Southern Explorations is dedicated to providing high quality travel experiences that preserve the fragile lands we visit. By working closely with our customers, we are able to design unique vacations that match their interests and schedule. In addition to customized private tours, our specialty, we also offer pre-set departures to a wide range of South and Central American destinations.
For the most part, our customers are active independent vacationers, unaccustomed to the "guided tour." They seek not just adventure from their travels but a new world view. We therefore strive to provide as authentic an experience as possible with an in-country coordinated and guided trip rather than sending a Western tour guide to oversee their stay. We keep our groups small and assemble itineraries from an eclectic mix of places and activities, some on, but many off, the beaten tourist path. Because we are a small company, we can offer the utmost in personal attention to ensure that each trip precisely suits the needs and interests of our customers in an area of the world we know well. We have built our reputation for quality and customer satisfaction by adhering to the following practices:
We employ a staff of knowledgeable travel professionals at our Seattle headquarters and have long-standing contractual relationships with our logistical specialists in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, Panama and Peru who help develop and coordinate our tours. All have traveled extensively or lived and worked in our destination countries and share a common business philosophy and environmental ethic.
We limit the size of our tour groups to eight travelers, except on Galapagos Island cruises and tours where yacht capacity determines occupancy and on the Inca Trail where twelve travelers is the maximum. This policy offers several benefits. It minimizes our environmental impact, allows us to travel to areas less visited and makes the sightseeing experience more personal. It allows our guides sufficient time to attend to the individual needs of each visitor. Traveling in small groups also increases the likelihood of encountering wildlife in areas such as the Amazon.
We thoroughly research each destination before including it in a trip. Through our knowledgeable staff, we have established strong business relationships in all of the areas we visit which make for unique itineraries of ecological and cultural significance for our travelers and to while providing for their utmost safety and security. We augment our planned trips with an extensive list of optional tour extensions, ranging from a few hours to a few days, to enable our passengers to pursue their interests in greater depth.
We personally inspect the rooms and amenities of all potential hotels and lodges in each tour location and select only those that meet our rigorous standards for cleanliness, comfort, convenient location, safety, customer service and ambiance. We give the same scrutiny to the safety and quality of the yacht services we contract with to conduct our cruises. We support lodges and hotels that employ sustainability practices and are owned and operated locally.
We contract with guides who are native to the destination and are licensed and/or certified in accordance with the government regulations of their country. All are fluent in Spanish and English and some also speak the indigenous language of the region. Many are medically trained and some have received additional wilderness medical training in the United States or other locations. To ensure the safety of our travelers, our guides are linked with outside services 24 hours a day in most locations to provide assistance when necessary. Ours is a team of knowledgeable and congenial guides whose priceless insights into the true nature of their homelands add immeasurably to the enjoyment of the trip.
Local Travel Services & Regional Guides
To provide passengers the most authentic experience possible, we contract with local travel services in the countries we visit. Central to this goal is our policy of hiring regional guides instead of assigning the same guide or a western tour leader to accompany passengers for the duration of the trip. This ensures that our passengers are always in the hands of knowledgeable guides who know their destinations intimately.
Sustainable Tourism Practices
Our company and all those who represent us abroad practice environmental stewardship based on the Leave No Trace philosophy. We travel in established National Parks and conservation areas, leaving only footprints and taking only photographs. We select camping locations with the most benign sanitary systems, pack in gear and foods with the least waste feasible and properly dispose of all rubbish. We design all of our trips to minimize travel times and take full advantage of local hikes and walking routes. In this way, we decrease reliance on motor transportation, and enable our clients to become more intimate with places they travel. We donate to organizations dedicated to the conservation of the ecosystems in which we operate to carbon-offset the use of natural resources that our trips cause.
Because we believe sustainability applies to economic and social well-being in addition to environmental health, we make sure our tours directly benefit the locations to which our clients travel. We support local organizations, non-profits, and schools to improve the quality of life in the areas through which we travel. We employ native guides, porters, and logistical members of our staff, as well as supporting locally owned and operated hotels, lodges and restaurants. We also ensure fair wages for all with whom we work and contract. This commitment has created enduring relationships with members of our international team and greatly added to our clients' experiences abroad.
Home Office Practices
At our Seattle headquarters, we employ best environmental practices in our daily work. Our energy-efficient office is purposely located within walking distance to all of our major needs to minimize trips by car during our workday. We encourage our employees to use alternative forms of transportation, and some bike or walk to work daily. We have made efforts beyond simply using recycled paper products by making our company nearly all web and computer-based. We mail only the essentials to our clients, communicating predominately by waste-free email and phone. Additionally, we email newsletters and rely on our website to notify travelers of updates instead of mailing brochures that are paper intensive.
Founder / Owner / President
Justin has been studying, guiding, traveling and developing programs in South and Central America since 1995, having developed a passion for Latin America while studying in Ecuador and Chile for several years. Justin began his career in the adventure travel industry in 1998, guiding for various adventure travel companies in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, Panama and Peru. Using his years of experience, contacts and local knowledge, Justin founded his own company to offer first-class Latin American experiences for travelers by asembling the team of like-minded professionals who now comprise Southern Explorations. Under his leadership, Southern Explorations has earned an international reputation for world class customer service, unique travel itineraries, sustainable tourism, and a flawless safety record. Justin travels to South and Central America regularly in order to strengthen and expand his network of contacts and friends, guide special interest groups and develope new destinations. His experiences while guiding and exploring Latin America are evident in every trip that Southern Explorations offers, as he has played an integral role in designing each trip. He graduated from the University of Oregon, with a double major in Environmental Science and Planning, Public Policy and Management.
Senior Director of Sales & Chief Operating Officer
As Senior Director of Sales & Chief Operating Officer, Jonathan is responsible for setting and implementing Southern Explorations’ strategic course, managing day-to-day operations in Southern Explorations’ United States offices, and for ensuring each and every traveler experiences a trip of a lifetime. Jonathan worked closely with Founder & Owner Justin Laycob to build a company committed to creating custom adventures to amazing places, and is thrilled to bring his passion for travel, his vast knowledge of South America’s people and places, and his experience in planning and operations to the company. Jonathan has over twenty years’ experience in the adventure travel industry; prior to joining Southern Explorations, he served as the Logistics and Operations Manager for the Colorado Outward Bound School. Jonathan holds a degree in Planning, Public Policy, and Management from the University of Oregon.
Galapagos / Antarctica Sales & Operations
While growing up in Vermont Marisa dreamed of traveling to distant lands, and made those dreams a reality on her first international trip to France during high school. She went on to earn a degree in Travel and Tourism Management at Johnson & Wales University. Extensive European travel left her with a basic foundation in the Spanish language which fueled her desire to explore Latin America. Marisa enjoys all things outdoors, including running, hiking, and mountain biking. Her passion for both world travel and outdoor activities is an asset in helping Southern Explorations’ passengers to personalize their trips.
Patagonia / Antarctica Sales & Operations
During her childhood on a farm in Vermont, Carrie developed a true appreciation of the outdoors that is evident today in her love of snowboarding, mountain biking, and racing cyclocross. Always eager to explore the world beyond her home state, she solidified her passion for travel on a month-long trip to New Zealand at the age of 16. While attending Whitman College, Carrie studied abroad in France and, after graduation, spent a winter instructing snowboarding in Colorado followed by a year teaching English in Japan. She joined Southern Explorations with previous travel industry experience working for an operator of worldwide walking tours. Carrie is always eager to share her enthusiasm for travel with Southern Explorations’ passengers by helping them choose their perfect trip.
Galapagos Sales & Operations
Raised in rural western New York, Lisa spent her childhood backyard hiking, creek crossing, pond swimming and reading about worlds beyond the Enchanted Mountains. A semester in Switzerland while at St. Bonaventure University confirmed her love for outdoor adventure and world travel. After graduating with a degree in journalism and mass communication, Lisa journeyed to Costa Rica to earn her TEFL Certification; here, she got her first real taste of Latin American culture while living with a host family in San Jose. She spent the following year teaching English in Slovakia and traveling throughout Eastern Europe. These days, Lisa lives in Vermont. She spends her time hiking wherever she can and secretly nursing a minor addiction for Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series.
Galapagos Sales & Operations
Kaitlyn developed a passion for the outdoors while growing up in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, where she spent her summers hiking up the Green Mountains and her winters riding down them on her snowboard. In college, Kaitlyn expanded her adventures to South America when she spent a semester in Argentina. She experienced big city living in Buenos Aires, but also took advantage of what the region had to offer by exploring Patagonia, Iguazu Falls, Northwestern Argentina and the beaches of Uruguay. Kaitlyn learned more about the logistics of travel planning when she developed an international service learning trip for Champlain College, which required on-the-ground exploratory research in the small west African country of The Gambia. These days Kaitlyn is back in the Green Mountains helping the SE Team coordinate trips to the Galapagos Islands.
Sales, Operations & Special Projects
A Washington native, Eric graduated from Seattle University with double majors in International Business and Economics. Eric has a strong interest in world religions, cultures, and languages. His excellent eye for detail ensures that all logistics of every Southern Explorations passenger's trip is in order. While not in the office, Eric enjoys a wide variety of outdoor pursuits from snowboarding fresh tracks to dropping cliffs on his mountain bicycle.
Operations & Peru Sales
From Lima, Angie worked at our Lima-Peru Operations Office for 2 years. Now, she is working with us at our office located in Seattle as the Operations Assistant. She graduated from Cenfotur Institute in Peru with a degree as an Official Tourist Guide with Advanced English. Angie, has traveled extensively in her native Peru and is knowledgeable about the country’s varied geography and its indigenous cultures. She also worked at a Travel Agency in Iguazu, Argentina. Like our customers, Angie also enjoys travelling, hiking and other outdoor activities.
Born and raised in Costa Rica, Marcia developed her love of learning about the culture, literature and language of other countries through travel as a high school exchange student. She holds a degree in French Literature and Foreign Languages from the University of Costa Rica. Since graduating in 1998, she has worked in the tourist industry, first in Costa Rica and since moving to the United States in 2010. On weekends Marcia enjoys visiting new places, yoga, Latin dancing, reading and going to art exhibitions. Her travel expertise and deep knowledge of her native land are a welcome addition to our staff.
Antarctica Travel Specialist
A native of the Pacific Northwest, Deanna grew up hiking, horseback riding, camping and climbing in the forest around her home, always in search of adventure and wildlife. At age 11, she moved with her family to Naples, Italy for two years, and a passion for history and culture was then added to her desire to explore the natural world. She has since lived in Los Angeles, New York, Rome, and Seattle where she joins Southern Explorations with over ten years of travel industry experience, having arranged international group travel and remote, expedition-style trips before specializing in Antarctica Expeditions. Deanna’s extensive travels have taken her throughout much of Europe, as well as to Turkey, Kenya, Tanzania, India, the Maldives, Peru, mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, Argentina and of course, Antarctica -- hiking, kayaking, ice-climbing and paragliding along the way.
Juan is our operations specialist for Peru and is based in Lima, Peru. He speaks Spanish, English and Hebrew fluently. A graduate in engineering and a trained zoologist, Juan is a remarkable source of information about Peru's history, culture and ecology. His knowledge and enthusiasm are always appreciated by our travelers.
Fernanda is our logistical specialist for Ecuador and is based in Quito, Ecuador. She graduated from the University of Quito with a major in Tourism and Marketing. Knowledgeable in all areas of Ecuador, Fernanda meets all of our guests when they arrive and ensures that their entire trip in her country is seamless. Fernanda manages all of our Ecuadorian guides, hotels and reservations.
Carolina’s passion for travel and cross-cultural communication developed during the year she spent in Vermont as an exchange student in high school. After becoming fluent in English and learning about North American culture, she entered the tourism industry on her return to Ecuador. Carolina has since built a 15-year career in the field, making her uniquely equipped to help travelers plan once-in-a-lifetime experiences in Ecuador. Her favorite place on earth is the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Born and raised in Quito, Ecuador, Sully is very knowledgeable about the culture and history of her country. These interests drove her to obtain a degree in tourism with a specialization in Hotel and Business Administration at Quito’s Universidad de Especialidades Turisticas. She currently manages our Galapagos and Ecuador hotel reservations, keeping us updated daily on ever changing Galapagos cruise availabilities. In handling these complex logistics, she has established excellent relationships with the many Galapagos cruise operators.
Costa Rica Operations
Born and raised in Costa Rica, “Mau”—as he’s known to his friends—entered the travel industry in the early 90s by starting an incoming travel company. His work has taken him throughout the world, from Jordan to Japan, China to India and Egypt, as well as to many countries in Europe and Latin America. As a Costa Rica travel expert, Mau provides our clients an authentic experience of his country, showcasing its beauty and its people, and sharing his love of travel, gastronomy, wine and culture.
Laura is our master logistics coordinator for Argentina and the Argentine Patagonia region. With a degree in Tourism from Universidad del Salvador in Buenos Aires, she has been working in the tourism industry for over fifteen years. She has a great eye for quality and detail, making sure that nothing is overlooked for Southern Explorations passengers. Laura speaks fluent Spanish, English, Italian and some French. She travels frequently in Argentina looking for new great hotels, keeping in contact with our guides and seeking to discover the next great destination in Argentina.
Renata was born and raised in São Paulo, the business and finance capital of Brazil. She studied International Business and earned her postgraduate degree in Business Administration at Fundação Getulio Vargas, one of São Paulo’s most respected universities. Upon graduation, Renata traveled extensively throughout the United States, South America, Europe, Africa and Australia, spending significant time in countries where she could perfect her English and German. Upon returning to Brazil, Renata followed a lifelong passion for nature and outdoor activities by settling in Florianopolis on the island paradise of Santa Catarina off the southern coast. Here she has developed a career as a tour planner for visitors from around the globe, showcasing the island's unique attractions. Extremely knowledgeable about all Santa Catarina has to offer, Renata specializes in eco-tourism. When not working, Renata can most likely be found on a nature hike, mountain biking, or discovering a new waterfall or other natural wonder to show future visitors.