4 Things that Make a Good Guide Exceptional

Anyone can recount information, but how does a guide make a lasting impression? What gives guests a deeper experience? Exceptional guiding has the power to spark personal change, help us face our fears, connect, bond, and create memories that will last a lifetime. We wanted this for all of our travelers, so we called Simon.  

You may have met Simon Collier (SC) on our Instagram video, speaking about the role of storytelling in guiding. Simon started his guiding journey back in the year 2000 at one of South Africa’s top lodges. After a close call with an elephant bull reminded him that nature is boss, Simon realized that many elements go into creating the bigger guest experience, not just chasing down big animals. So, he started to look at how to create a story for travelers from the moment they arrived, and soon, he was training new guides to ensure guests were getting and guides were facilitating, the best experience possible. Over twenty years later, he’s truly mastered his craft. 

Our cofounder, Javier Echecopar, sat down with Simon to chat about what makes an exceptional guide. We wanted to share the pearls of wisdom that embody our approach to creating unique travel moments in Costa Rica – read on for our top four takeaways… 

1. Understanding What Makes People Tick 

SC: “[An extraordinary experience] goes back to really understanding the guest and then being able to take them to a place within themselves where they can experience something they’ve never had before. When you look beyond the surface level at what makes people tick, you can start to understand what type of message you can bring home. I think really good guides are moving into this ability to get the right message across, something that’s going to actually profoundly change guests in the way that they interact with the world and other people. For many years guides have played a pivotal role in guest experiences around the world, they often spend the most amount of time with them. Guides are in charge of taking people out, but the real responsibility is about educating, informing, and entertaining all at the same time.” 

2. Playing with Surprise and the Comfort Zone 

Our team loves the concept of surprise. Some of our guests’ most remarkable memories come from something unexpected happening. When we’re intentional about crafting those moments, we can create memories that people hold onto forever. It’s about delivering the type of surprise that is most relevant for that guest at that moment. So much is under our control nowadays with the unlimited access to information technology provides. That’s another thing we love about travel, the chance to get people outside their comfort zone. 

SC: “The place that people want to really live in now, is the uncontrollable, the unexpected, the different, because it pushes us out of our comfort zone. We’re so used to being boxed as people nowadays – really good guides have the ability to break that barrier, to push the boundary a little bit, to forget about the structured timeline and get them into a space where they can actually really experience something, really see it – what does it feel like and what does it mean? Understanding your guests profoundly and gaining their confidence allows you to be able to challenge them just enough and because you’ve built trust, they can let down their guard and do something more extreme than they usually would.” 

3. Authentic Passion 

We believe that a strong sense of purpose drives excellence in any field. There’s a larger goal than the day-to-day tasks when you know why you’re doing what you’re doing. In this way, when guides understand they have a bigger mission at stake than simply meeting logistics, that they are doing something meaningful for nature and their communities, they can fulfil their roles with authentic passion.  

SC: “To have the right tools as a guide you need to have a plethora of information and a toolkit. That’s not just great communication skills or the ability to identify birds, but also the capacity to be able to talk about what’s happening in the world, what’s happening in the area, and what impact it has. [For example] you can’t get a guide to talk about sustainability if they don’t understand and feel it themselves. Step one of training is taking a step back from the guest experience and trying to figure out what makes each guide tick. Is the link to sustainability community based, about financial resources linked to nature, water, or saving endangered species? Every guide will have a ticking point. That’s what you need to find to start with because if you can’t get them passionate about it, it’s just a speech they’ve been told to do.” 

4. Finding the Right Time and Place 

In addition to an incredible guest experience, Journey Costa Rica’s calling incorporates a strong approach to sustainability. We’re passionate about changing people’s relationship with nature in a positive way; getting our guests inspired and filled with wonder and happiness in nature is something we’re super proud of. Our guides are key in communicating this message intentionally in a way that’s both accessible and relevant. 

SC: “Training around sustainability is about how to bring that message across, that’s the most important part. A guide can tell me about all the good that Journey Costa Rica is doing but if they’re disinterested or pick the wrong time in the experience, it’s a waste. If it’s done in the right space at the right time, and they give me just enough to get my thought process going, that’s often a good point to stop. Plant the seed and allow the guest to engage, you want people to ask questions. How to bring message across and when is an art – do you use storytelling or do you take guests on a really cool experience that’s directly connected to a theme, like rafting down a river and highlighting how it wouldn’t have been possible seven years ago as it was completely polluted, but now it’s been cleaned up thanks to local initiatives.” 

Come and enjoy exceptional guiding in Costa Rica! 

Get in touch with our team of travel planners and let us know what you want to experience. Need some trip inspiration? Take a look at our sample itineraries and tell us how to personalize to your taste.