Guiding the way - Setting the standard for safari guides in East Africa

By John Baumann | 12 July 2023


“Your guide can make or break your safari.” If you have ever had a conversation with someone who has been on safari before, there is a good chance you have heard this old cliché. Despite its overuse, the message behind it still rings true – the quality of your guide is going to have a profound impact on the quality of your safari experience. With this in mind, we choose to invest heavily in our guides, ensuring that they are amongst the very best in the industry.

Considerable experience is required to become an Asilia qualified walking guide.

To qualify as an Asilia certified walking guide takes many years of experience and considerable training. 

“Rama was an amazing guide with an abundance of knowledge and amazing powers of observation.” Guest, Jabali Ridge, July 2023


Every year there is an application process as we look to widen our pool of guides within the company. Hundreds of applications are received from both internal and external candidates, all looking to join the Asilia guiding team. An initial interview process and assessment then whittles down the pool to identify those applicants that meet the initial qualifying criteria. Some may be entirely new to Asilia, while others might be working as staff in our camps and are now looking to grow their opportunities. From over 300 applications, a final selection of between 15 to 20 new recruits is made, and training can begin.  

Theory sessions are just as important as field work.

Training sessions include important theory workshops, as well as time in the field.


Despite the extent and importance of the safari industry in Tanzania, there is no formal guide training program providing credentials for different levels of experience. Kenya has it’s Bronze, Silver and Gold level rating system through the Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association, and the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa provides professional credentials further south. However, in Tanzania, guide training is performed in-house, at differing levels of proficiency. We recognised the need for improved structure, and implemented a training system which now produces highly sought after, industry leading guides. 

“Zawadi was an amazing guide and went out of her way to make sure we saw all the animals we were keen to find.” Guest, Dunia Camp, Dec 2022

The number of female guides within Asilia is steadily increasing.

Zawadi, one of the all-female team running Dunia Camp in the central Serengeti.   

The Foundation

Each year, over the three-month period from February to April, a rigorous process of guide training takes place in Tarangire National Park. All Asilia guides, from the new recruits to the seasoned veterans, will receive some form of training during this period, relevant to their level of expertise and guiding experience. New recruits, irrespective of whether they are new to Asilia, begin their training journey with the Asilia Foundation Course. This course is designed to cover a vast amount of information on different subjects, including botany, entomology (insects), ethology (animal behaviour), geology, astronomy, guiding technique and the identification of birds and mammals. As the name of the course suggests, this is the crucial knowledge that forms the base on which to build and develop the individuals into industry leading Asilia guides. At the end of the course there is a written exam and a practical assessment and, those that pass, graduate to the level of “Trainee Guide”.

Field based learning and the sharing of knowledge.

Field based knowledge covers an extensive variety of topics, including geology and the identification of minerals.

For at least the next six months, or longer as needed, the Trainee Guide will sit in the passenger seat of a safari vehicle alongside a mentor guide of a higher level. This process of learning in the workplace exposes the trainee to the real-life requirements of a guide in terms of communication, field knowledge, daily planning, and driving ability. When ready, the trainee guide will undergo another written exam and practical assessment. In addition to the guiding aspects of the assessment, there is also an element of basic vehicle mechanic skills required, such as changing a wheel, using the high-jack, and self-rescue techniques. If they pass, they become a Junior Guide and may then begin to guide their own guests.

Asilia safari guides are passionate and enthusiastic

Asilia safari guides are not only knowledgeable, but also passionate about providing each guest with the best possible safari experience. 

“Our guide Augustino was truly the best. He was knowledgeable and gave us experiences we could only dream of.” Guest, Oliver’s Camp, June 2023

From Junior to Master

There are four levels of qualified guides within Asilia: Junior Guide, Field Guide, Senior Guide, and Master Guide. For a freshly qualified Junior, it may take over 10 years before sufficient experience and knowledge is gained to qualify as a Master Guide. Given the diversity of experience across the guide pool, the annual guide training sessions are broken up into 10-day modules, each covering two or three different subjects at varying levels of detail. While Junior Guides may be learning to differentiate birds by their calls, Master Guides may be going through advanced rifle handling or instruction around the handling of dangerous game on foot. However, some modules are completed on an annual basis by all guides across the company – such as first aid and basic trauma training – to ensure knowledge is engrained and fresh.

Guides training towards a walking safari qualification.

Training on the handling and maintenance of firearms is an important element within the process of becoming a qualified walking safari guide. 

The 10-day modules ensure that training is always relevant to the experience levels of each of the guides and allows the guides to rotate through the camps that are still open at this time of the year. This annual process encourages a culture of constantly learning, of gaining new knowledge and refreshing old through discussion and the sharing of opinions under the mentorship of our guide trainers. And it is through discussion, that the crucial skill of storytelling is developed. So much of the art of guiding lies in the ability to tell the story, using words to create the unique feeling of the experience. This ability to relay knowledge about the bush through storytelling creates a more meaningful connection between you and your guide, bringing the bush alive through the effective sharing of information.

Annual training develops a sense of camaraderie and strengthens friendships.

Outside of the serious training element, the sessions present the opportunity to connect with colleagues from across the company. 

“Gerald as a guide was exceptionally informed about the wildlife, culture and history not to mention a great birder and made the trip enjoyable.” Guest, Sayari Camp, June 2023

By providing our guides with the platform and the opportunity to constantly upskill and grow their abilities in the field, a cycle of personal development and self-improvement is entered into, naturally creating an environment in which Asilia guides will consistently perform. This culture of learning translates into an elevated guest experience through a closer connection to the wildlife, the history, and the cultures of East Africa. One only needs to read through a handful of Asilia guest reviews to discover the recurring theme of praise and gratitude for the exceptional quality of our guides. It may be a tired cliché, but the importance of a quality guide cannot be underestimated. We know this, which is why we endeavour to provide the best.

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