Review of Airbnb Experiences
We gave Airbnb Experiences a try on our recent trip to Mexico City, and I thought I’d share some info and a review for those who are wondering if it’s worth it. This isn’t sponsored: I paid for the tours myself, so I can be completely honest!
While I find myself feeling increasingly ambivalent about Airbnb itself, we enjoyed all three of our tours, the guides were knowledgeable and personable, and facilitated experiences that would have been difficult to find or set up on our own. They were however, a little pricey for Mexico, and one tour brought up some interesting questions about Airbnb’s policies for Experiences.
How Airbnb Experiences Work
First off, what are Airbnb Experiences, and how do they work? Experiences are basically tours that you can book through Airbnb. They’re available in cities worldwide, and you don’t need to book a stay in an Airbnb to go on an Experience.
We actually booked a cool condo style hotel and airfare package first on Expedia, and then chose some Experiences on Airbnb that fit with our schedule. There’s so many to choose from, it was a struggle to narrow it down to 3.
What appealed to me about Experiences is that there’s more of a focus on real connections with locals: many Experiences are offered by regular people with day jobs, rather than tour companies. And, for lack of a better word, they’re often more experiential, with a focus on learning and interacting.
When you browse experiences, you’ll be able to see the available dates and times offered, but don’t be afraid to contact the host if you don’t see a date that works for your schedule.
After you’ve booked, your host will likely update you on any changes via messages on Airbnb, so it’s a good idea to have the Airbnb app on your phone (if you’ll have data access on your trip), or let your host know if there’s a better way to contact you.
Do be aware that the cancellation policy for Experiences is somewhat strict, so obviously don’t book until you’re sure it will fit in your travel schedule, and allow for the possibility of flight delays in your scheduling.
Our Airbnb Experiences
I booked 3 Airbnb Experiences in Mexico City: A food tour, a street food and lucha libre experience, and an archaeological tour.
First up, Taste Colonia Roma was a walking food tour of the Colonia Roma neighborhood with 7 stops at local spots for food and drinks. We booked this tour for our first full day in Mexico City, thinking it would provide a bit of an orientation to the city, and give us a chance to pester someone with all our must-eat food questions!
It was just the two of us and one other girl on the tour, so it was a nice small group. In between stops, we walked through the gorgeous architecture of Colonia Roma, and our guide Salimah took the time to tell us about the history of the area dating back to the Aztecs, and the more recent history of the eclectic architecture. I really loved this about the tour! While not mind-blowing, the food we tried was all good, and represented a variety of foods and cool local spots we might not have heard about otherwise. Salimah was happy to answer all of our questions, and gave us recommendations for spots to try pulque.
When our she gave us a handy fold out map with a list of the places we’d be visiting, we realized that the tour was run by a local food tour business, Sabores Mexico. Turns out, I could have booked through their website and paid a little bit less. To be clear, I don’t have a problem with this tour being on Airbnb, I think it very much fits with Airbnb’s ethos. It’s a small company, and our guide was wonderful.
But this was the tour that got me wondering about what Airbnb’s policies and standards are for Experiences. Can any tour company sign up and offer their tours as Experiences?
With so many Experiences being listed now, if Airbnb isn’t carefully screening the people or companies involved, it’s easy to see how poorer quality offerings could proliferate. I couldn’t find detailed info about this on Airbnb’s website, so I contacted their press e-mail to ask. Aaaand, a week later, I haven’t heard back from them.
I’ll update this post if they get around to answering my email, but in the meantime, I’d recommend treating Experiences like anything else on Airbnb: be cautious, read reviews, and ask questions if you’re not sure whether the tour is being offered by a tour company or a local individual.
UPDATE: Airbnb never did bother to respond to my questions about screening and standards, but they do seem to have created quality standards for Airbnb Experiences more recently.
You can see all the details here. They include requirements like expertise, offering experiences that you couldn’t achieve on your own, and making tour times offered on Airbnb bookable only to Airbnb users.
However, they don’t say how they evaluate for expertise, and it’s clear that tours by larger companies are still common on the site. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just know that experiences may not be the intimate, one on one connection with a local that you’re picturing.
When you go on an Experience and leave a review, Airbnb will ask you questions aimed at confirming the quality of the experience. Much like vetting of their home listings, they seem to be crowd-sourcing quality control rather than directly verifying it.
Next, Spectactular Lucha Libre and Street Tacos featured a walking tour of street tacos, followed by a Lucha Libre show.
You can’t bring cameras into the lucha libre show, so I won’t post my terrible, grainy iPhone pics of the show here. But the tacos were just as much a part of Experience as the show, and there were SO MANY delicious tacos.
We met Tannia and Juan Carlos close to the first taco stand, and ate more tacos than I can count (my boyfriend estimates 21 between the two of us) at 3 stops on the walk to the lucha libre venue. They even ordered us some of the more adventurous options when we expressed an interest. Turns out I’m not crazy about the texture of brains, but eyeball tacos aren’t half bad.
This was the only Experience where we had any problems, and honestly, Tannia and Juan Carlos were so genuinely nice I hesitated to even mention it here. But I want to be honest, and really, if you book a handful of experiences, you’ll likely have something similar happen– remember that many hosts are regular people, not big tour companies.
So the first hiccup was meeting up. We arrived a little early at the meeting spot, then proceeded to wait….and wait….and wait. They showed up half an hour past the scheduled time (I double and triple checked the time listed on Airbnb), and they didn’t mention anything about being late. I chalked it up to a misunderstanding and let it go. We did get more than enough tacos on the walk to the venue, and enjoyed talking to them, but it felt a little rushed.
When we arrived at the lucha libre venue, we were surprised that they weren’t coming in with us, instead just handing over our tickets. As it turns out, this was fine, there are ushers to show you to your seats, and we didn’t end up needing any hand-holding (and they’d gotten us good seats!). It just wasn’t clear from the Experience description that we’d be going it alone from that point.
Ultimately, no regrets! It was a fun evening, and something I’d recommend doing.
Finally, The Aztec City Under Feet was a (mostly) walking tour of the ancient archaeology of Mexico City. Our host Jose was by far my favorite tour guide, charming and knowledgeable, the sort of person we’d have loved to explore the entire city with.
It was a small group with just one other lovely couple–and this was something I appreciated about our Airbnb Experiences; the platform seems to attract fellow travelers who are cool, open minded and fun. Jose tailored the stops to our preferences, and seemed to know every single hidden spot with cool architectural features downtown.
This was the cheapest tour, and definitely the one that would have been most difficult to replicate on our own, with all the gems we wouldn’t have known about or been able to talk our way into. I’m now set on staying at the amazing Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico on our next trip, after Jose convinced the doorman to let us in to view the soaring art nouveaux lobby.
Jose knew so much about the city, and had so many great recommendations. I wish we’d been able to book this tour for our first day so we could have followed through on all his recommendations.
Overall, I think Airbnb Experiences are worth checking out for your next trip.
Unless you have a huge travel budget, it can often be difficult to find day tours that feel intimate and un-touristy. The Experiences I booked hit that mark of meeting up with genuinely great people who want to show you around their city. I think a lot of people stay in Airbnbs precisely because they’re looking for this type of connection.
There’s some obvious caveats here: Read the reviews, and as with anything else, be cautious. It’s not clear how Airbnb is screening the listings for Experiences, so I wouldn’t necessarily book a listing that doesn’t have a handful of good reviews.
If you’re looking to screen out bigger tour companies, I’d recommend contacting them and asking if they offer the tour on other platforms or have customer reviews that can be viewed elsewhere. If it’s offered on another site, seeing how the tour is presented there may give you a better idea of how personal or touristy it actually is.
And it’s worth considering that some tours may be more enjoyable when organized by a company rather than a single person. It was clear that our food tour was the result of years of building relationships with local restaurants, and careful planning and organization. Likewise, it might be safer to take a bus tour for something like a day trip to Teotihuacan, rather than hopping in someone’s car (though honestly, the latter sounds like more fun!).
Finally, depending on where you’re traveling, Experiences aren’t exactly cheap. Unlike so much of our entertainment and meals in Mexico (and even our reasonably priced but huge hotel room), the cost of Experiences in Mexico city was more on par with what we’d have paid in the US. Still, I can’t really complain when I’m helping a local earn a living wage. It’s not something I’ll be booking for every trip, but I’ll probably book an experience again for a country where I don’t speak the language well, or am visiting for the first time.