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Meet the specialists who dare to go where other travel companies fear to tread
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Published: 6 March 2020
This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod
This article first appeared in our Consumer Revolution issue of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 06 March 2020. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
If you want a holiday that will get you off the beaten track, look no further.
Dragoman has been running pioneering adventure tours for 38 years; the award-winning overland trips and specialist crew currently operates 319 trips in 55 countries.
Dragoman’s specialised iconic orange trucks can get you to places that dreams are made of: the Amazon basin in Brazil, China’s Rainbow Mountains, the wilds of Kyrgyzstan on the Silk Route and through the Sahara desert in Sudan. You can take a canoe safari on the Zambezi or trek Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains in search of gelada.
The adventures can be as active as you want, but they all have one thing in common: they centre around slow travel, cultural interaction and real-life local experiences thanks to Dragoman’s connections with responsible travel projects around the world.
Off the beaten track
‘Overlanding has changed and adapted over the years’, reveals Charlie Hopkinson, Dragoman’s business development director. ‘The idea of getting genuinely off the beaten track and away from the tourist trail is more important to us and our travellers than ever before.’
When destinations are overrun by tourism it’s bad news for locals and the environment – and no fun for tourists. ‘When we truly get away from it all, we support the local communities we journey through’, Charlie tells us. ‘Travellers get fantastic experiences by really getting under the skin of a country.’
One example is Dragoman’s alternative to the classic Inca Trail; its unique trekking route winds through completely unspoilt scenery where you are unlikely to see another tourist. ‘You don’t trek into Machu Picchu via the Sun Gate’, Charlie explains, ‘but arrive after a night in a comfortable hotel, ready to get the most out of visiting this magnificent site.’
When you travel with Dragoman you’re given time to explore and make genuine connections with local communities. It’s about enjoying the journey as much as – and possibly more than – the destination.
While some operators rush you through the highlights of a destination, Dragoman builds extra days into itineraries to allow time to stop and meet villagers.
‘You might find yourself staying in a traditional Quechua village in Peru, learning to cook Indian food in Darjeeling, riding horses with Kyrgyz shepherds or helping at a school in Ghana’, Charlie reveals. ‘There will always be opportunities to meet the locals on all our trips.’
A unique kitty system
The Dragoman ‘kitty’ is a group fund, paid separately from the trip price, which covers everything that the group does together on the ground.
This is primarily hotel accommodation and campsite fees, meals whilst camping (but not while eating in restaurants) and included activities. It puts money directly back to the local community.
The kitty system is unique to overlanding and provides maximum flexibility and best value on the road – you can see exactly what is being paid for, you get everything at cost price, it keeps costs competitive by leveraging group expenses and saves on administrative costs.
The fund is run by the Dragoman crew, and on Dragoman-operated trips any excess left over at the end is returned equally to the group.
By immersing travellers in the local community – with home stays, shopping in local markets and working with local people to lead treks and activities – Charlie and his team can provide a deeper understanding of the area. This creates unique experiences that really can be life changing.
The Dragoman Supports programme helps over 20 projects worldwide, including the Torres Del Paine Legacy Fund – a non-profit initiative restoring the ecosystem in Patagonia’s National Park – and the Sambhali trust, which is fostering educational and vocational skills for disadvantaged women and girls in Rajasthani society. The trust benefited from a prize fund donated by Dragoman after its crew leader, Ben Sims, won Adventure Guide of the Year.
Going off road
If you’re prepared for a few bumps, Dragoman’s trucks go pretty much anywhere off road – from side trips across the desert to the Bolivian Altiplano. This ability to go beyond the tourist infrastructure is a major highlight of overland travel.
‘We leave only tracks in the remote areas that we travel through’, Charlie reassures us. ‘All our cooking and camping equipment is on the truck, to ensure we have no impact on the areas we travel through.’
Is there anywhere these trucks won’t go? ‘We always follow FCO advice and thoroughly research any new routes’, Charlie explains. ‘We do have exploratory routes; we put itineraries together with the best intentions, but changes may be necessary. Funnily enough, these trips – where travellers are the pioneers for the first season – are the ones that have people queueing to take part!’