader of the Tour Guides Forum Uganda.
James is patriotic about his country with a passion for tourism and training youth in order to boost tourism, especially after Covid-19 reached Uganda. He is also playing a big role in the conservation of tourism and climate change in Uganda. James is the brains behind Tulambule campaign in Uganda (to encourage Ugandans to be tourists in their country). Most people do jobs for money but he does it because he loves his country.
As a guide, he is well equipped with effective skills and has knowledge of the historical sites and various cultures in Uganda. He is charismatic and has an outgoing personality and communicates well with everyone. He has great organizational skills, planning tours, organizing excursions, giving sightseeing advice, and interpreting and translating information to tourists. He has guided many tourists from different countries and shared experiences and knowledge through the different tourism organizations which he leads.
James Mwere is very passionate about tourism and loves what he does. He is friendly, well educated about nature, both flora and fauna. He is a very fun-loving, receptive, accommodative, amazing tour guide. He is very jolly and has an outstanding personality that everyone would wish to meet. James customizes the trips to each person or individual’s needs, from the stops he makes along the road to the foods he helps you order. When you’re with him, you feel at home.
James has been supportive in employing and training female tour guides. He has built a strong team and for me to see them as one family gave me a comfortable feeling of safety and superb service.
James has been a blessing to many people. l watched him, and some of his fellow guides, donating to people in a village. The smiles were so heartwarming.
He has taught me a lot about wildlife l never knew existed in my country. Personally, I was not so interested in nature, but the interactions with James made me love nature and my country, Uganda. He deserves this award.
Paula Oliveira, Cabril, Montalegre,Peneda-Gerês National Park, Portugal
Describing Paula Oliveira in a few words is a very difficult task. There are so many human qualities and compassion that she demonstrates every day with those she interacts with, that only a direct and personal contact with her within the scope of the experiences that she offers and in the amazing guided trails departing from her eco accommodation, can convey to us the authenticity of her ecotourism offer in such a preserved territory in which she works.
As she says “I am eternally in love with people and places” and nothing better than continuing with her words to demonstrate her differentiation in contact with visitors: “Nature has the brightness and optimism required for our suspended lives. There is hope, and as long as there is hope, there is life. Or vice versa. We need to step out of the house, feel the nature, walk and, observe. Or simply breathe. My proposal to you is exactly this – BREATHE. I know, the world is confused. And that’s why I’m dedicated to providing experiences where I’m the one who takes care, I’m the one who solves, I’m the one who worries.”
To illustrate, nothing better than visiting Paula Oliveira’s website and with regard to her work on the wool cycle and the linen cycle, the ecotourism offers linked to nature conservation and environmental literacy represented with ‘On the Iberian Wolf Route’ or ‘Shepherd for a day’, among other experiences offered to different groups.
We are therefore talking about how the rural community, in a low demographic density, can be involved, contributing to the preservation of its identity, to the conservation of the authenticity of its culture, its traditions and ancestral knowledge.
Paula loves urban life, cinema, theatre, music, the university, the great museums, the sururu on the streets, but it is in rural life that she finds the harmony she needs in life. Through the hand of her maternal grandmother, she discovered forms of artisanal know-how that always aroused her curiosity. The happiest moments of his life were spent in Cabril – the trips to the mill, the paths he walked, the people’s smiles, the smells, the pure air, the clear water, the simplicity of life, caring for animals… memories that made her return to this idyllic destination where she operates.
Fernando Garcia, São Paulo, Brazil
Fernando has been a professional tour leader and guide for more than 30 years, specializing in adventure tourism, eco-tourism, and outdoor sports & recreation. He has assisted in TV documentary filming for prestigious organizations/publications such as National Geographic, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, etc. He’s also been involved in outdoor learning/education for international schools. His broad experiences and the ability to serve highly professional TV production teams are a strong testimony to how professional he is. I know he served many schools’ educational projects. He was a Boy Scout between 7 to 21 years old. He is superb at dealing with children as well as adults in all age groups. He is an excellent ambassador representing Brazil for our visit to Brazil.
He served as a guide and field trip technician at the Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Research at the ecology department of IVIC (Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Research), and also for different international universities’ expeditions, such as Cornell, Stanford, Princeton, etc. He served as student’s environmental educational guide & monitor, guided students in field trips and educational trips, and guided them in gaining wilderness skills.
He served as a guide and field trip technician at the Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Research at the ecology department of IVIC (Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Research), and also for different international universities’ expeditions, such as Cornell, Stanford, Princeton, etc. His work involves serving as a collector of animal and plant samples for studies & researchers and for documentaries and international and national science projects. Fernando was honored by a Venezuelan Botanic for collecting a new species of plant naming it Styrax fernandii sp.
Fernando served as our guide in October 2021 for a group of international travel professionals and reporters, of which I was a member. During the week-long travel around in Ribeira Valley of Brazil, Fernando demonstrated excellent knowledge of ecology, biodiversity, forestry, etc. He was skillful in leading outdoor activities including biking, hiking, and all water activities.
Fernando is highly professional, which showed through his communication skills and interpersonal skills. He’s super-sensitive and is a good listener. He works well with different personalities & styles. He knows how to narrate, for how much information, and when to stop. His years of experiences have made him a competent and top-notch guide. Through our conversation, I learned that he’s been continuing to improve himself and obtaining international professional certificates.
He is an excellent problem-solver. An example: I fell and injured my hand which became dysfunctional. It was 12 o’clock mid-night, so I intended to wait for the next day. Fernando suggested getting the hospital diagnosis right away, so we knew what we were dealing with at once rather than waiting for the next day. The hospital X-ray showed no bone breakage, so we were able to decide on the entire group’s plan at about 2 am. Fernando was able to identify the most critical issue in a timely fashion to ensure the best outcome for the entire group.
In addition, Fernando is a fun guy. He brings joy to us in both professional and social settings. He represented Brazil very well. I’m confident that whoever he is representing in the future, he’ll be more than competent in doing a superb job, and guests will end their tours satisfied with enriched learnings and wonderful memories.
Fernando still has the same stamina and passion as when he first started over 30 years ago. This shows the sincerity of his purpose and love for what he does. He also stands out because of the positive impact he has on both students and teachers, as well as fellow guides working with him. He stands out from other guides due to his charisma and outdoor skills, which are not only hard skills but a deep understanding of soft skills, outdoor and experiential education. He has a strong intonation of voice and is very physically fit. With every connection and contact he has with a client he leaves a memorable and positive memory.
Fernando is always very proactive and concerned with conservation. He strictly follows all Leave No Trace principles and encourages them on every trip we do with students. He is often hired by international organizations to work with environmental conservation projects, as the one he recently went on to the Amazon Rainforest for one month to build specialized bridges for animals (catwalks) to cross over the highways.
Fernando has been a professional tour leader and guide for more than 30 years, specializing in adventure tourism, eco-tourism and outdoor sports & recreation. He has assisted TV documentary filming for such prestigious organizations/publications as National Geographic, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, etc. He’s also been involved in outdoor learning/education for international schools and always very well evaluated by teachers and students who follow him through the projects.
We are working together in the making of travel projects and also in leading the groups. He contributes a lot to the conception of activities long before the itinerary is guided. Fernando is always focused and concerned about offering the best experience to visitors, but taking care to prepare them for the activity in advance, such as the correct choice of equipment, preparing their backpacks, feeding and hydrating passengers. It is worth remembering that ecotourism itineraries here in Brazil and in the world depend on a good relationship with the local community, and Fernando is very friendly with all suppliers who work together for the best experience with the passenger. Fernando is very concerned about not hurting or overlapping his opinion with the ideas and concepts of local residents, praising local wisdom and adding their knowledge to compose a natural and very original experience.
We take children and young people out into nature and Fernando has always been passionate about outdoor education. This movement makes all the difference to the children’s experience and makes tourists aware of their duties for the conservation and environmental preservation of today and tomorrow.
One of the nicest things I can mention is his care for his team. I hurt my eyebrow and he promptly attended to me, gave me first aid and took me to the community health unit. In addition to being praised by the group that observed the entire care process while still in the field, upon arriving at the emergency room, he received praise from the doctor who performed the sewing procedure and stitches on my face. So, in addition to being a great expedition leader, he’s also a great work partner for his field team!
Sandra Marino Martinez, Margarita Island, Venezuela
Sandra has spent the last 37 years being one of the most outstanding guides in ecotourism and adventure in the Caribbean and South America.
She is a nature lover and ecology fighter while at the same time her priority its local cultural customs that bring traditions to visitors while respecting both nature and culture. Her actions sensitize tourists to be careful in turtle nesting areas on the beaches where she works and much more.
Her beginnings were in ecological and self-sustainable tourism for big companies like ORDELCA, SKYLIMIT, LTA-AEROTUY, SASCA, RENTAVION, RUTACA, BT TRAVEL, OVER TURISMO COLOMBIA, CANDES CAVID, INFINITO CUBAGUA and OASIS TRAVEL VENEZUELA.
Sandra loves her tour guide job, which she does with real passion, that makes her groups preserve nature and environment with the respect for the local culture.
I am a free-lance travel agent and have sent many tourists with disabilities to her and she does INCREDIBLE work with them, which doesn’t happen with the majority of the guides that often prefer a normal visitor rather than someone special. She focuses on giving guests the best experience possible.
At the same time, as vice-president of ECO ALIANZA NGO, I am now working together with Sandra on Margarita Island. She is our main representative there in our efforts to create the first UNESCO Global Geopark for Venezuela, where there is a unique geological site and landscape called Cubagua island in this archipelago.
For many years she has been a volunteer in the rescue and primary care of dolphins that have become stranded, because of her extensive experience with stranded marine mammals.
Sandra was trained by my husband, Antonio Pestana Drumond, who was a finalist in the Best Nature Tour Guide in the year 2020 along with Robert Francis Romero (RIP) on a trip to National Park Los Roques in the Venezuelan Caribbean area, on the year 1995. Both of them always talk about Sandra with a lot of respect.
Jonathan Kasaine Sadera, Mahali Mzuri, Kenya
(Jonathan, “Kas”, was nominated twice. Both nominations are included here.)
Jonathan, or Kas, as we came to know him was at one with the animals and land that he enthusiastically guided us through. He himself is Masai born and bred and was able to guide us through the landscape and animals using his own experiences and culture as a background, making the whole experience so much more real and engaging. His deep knowledge of the animals was not only fascinating, but brought the whole experience to life for us and he left no question (of which there were many) unanswered.
Kas’s interaction with guests and all people was natural and not affected in any way and it was clear he spoke from his heart. He made us feel welcome by explaining what we would be doing and what we would be seeing so we felt comfortable in what was an unnatural environment for us. He made us feel safe by demonstrating his Masai training in understanding animal behaviour and how to avoid conflict as well as recognizing animal’s whereabouts
Kas was able to ask us which animals we would like to see and then, from his knowledge of the area, take us to where we would find them. He would happily sit for hours if needed as we soaked up the experience of watching a pride of lions or a herd of elephants interacting.
So much work in the area of conservation is still about education and in areas like the Masai Mara it is important to have ambassadors such as Kas who can share his learning and experiences with his people. He kept close connections with the Masai people and without looking to take away from the culture, helped build communities that understood so they, and tourists, could work together in harmony along with the animals.
We have so many stories of what was one of the most enjoyable experiences of our lives. The smile on Kas’s face at the break of day, the laugh when we shared experiences from different cultures, lying down around a camp fire at night looking at the big African sky, providing traditional Masai costume for our son to wear, singing and dancing as he taught us Kenya’s famous Jambo Bwana song. We met as guests and a guide and departed with a new brother who will still keep in touch with nearly a year later.
When I was sixteen I went on a life-changing experience through the Masai Mara National Reserve with Jonathon as my safari guide. I am nominating him for this prestigious award because I believe his wealth of knowledge of the Masai Mara, flexibility to meet the needs of his clientele, safari and camp organizational skills and passion fueled story-telling about the area, its flora and fauna and his own personal life experiences is worthy of being celebrated.
Jonathon understands the wilderness better than anyone I have met. He is just so passionate about the area and its wildlife. The vast expanse of savannah which seemed limitless to me was simple for Jonathon to convey, as he knew where to go to find and observe wildlife and has an amazing wealth of knowledge about every species we encountered. Jonathon can recognize native birds by hearing their bird-song, knows the names of each species and shares plenty of information about them. He is able to spot animals in the savanna from great distances, as he is so familiar with both the terrain and making predictions based on animal behavior. This provided us with the most amazing and often overwhelming viewing opportunities.
Jonathon approaches his guests with a very friendly and warm-hearted spirit. He applies extra effort to tailor the experience to every individual, taking us on extra game drives at night, even if we were out for hours during the day. Jonathon’s quiet, calm demeanor and patience provided us with some of the most intimate, tear-jerking experiences. The joy that comes to his face when taking people out on game drives is very clear and you know how much it means to him. He speaks very calmly and clearly and will answer questions with a wealth of knowledge
As a Maasai he believes very strongly in keeping nature wild and untouched. He helps out others with keeping track of the ongoing interactions with human vs wildlife conflicts, always talking with other guides on how best to keep the Masai Mara a truly wild place. He also talks to the local school children on how important it is to value the unique ecosystem they live in and too make sure that it’s never lost. He has volunteered in the Mara predator program on recording numbers and locations of predators.
One day he took my family on a game drive that was extra special. We drove up to a small termite mound, behind which unbeknown to us was a lioness with two small cubs. The two young lion-cubs climbed up onto the termite mound and seemed to be posing for us so calmly. We stayed for an hour just watching them. It was an absolutely overwhelming, once-in-a-lifetime experience. To this day I can’t believe he knew they were there, as they were so hidden from view.
I feel truly lucky to have shared the Maasai Mara and the Maasai culture with Jonathon, his family and community. The game-drives were absolutely fantastic with him at the helm and to this day I’m filled with gratitude for the amazing experience given to us. I wholeheartedly believe that Jonathon deserves to be nominated and rewarded for his efforts. An absolute sensational guide whom I have recommended to others over and over again.
As part of EcoTripMatch.com’s mission to support conservation through ecotourism, we began the annual, EcoTripMatch’s “Best Nature Guide of the Year” recognition award in 2017. Ecolodges, eco-tour companies, travelers and others from all over the world have nominated those special people who do an exceptional job of connecting tourists to the natural areas they are visiting.
Voting ended 11:59 EST on Friday, April 9th