In November 2016, Airbnb launched Experiences, which allowed hosts to offer local tours and events in addition to places to stay. I questioned the accessibility and value of these experiences for a long time, but gave it a try during my trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil earlier this year.

Prior to my trip, I booked two experiences: a guided tour of “Little Africa” and a photo tour in Rio de Janeiro with a professional photographer. The experiences cost less than $30 USD each, a seemingly fantastic value. I’m happy to say that both experiences exceeded my expectations and were memorable activities on my travel itinerary. Let’s take a closer look…

Guided tour of “Little Africa” in Rio de Janeiro

I’m extremely interested in history, and was excited to see a unique history tour available through Airbnb Experiences. The “Little Africa” tour appealed to me in a special way, and I was eager to learn about the experiences of African peoples in Rio de Janeiro.

Screenshot of Airbnb experience.

About two weeks before my trip to Rio, I booked the tour for just over $20 USD. Some hosts offer a discount to those who book early, and the rate I paid reflected a 20% “early bird” discount. The description of the tour was as follows:

You will know a part of the city named Little Africa, located in the port area, which was recently revitalized. We will walk around three hours and you will visit important spots as Pedra do Sal, Morro da Conceição, Largo da Prainha and Valongo’s Suspended Garden.

Prior to making the reservation, I had reached out to the hosts to let them know that I am a wheelchair user, and to ask about the accessibility of the tour. I made it known that steps would be a no-go for me, and asked if I would still be able to participate. They responded quickly with the following:

Hello John, you are super welcome to join us to know the Little Africa in Rio de Janeiro!
There are only 2 places that will be difficult for you to know: The Conceição Hill and the Valongo’s garden. Both are places there are some stairs or the access is difficult to get there using a wheelchair.

But you still can see the Conceição Hill from the sidewalk.
We can guarantee that your experience won’t be worse because of these 2 places 😉

The rest of the places you can visit normally like: Mauá Square, Largo da Prainha and Cais do Valongo.

Hope that we can see you soon.
Best wishes,
Gaby and Luana

This response set me at ease, and made me feel welcome. I was reassured that I wouldn’t be left behind, even though there were some inaccessible areas along the route.

Selfie with tour guide in front of mural.

On the day of my tour, I met up with the host/guide — Luana, who is an experienced tourist guide and historian from UERJ, the State University of Rio de Janeiro. She was extremely well qualified, and offered local insights and stories that I wouldn’t have found in a guide book.

As it turned out, I was the only person on the tour that day — tourism in Brazil has been hit hard as a result of the pandemic — but Luana took me along the standard route and pointed out the two areas with stairs. I had a fantastic time on the tour, learned a lot, and left with a new friend!

If you’d like to book Luana & Gaby’s tour of Little Africa in Rio de Janeiro, you can find it on the Airbnb Experiences website.

Photo shoot with a professional photographer in Rio de Janeiro

I am a solo traveller, which means I don’t have an Instagram-savvy travel partner to snap glamorous photos of me as I explore the world. If I want something more than a selfie, I have to ask a random stranger to snap a photo. It’s hit or miss, but mostly miss, and I rarely end up with an Instagram-worthy photo.

Screenshot of Airbnb experience.

When I found a professional photographer in Rio de Janeiro through Airbnb experiences, I was thrilled. Professional photos in one of the world’s most incredible cities — yes, please! Take my money!

Igor, a professional photographer in Rio de Janeiro (@igorsegond on Instagram), leads photo tours several days a week, photographing tourists so that their memories will last a lifetime. Here’s the description of his Airbnb Experience:

I offer a walk by Copacabana’s and Ipanema’s beaches, the most famous in Brazil. We will start in Copacabana, where we have a gorgeous view, with the Sugarloaf Mountain on the background. We will pass by the famous statue of the poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade and then we will walk to Ipanema and Arpoador. There we will be able to enjoy one of the most beautiful sunsets of the City, on top of the Arpoador Rock.

The big catch of this experience is that you will be with with a photographer who lived his whole life in Rio. You will have great photos of your trip while learning about the place with a experienced person. Send me a message if you are interested in photographing in other locations!

I booked a tour with Igor to take photos around the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, then booked another tour to explore the city’s Centro district. Although Igor isn’t a true tour guide, he knows the city extremely well and had a lot to share. The real value in his tour are the photographs, and he delivered some great shots of our two afternoons together in South America’s “Marvelous City.”

If you’d like to book a photo tour of your own with Igor in Rio de Janeiro, you can find his listing on the Airbnb Experiences website.

Key Considerations When Booking an Airbnb Experience

I thoroughly enjoyed both of the Airbnb Experiences that I booked in Rio de Janeiro, but not all such experiences are wheelchair accessible. One guided tour that I was interested in involved riding in a car, and on public transportation, during the tour of one of Rio’s favelas. The transportation provided as part of the tour was not wheelchair accessible, so the experience wasn’t appropriate for me.

Prior to purchasing an Airbnb Experience, be sure to reach out to the host to inform them of your accessibility needs. Most hosts will be happy to accommodate disabled visitors, so long as it is feasible to do so. By clearly communicating your circumstances and asking relevant questions about accessibility, you’ll be able to select experiences that are well suited to your individual abilities.

If you’ve participated in an Airbnb Experience, let me know how it went in the comments below. I for one am looking forward to experiencing many more of the tours and activities offered through the Airbnb Experiences platform!

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