Natalie Fordham

The Caucasus & Central Asia expert

At University, I studied for a degree in Interior Design. In the final year, we had to do a sustainable design project and I had recently returned from a package holiday in Jamaica. It came to mind because I remember feeling uncomfortable that these big companies would be making so much money from tourists and so little of it was going back into the local community. It definitely tainted my trip. So that’s what I focused my project on. 

From there, I ended up going to El Salvador to establish a rural eco-tourism route through International Citizen Service and after that, my interest in responsible, ethical travel was really cemented. So when Wild Frontiers came on my radar, I knew it was the right place for me and I am thrilled to have been able to develop our Secrets of Central America trip, supporting the community I stayed with in El Salvador.  

I sort of stumbled into my love for the Caucasus and Central Asia after starting my Wild Frontiers journey in admin. I soon had the opportunity to move into the Junior Sales role and head straight out on our Across the Caucasus group tour. It was almost serendipitous because I completely fell in love! Central Asia soon followed from there

Since then, I’ve returned to delve deeper into both regions on numerous private trips. In both Central Asia and the Caucasus, the countries share a lot of history and my favourite thing about visiting each region is exploring the many similarities and differences, and seeing how each is moving itself forward now independent. 

I especially love that the Caucasus, being a small region, allows you to see and do so much in a short time - and without too much travel. You have captivating cities, spectacular mountain scenery, delicious food and wine, UNESCO sites everywhere, cave towns, I mean...what more could you want!

Central Asia is culturally the most different to anywhere else I’ve ever been, there’s nothing quite like it. Its Silk Road history really gripped me but it also has some really amazing landscapes, varying from deserts, to mountains, lakes and canyons. You’re just absolutely spoilt for choice. 

Best Travel Moments

Favourite city

Tbilisi is absolutely my favourite city ever! It’s just so charming and easy to navigate. It’s almost like a European city in that you feel it’s somehow familiar and comfortable, but it’s also different enough that it still feels thrilling to discover.

I must also mention Bukhara because it’s my favourite city in Central Asia. It’s not too big, not too small and it gives you a nice balance of history, epic Silk Road architecture and an insight into modern-day Uzbeki life. It’s wonderful. 

Favourite country

I’d have to say Kyrgyzstan because it provides such escapism. It’s all about getting back to nature, simple yurt stays and nomadic life - I love that.

I’m also a big fan of Armenia. It has all the same things going for it as Georgia does - incredible mountain scenery, UNESCO sites, cave towns, delicious food - but it’s not as well-known so when you’re there, you almost feel like you’re discovering it for the first time.

Favourite meal

Plov in Central Asia is a real treat, not just because it’s tasty but it’s really fun trying it in all the different cities. They all put their own spin on it and it can get quite competitive so it really feels like something bigger than just a meal.

All the food in the Caucasus is incredible because it’s so fresh and full of flavour. A must try is khachapuri, which also varies from region to region. Adjara’s khachapuri has egg in the middle so it’s like a cheesy, eggy boat. It’s just out of this world.

Most memorable journey

On my first backpacking trip, I took an overnight ferry from Italy to Croatia and as we were arriving, I woke up to the most glorious sunrise over the islands. Maybe it was because it was one of my first experiences travelling as opposed to ‘holiday-ing’, but it just seemed so special and I’ve never forgotten that feeling.

Favourite travel advice

Always ask for permission when taking photos! We travel to learn about other cultures so it’s essential that we extend the basic respect of asking them if they’re comfortable having their photo taken. If you think it would be strange for someone to take photos of you doing your weekly shop in Sainsbury’s, remember the people you meet on your travels are also just going about their daily business.

What you should know before travelling to Central Asia or The Caucasus

In Central Asia, the journeys can be long and arduous. Sometimes that can be down to poor road conditions, border crossing delays or just general challenges you find in the region. It helps to manage your expectations when it comes to this side of travelling through Central Asia and then you can focus on enjoying the unique experiences it has to offer!

The Caucasus has become more popular in recent years as somewhere outside of Europe (depending on who you ask) but medium-haul, and when combining mountains and valleys time of year is key, so consider planning your trip well in advance and if possible choose shoulder season dates.

Best thing to pack before travelling to Central Asia or The Caucasus

In both the Caucasus and Central Asia, I’d advise you to always carry a headscarf. You never know when you might come upon a church or a mosque and you wouldn’t want to miss out.

Next on your must-see list

Sub-saharan Africa  - I’ve never been and it’s the most different to what I have experienced on my travels so far, I would love to experience a safari!

Natalie's Trip Suggestions