Special to the Guatemala Times. It’s probably not surprising that adventure travel guiding is a profession typically dominated by men. But Luisa Zea (Antigua) has been leading tourists on mountain biking, kayaking, spelunking, hiking and climbing expeditions through Guatemala’s vistas and jungles for seven years.
This past year Luisa’s skills were pitted against macho opponents from around the world, such as a an Amazon jungle survival-guide and former soldier, a Mt. Everest mountaineer and porter, North American white water rafting guides, and skiing and mountain bike professionals from Central Asia.
The competition’s winners are chosen by an expert panel of judges; Vicky Baker (the Guardian newspaper), Peter Sibbald (photojournalist: TIME magazine, Fortune), Richard Hammond (National Geographic, Rough Guide) and Dr. W.B. Hafford (University of Pennsylvania Museum, Archaeology magazine).
Normally Luisa knows when she’s entered a race but this time she was entered by enthusiastic tourists. Her previous clients recommended her on www.leaplocal.org and in doing this nominated her as a contestant. Traveller-reviews are crucial to the judges selecting the winning guides during a live online SKYPE debate.
Vicky Baker (the Guardian’s local travel expert) was the first judge to single Luisa out, referring to her as the “Guatemalan Superwoman”. Luisa was voted an unanimous winner by the entire judging panel due to high praise from tourists, the respect and genuine admiration that other people in the Guatemalan tourism industry feel for Luisa, her knowledge (she has an undergrad degree in ecotourism and is doing her masters in rural sustainable development), affable disposition, and her versatility.
Luisa can cater to travellers who want to participate in voluntourism projects and explore Guatemalan culture as well as ones who want to hug the cliff edge of Lake Atitlán, on a blistering descent on their mountain bikes. In fact Mike Brcic, the CEO of Sacred Rides, a company named the "World's #1 Mountain Bike Tour Operator" by National Geographic Adventure magazine gave Luisa a 10/10 in his review on Leap Local.
Leap Local is a responsible tourism organization based in the UK that empowers locals in tourism by connecting them with travellers who they’d be unable to reach otherwise. It is free to join. The annual competition identifies the top ten local tour guides and services around the world. A “local” is an individual in the travel industry who lives and works at the point of destination.
This past year’s winners in the categories of homestays, drivers, culinary, eco, and historical tours, were from Peru, Kyrgyzstan, Indonesia, Galapagos and Cuba. Winners of the annual competition receive PR, a constant website profile, features in the website magazine and on social networking sites, plus support from the Leap Local team, certificates, and other prizes.
Entries for the upcoming International Tour Guides & Services Competitions can be made until midnight September 30th, 2012. This year a new competition has been added which rewards $500 to the traveller who makes the best new recommendation on the website and $500 to the local tour guide or service who was recommended. And for a third year there is a travel story competition with a $500 first prize. The competitions are all free to enter (see website for competition guidelines: http://www.leaplocal.org/aboutus/competitions/)
Luisa’s profile on Leap Local: http://www.leaplocal.org/locals/view/213/
Leap Local www.leaplocal.org
Pictures by Kirsten Koza
First Picture: Canadian women at hot springs, Finca Paraiso, adventure with Luisa Zea.
Second Picture: Luisa Zea, Livingston.