Tour guides .. mmh .. for the past few years of my travel I have met the good, the bad and the ugly side of these people. Some people think that it’s not important to have them as part of the tour but I would never go anywhere without them. This is especially since most of my travels I go solo. The better if the tour guide is a local who’s hosting you. Tour guides, good ones (emphasis on good) help you navigate the area well, they can assist you not be conned by the hungry wolves who always have a smell for new people in the area. They can always tell when someone is new and wait to double or even triple their services or goods. My recent trip at Lonno Lodge, the most charming lodge in the world, was an eye opening one to this fact. I visited Gede ruins, which is just 20 minutes from the lodge and met this charming and intelligent guide who made me have a fresh insight of the ruins. Ngina, the name of the guide, infected me with her passion for relic. Though young, she has visited the ruins in Zanzibar, Takwa just to learn more history on them. The story behind all the old towns are somewhat similar. They were all coastal cities, trade was dominant, coral was the building material used in the construction and Muslim was the prevailing religion in all of them with the presence of the mosques and imam tombs.
The first time I toured the ruins, I met this young man who only seemed to be interested with how much tip I was going to give him instead of teaching me the history. Because am a travel journalist, history, details and photos are super vital for me hence I prefer a patient guide who will not only teach but endure the numerous stops for a photo request. They must smile in the process of doing this otherwise I won’t even give them a dime. This young man didn’t and portrayed agitation each time I stopped to take a photo. Though he never said it out loud, his face spelled, “ Finish this damn thing quickly. I need to get on to other business.” I knew it and because I had paid and demanded service, I ensured that I took my sweet time, understanding the nitty gritties of the place. Anyway, to cut the long story short, we parted ways soon after the visit was over and I gave him half the cash I should have given. I was super pissed only that I couldn’t tell him.
I explained this story to Ngina and she explained to me that the rules have changed in the museum and that should I be dissatisfied with the services of the guide, I have the authority to demand not request, for another one. Note that its demand not have this wishy washy look as if I don’t have charge over anything. I asked her one of the most stressful time she’s been with guests. She laughs and narrates to me of this time she took a guest on tour and they suddenly had an urge to you know … she had to wait for them to finish the whole act of nature before they came back lol .. but this is a story for another day.
I remember once, I was in a foreign country, just here across the border and having a tour guide helped me get discounts and also be charged as a national when visiting the national sites and museums. Though they could tell that I knew nothing about their country and that I had a different accent, it was easy for my guides to tell me who to deal with and who not to. Tour guides also help you understand the history of an area. Being a travel writer, the most vital thing I require is a person who understand what they are doing and the region they are at. One time during a trip at the Tsavo, I met this guide who knew the Mzima springs area so well that it shocked me. I listened eagerly to what he had to say because there was no much info on the internet and he was on point with regards to matters about the place.
So what should you look out for in a tour guide? First of all they should have a sense of humor. For me that’s key because am a peoples person and I love to joke all the time. They should go with the flow and not be too rigid. They should also have a great sense of direction and have plan Bs whenever things don’t work. There’s nothing as horrible as you and your tour guide being stranded or them asking you what to do next. Another thing that’s key for me is the fact that they should have energy, be alive as the entire trip feeds on their fire. If you find a tour guide who starts by complaining then you should fire them there and then. Your trip is too important to have some grouchy person tag along. Last but not least, if you are a travel blogger or journalist, at least you need a helpful guide who at least understands how to use a phone camera. There you have it, some of my top look out signs for a great tour guide whenever I decide to visit a place. Please add your own must haves and share with us your experience with a tour guide on the comment section!
Travel and conservation journalist/consultant, features writer, biographer.