Walking Tree Travel was founded in 2005 by three childhood friends from Denver, Colorado who all came to share an abiding belief in the transformative power of international travel after years of working and volunteering abroad. Since our first trip with 12 travelers in 2006, we have run hundreds of programs in over 22 countries across five continents with thousands of students from over 500 high schools in 46 states and nine countries. Through it all, our mission of helping young people discover the joy of immersive travel has remained unchanged.

Our Team Today

Our team is made up of truly exceptional individuals who are committed to guiding the next generation of global leaders. Our international staff has an intimate understanding of the local environment, language and culture of our host destinations, helping to ensure that our adventures are as safe, immersive and authentic as possible. Walking Tree Program Leaders have traveled extensively and hail from the world’s top colleges and universities. They are extraordinary guides, teachers, mentors and friends. Read more about who we are below!

By the Numbers…


First Aid and CPR certified


Have worked for non-profits


Have worked in higher education


Have worked in K-12 education


Languages Spoken


Countries Visited


Age Started Traveling

Who We Are

Amelia “Ame” Garita Castillo

Country Operations Manager - Costa Rica

University Nacional, Costa Rica. Business Management/Sustainable Tourism

Amelia was born in San Gerardo de Rivas, Costa Rica, close to the highest mountain Cerro Chirripo. While a young girl Amelia had the opportunity to climb Cerro Chirripo with her father over 50 times before she turned 18, and fell in love with the outdoors and wilderness. After having these amazing experiences she went on to study tourism and business management in the National University of Costa Rica where she graduated with a bachelors degree. Since then she has worked for the Costa Rican tourism board, before moving on to guiding. She has worked guiding students in outdoor adventure working for Outward Bound Costa Rica, Outward Bound Mexico, and Outward Bound Hong Kong. She also guides wilderness therapy with Pure Life by Aspiro in Costa Rica. She has had the pleasure of traveling in Europe and South America which further confirmed her love for traveling, the outdoors, and guiding. She has traveled to over 14 countries and loves to share her experiences with others and also help them discover their own passion, and worldly views. She speaks fluent Spanish and English, and most enjoys her time by guiding and helping others.

Gabriel Duncan

Co-Founder of Walking Tree Travel and Business Lead - Denver, CO

Colby College - B.A. International Relations and Government

While at Colby, Gabriel spent a semester in Spain at the University of Salamanca studying contemporary Spanish politics and Spanish language. He also lettered for four-years on Colby’s lacrosse team and earned All-American honors. After graduating, Gabriel hit the road. He fished commercially in Alaska, taught in Chile and China, led programs for students in Spain and Costa Rica, and traveled to over 50 countries and all 50 states in the USA. Regardless of where Gabriel is located, he is constantly haunted by his naive faith in and unconditional love for Denver sports teams.

Jordan Sparrow

Director of Operations - Lisbon, Portugal
University of Kansas - B.A. Latin American Studies; Global and International Studies, Minor in Brazilian Studies
Jordan hails from Kansas City where he spent his entire childhood. Although he didn't realize it at the time, his first international experience would set the course for the rest of his life.  After high school, he traveled to Guatemala where he began learning Spanish and cultivated a deep interest in everything Latin America. In college, Jordan spent almost half of his university career studying abroad in both Costa Rica and Brazil.  In 2010, Jordan moved to Costa Rica for six years where he began his professional career teaching Portuguese to Costa Ricans and working with Walking Tree Travel.  From Costa Rica he moved to Denver, Colorado and spent seven years traveling the USA and experiencing life as an adult in America for the first time. Jordan is trilingual and has traveled to more than 30 countries around the world. He currently lives in Lisbon, Portugal and enjoys practicing yoga, hiking, biking, spending time at the beach and cooking Middle Eastern food.

Juan Pablo “JP” Rabanales

Global Country Operations Manager

Born and raised with a big family in Guatemala, JP spent seven years living and studying in the US where he was exposed to highly diverse communities. JP worked as a Wilderness Leader guiding expeditions in the Southwest of the US. After spending two years in New Mexico studying the International Baccalaureate, he moved to Indiana where he spent the next four years at Earlham College. His passion for international affairs brought him to spend a semester in China, and several other Southeast Asian countries. During his time abroad, he spent his summers traveling and backpacking through 15+ different countries, and participating in several service projects. Today JP is based back in his home country where he teaches English to young adults. Juan Pablo also enjoys hosting friends and travelers coming to Guatemala. He's always down for an exciting road-trip around the country, or even better, around Latin America. A long time art and design enthusiast, and a photography aficionado.

Luke Mueller

Co-Founder of Walking Tree Travel and Business Lead - Denver, CO

Emory University - B.A. Sociology and minor in Latin American History

During college, Luke spent a semester living and traveling in rural Mexico. His experience sparked a fascination with Latin America and a commitment to community service that continues to this day. Upon graduating from college, he joined WorldTeach and lived with a local family in a small village in Costa Rica while teaching elementary English. After this experience, he moved to San José, the capital and largest city, and wrote for The Tico Times newspaper. Now settled in Denver, he continues to crave massive helpings of rice and beans. Luke has traveled to 60+ countries on five continents and is fluent in Spanish.

Vanessa Santiago Schwarz

Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging - Denver, CO
Columbia University - B.S., Psychology and Education Bank Street College of Education  - M.S., Bilingual Special and General Education University of Colorado-Boulder - Ph.D., Educational Equity and Cultural Diversity Vanessa was one of the first leaders to work with Walking Tree Travel and has guided students on programs throughout Latin America. After ten years of working as a classroom teacher in New York City Public Schools’ bilingual programs, Vanessa pursued a doctorate in Educational Equity and Cultural Diversity. Now, in addition to being a full-time professor at the University of Colorado, she works with Walking Tree Travel to promote diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging among our staff and with our global partners. Vanessa provides valuable insight into how to implement equitable practices both locally and globally.  She is passionate about engaging in service work that is grounded in social justice and committed to equity.

Yusra Alsaleh

Flight Director, Marketing Director, and Technology Director - Remote

Earlham College - B.A. Peace & Global Studies 
Indiana University - M.P.A. International Development and Nonprofit Management

Born and raised in Kuwait, Yusra traveled to the United States to pursue a B.A. in Peace and Global Studies at Earlham College with a focus on Conflict Transformation. Since then, she has been involved in several leadership positions (including working for a start- up peace museum) and actively seeks to help individuals challenge and learn from the world around them. Growing up in a household with a Father who was a Pilot and a Mother who was a Flight Attendant, Yusra began traveling as soon as she could walk and enjoys engaging the world through travel and interaction. She is passionate about social justice issues, grassroots movements and individual empowerment. In her free time, Yusra enjoys exploring new cities by bike, drawing and getting lost in libraries and bookstores.