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The Best Local Guides and Services - WINNERS ANNOUNCEMENT

It’s always hard to sum up all the winners of the competition. We at Leap Local like to acknowledge local travel expertise in many forms, whether they be national champions turned adventure guides, individual poachers turned protectors, or community engagement in numerous forms that inspires us and empowers locally. And all of this in some of the most exhilarating places on earth. The judges debate, with our esteemed judges calling in from around the world, provided much discussion. We thank our judges for the time they took in selecting the seven winners from our short list of twenty five finalists.

So in no particular order, our winners...

Sunil Kainthola (Mountain Shepherds) - Himalayas  Mountain Shepherds

From the rushing waters of the Assi Ganga, to discovering the lives of the Bhotiva, these are adventures in inhospitable terrain, but with hospitable people. Itineraries include cycling in the Niti Valley, trekking to the Nanda Devi temple and bathing in hot sulphur springs, and have an honest feel that get people coming back for more. This impressive organisation has won the hearts of numerous travellers 'their natural warmth and the free flowing conversation with the local guides during the numerous treks is what I enjoyed the most'.

Sunil initially founded Mountain Shepherds to empower the local people who were fighting for rights in their homeland. He describes them as unique since ‘a big agency cannot give you such localised knowledge’.

Yamaan Safady – Petra, Jordan  Yamaan Safady

It’s not often you hear travellers saying that when they first saw Petra they felt like the only group there - ‘Instead of joining the masses at the ticket booths, we hiked in.’ The few days of hiking before arriving in Petra is for the active traveller and offers some surprises - ‘Honestly, I assumed that it would be like a big desert, but this trek showed us different landscapes (desert, mountains, rock formations, rolling hills) every day.’ Yamaan has carefully crafted his Petra tour so it leaves a lasting impression – ‘Yamaan asked us to look down at the ground as we walked in, in order to get the full impact of the Monastery in one hit. We were all completely blown away. I'll never forget that moment.’

Yamaan is the Founder and award winning Lead Guide at Adventure Jordan, where he can take you on general or tailor made tours -

Mehmet Nuri Ozden – Cappadocia region, Turkey  Mehmet Nuri Ozden

Surely the sign of a trip worth doing is when finishing is the worst bit? Mehmet’s mountain bike and hiking tours have delivered exactly this. Having cycled in the region since he was a child, Mehmet turned his passion into a profession twelve years ago but still shows a ‘true love for what he does’. He offers a ‘thrilling bike ride and a comprehensive background of the history of this magical place’. Mehmet can challenge the keen cyclist, or support beginners, and engage with the cultural enthusiast. As one reviewer said ‘I just remember Turkey looked, smelled, and tasted different than anything I had experienced before. Mehmet made me feel right at home.’

Mehmet works at Argeus Tours, more info at

Caja Magica – Tankarpata near Cusco, Peru  Caja Magica

Caja Mágica's origins are somewhat serendipitous. Its founder had a chance encounter with the kids from the Tankarpata community near Cusco which prompted Eduardo to set up a day care centre so the kids could have refuge from poor living conditions. Days before the centre opened some people came seeking accommodation. Insistent on staying, the travellers built their own beds, completed the decoration, and ended up staying and spending time with the kids. Now the hostel not only offers accommodation and opportunities to work with the kids, but also offers treks and travelling advice. It's described as a place with a lot of heart.

Caja Magica is still evolving as an organisation, so please give us an update if you go there!

Pramod K.G. – State of Kerala, India  Pramod K.G.

Jungle trekking and village visits to see ‘real Kerala’. Pramod’s first question for potential clients is ‘what do you want to do?’ He enthusiastically adapts his wealth of local contacts to meet the needs of his clients, from river cruises and massages to cycling and hiking. Guests are invited to join in when possible ‘I helped two sets of fishermen…it’s hard work!’ ‘A local lumberjack let me pet his elephant… How often do you stumble upon something like that?’

Pramod K.G. is the CEO of Wild Kerala Tour Company which emphasises community and leaving minimum impact. -

Kishore Behera – Chilika Lake, Odisha, India  Kishore Behera

‘Even before reaching Mangalajodi, we sighted many Bronze-winged Jacanas, Golden oriole, Open-bill Stork, Purple Moorhen and Kingfishers. We became so excited that we forced the car driver to stop to see the birds and take their pictures. He smilingly assured us that it was just the beginning.’

Kishore is described as having an encyclopaedic knowledge of birds and their habitat. Where once he was a prolific poacher, he is now protector of the birds through the Mangalajodi Ecotourism programme, a community owned and managed wildlife conservation venture. Mangalajodi is a small picturesque village perched on the banks of Chilika Lake in eastern India, which now takes pride in protecting and nurturing its avian inhabitants. While this is not for the traveller looking for luxury, it is for those who believe change can be a force for good, or those who just love birds!

Raslan Abbadi – Amman, Jordan  Raslan Abbadi

You could be intimidated by Raslan, after all he is Jordan’s national cycling champion and record holder and won most races between 2005-8. But by all accounts he is ‘easy going, open minded’, ‘incredibly friendly’ and makes trips ‘a total delight’. He ‘always listens to the group’ and has mastered taking pictures on the go with client cameras. As well as mountain biking in Jordan, he has taken clients to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and always finds friends along the way. While he is not the cheapest option, it’s rare to be able to hang out with such an expert, who is both modest and a world class athlete.

Raslan works for Terhaal, a professional, reliable and responsible local tour operator