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Johnny Villalobos

Leader Awards 2017

Your votes are in. We received over 2,000 nominations this year, each filled with anecdotes and stories about what made your trip so special, the difference your leader made to ensure you had the greatest adventure of your life.

We’ve gone through every single vote, collated the results and are proud to announce the winners of our Leader Awards 2017…

Overall Winner

Johnny Villalobos – Costa Rica


Johnny Villalobos is one of those “legends” among tour guides of Costa Rica. He was a runner up in the Exodus 2015 Leader of the Year awards as well. He began guiding in 1995 and studied to become a naturalist guide because of his love of the outdoors and what Johnny doesn’t know about Costa Rican nature isn’t worth knowing. He is cherished by passengers and colleagues alike.

Although quite a quiet person; his impressive knowledge of Costa Rican history, culture and its tropical nature make him a client favourite. His favourite region of Costa Rica is the Caribbean Coast due to its biological diversity and eco-touristic richness that make it a true treasure of the country. He lives with his partner, his two children, two cats (Salem and Terri) and his dog (Yoshi).

Johnny Villalobos

What our judges said: 

The judges were close to unanimous in choosing Johnny as their leader of the year for 2017. He has been on our radar for some time. But his encyclopaedic knowledge, combined with a real passion for his country, wildlife and conservation and his guests made him stand out. He has the perfect mix of extremely high levels of professionalism and an infectious personality.”

What our travellers said:

“His passion, his expertise, his humanity for the older members of our group …infectious! We had our own David Attenborough for 2 weeks, stopping at every possible opportunity to capture the biodiversity of the trip and to ensure we missed nothing…which we did not.”

“He told us about his country’s history and development; its constitution; economy; indigenous peoples; its stunning geography; plants, birds, animals  and trees.  He also broached social questions, e.g. schooling for children and building a fair society in an ecologically-aware environment.  All in all, he was a truly remarkable tour leader who could have done nothing more to make our trip thoroughly enjoyable and unforgettable.”

You’ll find Johnny leading: Discover Costa RicaCosta Rica’s Coastal Secrets


Best Newcomer Award: Ilyas  Baayay – Morocco


Illyas Baayay


Ilyas was born and raised in the Atlas Mountains and began leading for Exodus just 6 months ago. He loves his country and has a genuine interest in people from all over the world. He is always well prepared for any tour that he leads and carefully selects what pertinent information needs to be passed on to the clients, tailoring it to each audience. He has a great sense of leadership, a good sense of humour and fantastic communication skills, as well as being a great storyteller and magician. He is also always punctual, confident and responsible when it comes to the environment.

What our judges said: 

To see a new leader receive such outstanding feedback within just a few months of starting with Exodus is exceptional. Our customers have really taken Ilyas and his enthusiasm for his country to heart and we hope he will work with us for many years to come.”

What our travellers said:

“I had never done a trek before. I had never really been an outdoors person and was terrified of this trip. I became as fit as possible but was so worried. Ilyas made me feel so comfortable and was extremely educational and informative about the expedition and about the culture of the area we visited. He taught me that I can do more things than I believed I ever could. He is an exceptional member of your team and more people will be able to experience the amazing sites and cultures in Morocco because of individuals like him.”

“The man could not do enough for the team. His support and daily preparation was outstanding. His duty of care to all the team and the less experienced members was outstanding, always ensuring we developed the “family” approach to help each other during the difficult times. A truly wonderful man who enriched our experience. Great job!”

You’ll find Ilyas leading: Marrakech & the SaharaHighlights of MoroccoMt Toubkal Winter ClimbMt Toubkal Long Weekend.


Giving Back Award: Sukman Tamang – Nepal

 Sukman Tamang


Sukman is from Thulopatal in eastern Nepal and has been working for Exodus for more than a decade; however he has been trekking for much longer than that. He started work as a porter as a teenager, more than 20 years ago and worked his way up from porter to assistant guide, to sirdar, to leader. His huge smile and friendly personality have inspired many trekkers over the years. Sukman had just left Everest Base Camp in 2015 when the huge earthquake hit Nepal and although his family lost all their homes in the earthquake and he had no way of contacting them and knowing if they were even alive, he stayed with his group and through a huge effort, he brought his group safely back to Kathmandu. For this alone, he deserves a bravery award!

What our judges said: 

Sukman is an inspiration – to our customers and other leaders. But what stands out is the effort he puts in for his community and the people of Nepal, and he has been instrumental in helping Exodus give back to his wonderful country.” 

What our travellers said: 

I was a newbie to trekking, a 52 slightly overweight ordinary Mum! It was my husband’s idea to go on this trip in February. I wasn’t so keen and almost pulled out a few days before as I was so scared but thought well I had paid for the trip, I will just see how far I can go. Sukman helped me every step of the way. He gave me his utmost encouragement and leadership. I felt completely safe in his charge. He was amazing! He devoted all his time to me and the group I was in. He worked so hard from morning to night such a long day for him. He must have smiled every single minute of the day. I will never forget his smile. He will remain in my heart and memories till the day I die, this may sound cringey but I will never forget him or the trip. It was the best thing I have ever done! I am sure without him I would not have made it. He is a credit to your company and I would say a valuable team member. I am only hoping our next guide will be as good. If it had not been for Sukman, we would not have felt confident enough to book another trip with Exodus.”

“Enthusiastic, highly professional and very friendly, Sukman paid attention to everyone’s needs and planned meticulously. Probably the best group leader we have ever had, would go with him again without hesitation. Always felt safe and well looked after”.

You’ll find Sukman leading: Annapurna Sanctuary TrekEverest Base Camp TrekManaslu Lodge Circuit.


Hall of Fame: Suresh Bandara – Sri Lanka & Danh Nguyen – Vietnam

The Exodus Leader Hall of Fame highlights only our most outstanding leaders who have performed to an exceptional standard over a number of years. These people are true Exodus legends.


suresh and dahn


You’ll find Suresh leading: Cycle the Backroads of Sri Lanka

You’ll find Danh leading: Chopsticks & Coconuts, Cycling Vietnam


Highly Commended: Sam G. Benjamin – India,  Justin Barr – South Africa, Ruwan Balasooriya – Sri Lanka


Highly Commended


You’ll find Sam leading: The Tropical South, Spice Trails of Kerala

You’ll find Justin leading: Cape Town & The Garden Route

You’ll find Ruwan leading: Highlands of Sri LankaDiscover Sri Lanka, Colours of Rajasthan, Cycle the Backroads of Sri Lanka


Special Mention: Sarah Chamberlain & Rich Clubley

What our judges said:

“Sarah and Rich are the hosts at Chalet Chamonix for our Mont Blanc Highlights holiday. While they work alongside a range of outstanding walking leaders, to get so many nominations as non-leading staff is extraordinary”.

“The quality of their food, their attention to detail and their welcome to our guests is without question the main driver of the success of this holiday”.


Remaining short listed people

Congratulations to all our shortlisted leaders! Being shortlisted is a huge achievement and they all received multiple outstanding nominations.

Roshan Fernando who leads: Discover Sri Lanka

Sujeewa Fernando who leads: Discover Sri Lanka, Tropical Island Wanderer, Highlands of Sri Lanka

Sara Bull who leads: Walking in Tuscany, Concordia & K2

Enrico La Scaleia who leads: Walking the Amalfi Coast

Lam Nguyen who leads: Trails of Vietnam, Cycling Vietnam

Neelaka Iddamalgoda who leads: Discover Sri Lanka, Cycle the Backroads of Sri Lanka, Wild Sri Lanka 

Alvaro Siaz who leads: Walking Picos de Europa

Severio Serbina who leads: Highlights of the Amalfi CoastWalking the Amalfi Coast

Armel Andriniaina who leads: Cycle Madagascar, Trekking in Madagascar

Bikash Tamang who leads: Everest Base Camp Trek, Annapurna Circuit



Thank you for voting. Our Leader Awards are open for voting all year round. To nominate a leader you loved for the awards, please fill out the nomination form here.


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