The Trailblazing Tour Guide Inspiring Change In Kenya

In East Africa, Darlene Adaji is not just leading travellers but the women in her community – and inspiring them to follow in her footsteps

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Darlene Adaji is one of Intrepid
most experienced guides in East Africa. A pioneer for
women in tourism in the region, she was the first female to lead
tours to experience gorillas in Uganda, and uses her role to
educate travellers not only about the environment and animals but
what life is like for women there. When not on the road, she’s busy
at home “being a chauffeur and a chef – just like being a trip
leader!” to her 13-year-old daughter.

In conversation with Intrepid Travel’s Darlene Adaji

Why did you become a tour guide?

Growing up, there were two careers I was really interested in –
tourism and media. I was inspired by the Kenyan journalist
Catherine Kasavuli, so I wanted to follow in her footsteps. Then,
in high school, I started learning about the environment and
animals and realised I love travelling. After school, my cousin,
who had been in the tourism industry for many years, asked me to
host his guests from overseas. One of them said that I was a very
warm person and they hoped I’d follow my cousin’s path, as “you are
made for this”. That changed everything.

What do you love most about your job?

I get to connect with and meet so many different people. I love
to people-watch and see my travellers’ mannerisms and
personalities, and how excited they get when they see an elephant
for the first time. My job has allowed me to create a network of
international friends. I think I could have a bed to sleep in and
hot food in nearly every country in the world.

What are some of the challenges in your work?

The nature of my work means that I can be faced with many
different challenges, from vehicle breakdowns to long days,
managing guests’ expectations and weather disruptions. Every day is

You were the first woman to lead a tour to see gorillas in
Uganda. Can you recall the first time you saw one in the wild?

The first time I saw a gorilla was in Rwanda in June 2017. No
matter how many times I see them, I get the same feeling as the
first time. Being in the mountains, the air is pure and fresh and
touches your lungs differently. When you’re walking through the
forest and finally see the gorillas, it’s a humbling and emotional
feeling. Every time I see them, I fight back tears – and still end
up crying.

You describe yourself as a feminist. How does this impact your

In Kenya, people generally don’t understand what being a
feminist is. I do not shy away from identifying myself as a
feminist, but it can be challenging in the tourism industry as I am
a female leader in a man’s world. When I’m leading trips for
Intrepid Travel, I use my job to educate travellers on what life is
like for women in East Africa. I talk to them about what it’s like
to be a single mother – which still faces a stigma. I teach them
about female genital mutilation and other challenges for women

How do you see your role in tourism?

I want to inspire more women to join the tourism industry. The
numbers are growing, but the job is not always easy for us. Some
women’s partners don’t like them being away for long periods of
time, and women can be judged for being married and on the road, or
they don’t return to work after getting pregnant. I want to
advocate for women to break the barriers in this industry. If I can
do it, other women can, too.

What are your top three unmissable experiences for visitors to
Uganda and Kenya?

First, gorilla trekking in Uganda. It’s exhilarating to see the
majestic beings right there in front of you. There are also amazing
chimpanzee and golden monkey treks. Then, explore Kenya’s national
parks. There are so many landscapes and animals to see. You can
climb Mount Kenya, the second-tallest mountain in Africa, in Mount
Kenya National Reserve, or walk through Hell’s Gate National

When you need some beach time, where do you go?

We have an amazing coastline in Kenya along the Indian Ocean. I
would recommend Diani Beach, south of Mombasa; it is beautiful and
not as busy or exploited as the northern beaches.

What do you like to do when you’re off-duty?

I am in full-time mum mode! I am also a big foodie and in
Nairobi there are many places to go for delicious food and a live
band. I’d recommend Ranalo Foods, where you can enjoy an authentic
Kenyan meal and local music.

What’s a great day trip from Nairobi?

The Ngong Hills are beautiful and serene, and great for a day
hike of six to seven hours. You can also visit the Sheldrick
Wildlife Trust, where traumatised elephants are rehabilitated and
then released back into the wild. The Gira e Centre cares for
endangered Rothschild giraffes.

What’s one thing that always surprises foreign visitors to East

A traveller on my last trip summed it up when she said she was
sad to be going home, where people never smile. Foreign travellers
love the smiles they get from everyone they encounter in Kenya and
Uganda. It’s part of our culture to welcome visitors and they are
always surprised by the warmth of locals.

What’s next for tourism in the region?

I want to see tourism expand to more of the country. In Kenya,
we have 47 counties and everyone has something to offer, from
waterfalls to fishing villages. We also have a way to go to reach
equality between men and women in the industry. I want to see more
women not only as leaders but in managerial positions. It would be
great to see more women be confident to travel and explore Africa
and the world themselves, too.

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