2021 EcoTripMatch.com Best Nature Tour Guide
Voting for the 2021 EcoTripMatch.com Best Nature Tour Guide award has ended.
The winner is:
Alfredo Autiero Benasai,
from Caracas, Venezuela
IN THE WORDS OF THEIR NOMINATORS….
Alan McSmith, Hoedspruit, South Africa
After over three decades, Alan continues to break new ground as a wilderness guide. He is one of a handful of operators leading pioneering safaris to Ennedi and Zakouma National Park in Chad.
Once a permanent resident of the Okavango Delta in Botswana, Alan co-pioneered a series of unsupported, exploratory dugout canoe traverses of the Delta. Each traverse lasted for four weeks and in the process he has racked up over 3000 kms by dugout.
He is an established motivational and TEDx speaker and has travelled extensively advocating leadership and conservation at numerous European forums. As a passionate elephant conservationist, Alan is well known for his knowledge of these remarkable animals, and constantly strives to raise the bar of awareness. “Just as they are keystones to an ecological circuit, they are keystones to a greater awareness. An awareness of a sacred attitude toward all life and living,” he says.
A lifetime of exploration and discovery, not to mention the traditional wisdom of local trackers and guides, have made lasting impressions. Wilderness, therefore, is no longer a place but a way of life and he remains committed to share meaningful wildlife encounters and the intrinsic value of wilderness conservation.
Alan’s deep understanding of the wild and his readiness to share it with all who are interested makes him a much sought after wildlife educator, trainer and conservationist. But it is not just his knowledge and experience that makes spending time on safari with him so special; it is also his gentle, self-effacing manner, sense of humour and relaxed character that makes it such a treasured event.
Alan is married to accomplished hospitality director, Sarah, and has 2 grown children, Jake and Meg (who is studying to become a guide; the legacy continues)!
This man has immense knowledge of the environment, its fauna and flora. He has traveled Africa and his knowledge is extensive in both the people culture and wildlife. His passion is with elephants. One just need to sit and listen then only will you understand.
Please look at the charity Alan has chosen and consider donating:
The goal of NPO NOURISH is to create sustainable change – and have long-term impact in the spheres of both conservation and community upliftment. By working to grow resilient communities, that are healthy, educated, and have access to opportunities, we can break the poverty cycle and thus impact the poaching coming out of rural areas in Mpumalanga in Southern Africa.
Ann Tumpesia, Narok, Kenya
(Ann received 16 nominations. This is a compilation of all of them.)
Ann is a female tour guide, passionate about conservation, born right in the middle of the Maasai Mara plains who struggled in her education after losing her mother at the early age of 12 years old. She faced danger of early marriage on several occasions, from a community that had little regard for education of girls.
Ann began as a conservation warrior as one of the youth founders with Maasai Moran Conservation and walking Safaris (MMCWS) before becoming a guide.
She is well-trained guide from one of the best tourism and hospitality school in Mara. She is now one of the best tour guides in the Masai Mara and is well-liked by her peers. She is skilled in story telling and full of energy on her daily duties and always aims to give the best to her guests. She is a jovial, knowledgeable guide on flora and fauna and an advocate for girl’s education in her community through a *Help a girl in school* campaign by donating sanitary towels to young girls in schools.
Ann cared for my experience and guided me through breathtaking and life-changing moments, showing me wildlife I knew from TV only. Every morning, she checked in with us, asked what animals we would like to experience and every day, she knew perfectly where to drive. We got to admire all the animals we hoped to see, and so many more! In any moment, Ann explained and answered all our questions with great knowledge.
Not only did she know where to catch the most amazing views, no, Ann is also an outstanding driver. She drove us through a river bank with enormous rocks with no struggle! On another day, the tire went flat, but Ann got it. At any moment, I felt safe and protected with Ann.
I was seeking a spiritual connection to the land, the animals and the people. Ann overdelivered and exceeded all of my hopes. Her strength, values and courage are deeply inspiring. She always made an extra effort to surprise us every day again. I am looking forward to attending another safari, Ann being the tour guide!
Ann is a go-getter and an ambitious woman who inspires young girls to love tourism, a field that has been dominated by men. She’s so entertaining, she is open, kind hearted, keen to details. She’s emphatic, caring, charismatic and not easily angered. Her work have been exemplary not only being a tour guide but also a conservationist. She is a nature diehard and always positive about tourism matters, nature and wildlife.
Ann is a young Maasai girl who beat all odds of her tribe’s culture and emerged as the first female guide in Maasai mara. She is a champion of young female’s education and a passionate conservation tour guide. She is one of the best guides on the Maasai Mara Reserve!
Tweeter: Ann Tumpesia
Facebook: Ann Tumpesia
Instagram: Ann Tumpesia
Please look consider donating to Ann’s effort to educate girls in her community through, the *Help a girl in school* campaign that donates sanitary towels to young girls in schools. You can donate through her PayPal account by using this email address: email@example.com
Alfredo Autiero Benasai, Caracas, Venezuela
NOTE: Alfredo was nominated twice. Both of the nominations are here:
My Name is Antonio Pestana Drumond a Portuguese-Venezuelan Tour leader and jungle tour guide for 25 years and finalist in the Best Nature Tour Guide 2020. A long time ago, I had the opportunity to meet Alfredo Autiero when we became part of a Venezuela “Adventure Tourism” Organization, at the beginning of the new millennium. Antonio was a guide on more than one expedition in the jungle and he was always very humble about his achievements and experience, even though he had many more years of experience than I did at that point.
Venezuela is becoming, without a doubt, one of the countries where adventure is “lived” in Latin America. Although tourism activity has been in this country for many years, it was during the 90s that the rise of the “Adventure Tourism” began to be taken into account, and the activity of Mountaineering began to be known to beyond Venezuela, especially with the formation of teams that ascended the high mountains of the Andes and the Himalayas.
From an early age, (and perhaps motivated by the majestic environment where he grew up), knowing Venezuela and its people was the main motivation to seriously start the practice of “Mountaineering”. When Alfredo said seriously “I mean to consider myself my professional training in the area of tourism, and more specifically in the “Mountain Tourism”.
More than 45 years of experience have allowed him to climb the beautiful summits of the Venezuelan Andes and make the most exciting treks in this area and thus continue with great ascents such as the Aconcagua of 6962 meters (The highest summit of the Andes), including its very difficult route of the South Wall on two occasions, as well as ascents in several countries of the Andes and Europe. Since his entrance to the University, he cannot deny the great influence of joining the task of the newly created Ministry of Youth by Minister Charles Brewer Carías, a great Venezuelan explorer, with recognized credibility worldwide.
From that moment, his training in the area of “Mountain Tourism” took on an academic sense through professional training in this area. Thus, he managed to start studies in Spain and France since “Tourism” in Venezuela was still in its dawn. Together with his studies in the area of the “Mountain Guidance”, came great expeditions that allowed him to get involved in the organization of The National Mountaineering and dedicate himself professionally to what has become his true “passion”… becoming a Mountain Guide.
Contact with many beautiful places on the planet, as well as exceptional people who have allowed him to accompany them on their travels, have given him the necessary experience to offer programs in which not only enjoying the majesty of the environment is one of the objectives, but also contact with the cultures of each site visited including The Andes, The Himalayas, Africa, and the Venezuelan Tepuyes.
His slogan is; Welcome and let’s start walking.
I am Guillermo Israel Sánchez, travel agent at the TAF agency in Valencia (Spain), TD1 mid-mountain (Spanish certification ), guide and specialized guide in Venezuela since 1996. I have known Alfredo Autiero Benasai since the beginning of the 90’s when on several occasions we coincided on treks and ascents to the Venezuelan Andes. We are both enthusiastic lovers of the mountains and ecotourism in general and what it represents, such as the preservation of the natural environment as well as heritage not only of Venezuela, but beyond its borders. I can attest with total certainty that Alfredo Autiero Benassai is a person of high moral level, with a commitment to the conservation of nature, and this is demonstrated by his constant work in education, especially in Venezuela, where, despite all the difficulties that the country is going through, he has still decided to continue living.
Alfredo is one of the relevant figures in mountaineering, guiding and the educational promotion of ecotourism in Venezuela. His experience is so extensive (more than 45 years) that is impossible to review it in just a brief description. He has done countless climbing trips to the snowy peaks of Venezuela, the Bolívar and the Humboldt, jungle ascents to the Tepuis of Guayana, rafting in tropical rivers, canopying and teaching the flora and fauna of the rainforest, and kayaking in the Caribbean Sea among other activities.
We also witnessed him ascend the Matterhorn in Switzerland, being part of the select group of Venezuelans who have been able to conquer the peaks of more than 8000 meters of the Himalayas, promoting documentaries for television about the rural Venezuelan culture, and also the life of rural African and Nepalese peoples.
He has led and planned expeditions through many mountains around of the world, as witnessed by the innumerable expeditions he has made to other iconic destinations in the world such as the American Andean mountain range with Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro in Africa, and especially Nepal, a country that he considers his second home and where he is highly esteemed by the local population, especially in the Khumbu Valley en route to Everest Base Camp. Also he has been part of Venezuelan public entities in charge of educational programs on ecotourism in Venezuela, working with such renowned figures as Charles Brewer Carias.
Alfredo is one of the first Venezuelans to have formal training as a mountain guide in Venezuela, obtained mountain guide certificates in Europe (Spain and France). It’s a life totally dedicated to the dissemination of ecotourism values.
Please look at the project Alfredo has begun, with indigenous inhabitants of the Andean paramo in Venezuela, “Learning in the Mountain” (Aprendiendo en la Montaña) and consider donating:
Roda 'Vy' Chea, Tatai, Cambodia
He calls himself an ex-gangster. A typical family story in this south-western part of Cambodia, where the son, starting at 11 years old, joins his father to hunt wild animals or cut wild trees in the forest, and the daughter stays home to cook and clean the house. Both children are not sent to school, because the parents believe there is nothing to learn in school. That reading and writing will not help them catch valuable wildlife.
In his teens, Vy dropped out of high school after he made friends in the nearby village, they called themselves gangsters.
We met Vy, 10 years ago, when he decided he wanted to marry his girlfriend, and wanted a stable job. And he had heard from the villagers that 4Rivers paid very well. Vy did not speak a word of English, and we hired him as a boat driver.
He looked up to the English-speaking guides that were exploring The Cardamom rainforests with the foreign guests. He was amazed at how engaging their conversations were. He spent his time looking at them, listening to the sounds of the conversations, then he decided, he wanted to know what was so interesting to talk about during the boat trip!
After a couple of months of driving the boat, Vy learned from the tour guides 3 words and phrases:
1. Hello, how are you?
2 -Mind your head.
3. See you later.
In his second year, Vy started to joke in English, but many times, he was the only one laughing! Others didn’t get the joke!
Vy got promoted to tour guide on his third year and hee started to take guests by himself, on a tour.Then great things happened!
Fast forward to now, 10 years from meeting him for the first time, Vy has become an amazing tour guide that helped our 4Rivers team, earn consecutive Tripadvisor Traveller’s Choice Awards leading up to 2019. He not only made happy visiting guests, but good friends! He was invited to a guest’s wedding in the Philippines 2years ago. The guests paid for his whole travel to the Philippines, and they keep in touch! These newlyweds are just one of the many!
Vy, as our current hotel manager, now serves as a role model, an inspiration to the young people in Tatai Village. He loves taking guests on an adventure in the Cardamoms, that is why up to now, even with his management responsibilities (by the way, we are still teaching him how to use a computer and how to use Microsoft office), he makes sure he gets several days a month to guide the guests in this beautiful rainforest!
He is the key player in realizing our goals to provide a workplace of choice to the young people here in Tatai village, where they learn and practice skills in hospitality, welcoming and taking care of guests to create a remarkable experience in The Cardamom rainforests.
Vy has taught so many young people from this village. He finds the children of the poachers and illegal loggers, and offers them work and career at 4Rivers. Our chef, Neuy, as an example, used to be a diver for the illegal loggers. He retrieved the illegally logged trees after midnight, after the illegal loggers get tipped off that forest rangers are checking boats for illegally logged trees and poached wildlife. Now, Vy is teaching Neuy how to use Microsoft word and excel!
Neuy, and the rest of the young members of our team here at 4Rivers, look up to Vy.
He has done an incredible job, not only in showcasing to each and every guest, the beauty of The Cardamom mountains, but also of the people, whom we know should have the biggest stakes in keeping these rainforests intact.
Agnes Kilena, Nairobi, Kenya
NOTE: Agnes got 4 nominations. This is a compilation of those nominations.
Agnes Kilena is one of Basecamp Explorer’s most outstanding guides. She is the first female Maasai guide in Masai Mara, meaning that she has been instrumental in paving the way for other female guides to join guiding as a career. She is fluent in English and has very good communication and guiding skills. Today, Basecamp Explorer has at least 5 female guides following in her footsteps.
Coming from a marginalized and patriarchal community in Kenya, Agnes is the first born among 6 siblings. Her father was opposed to her education and that of her sisters. Her mother however, fought for her to receive an education and made sure she attended primary and secondary school. Agnes was later enrolled and trained as a guide in Koiyaki Guiding School, a capacity- building institution supported by Basecamp to train young Maasai men and women in nature-based courses such as guiding, providing them with an opportunity for a better life. Agnes’ educational goals did not end there. She would like to pursue further education, but she has an obligation to educate the rest of her siblings first. Having realized the destruction of Masai Mara’s resources will greatly affect the Maasai community’s livelihood, Agnes would like to help protect the wildlife in the Mara and conserve the Mara ecosystem. In the near future, she hopes to pursue Management and Wildlife Conservation, as she aspires to be a warden in the parks. She would like to focus her knowledge and skills fighting poaching. Having seen first-hand how Masai Mara are affected by issues such as climate change and wildlife depletion, Agnes endeavors to help find sustainable solutions to addressing them. She will also educate the younger generation on the importance of securing Masai Mara for future generations.
From an intercultural perspective, and coming from a community with very strong cultural values, Agnes was among the guides chosen to participate in a cultural exchange program in Basecamp’s properties in Norway. The aim was to promote intercultural awareness and show how the Basecamp story is similar in both Kenya and Svalbard. Basecamp chose the most outstanding guides to take part in this program and she was among them. Agnes is a great role model to the young ladies in Masai Mara, a community that is promoting the education of girls while making strides in the fight against early marriages, gender imbalance and female genital mutilation.
In her free time, Agnes dedicates her time to giving motivational talks to the girls in the Talek area of Masai Mara and in Koiyaki Guiding School. She is a living example to the Maasai women in these remote villages that anything is possible if you have courage and determination. Lastly, her natural dimple smile welcomes everyone to the Savannah and makes them feel at home. The guests love it when she takes them on a game drive as she is kind, joyful and extremely knowledgeable about the terrain and the wildlife of Masai Mara. Her best skills are encouraging and educating people about conservation. You can tell she is loved by reading the reviews on various platforms such as Trip Advisor and her passion for her work is greatly reflected in how she interacts with the guests leaving them yearning to return to the Mara.
Please look at the charity Agnes has chosen and consider donating:
Basecamp Explorer Kenya is establishing the Enjolaata Awareness and Training Centre in the midst of Basecamp Explorer’s birthplace – the Basecamp Maasai Mara in Talek. The philosophy of the center is founded on the belief that the best ideas, solutions and results are generated in a community of likeminded people.
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 ends 11:59 EST on Monday, February 15th