You'd be hard-pressed to find more adorable tour guides than Hugo and Gabriel. The clean-cut brothers, ages 19 and 21, arrive bright and early to pick me up at my Mexico City hotel in their dad's SUV, with genuine excitement and infectious enthusiasm not always seen in those who deal with tourists every day.
The boys are relatively new to the guiding world, and they've been instructed by their mother, Gabriela, to look after me as if I were a member of the family.
"Welcome to our Mexico," Hugo says. "You are in good hands."
We're off on a daytrip to tour the ancient Teotihuacan pyramids, about 40 kilometres to the north-east of Mexico City. We've started early to beat the crowds and the heat. One of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico, Teotihuacan was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas, some 1500 years ago. Vibrant murals and vast sections of original stonework, revealed a century ago during excavations, paint a fascinating picture of a long-ago civilisation.
As the densely populated urban sprawl gives way to a more sparse landscape, I hear about the brothers' humble beginnings and ambitions for the future. Growing up in a small town close to the pyramids, their local knowledge is impressive. They figured they could turn that into a profitable side business while they study at university. They're saving to contribute to sister Melisa's quinceanera, the traditional Mexican celebration of a girl's 15th birthday, a multi-day party that can blow out to many thousands of dollars.
Budding entrepreneurs, the young men devised a unique selling point that would differentiate their pyramids tour from all the others: After climbing the temples of the Sun and the Moon, guests are invited to join the family for a home-cooked lunch and mezcal tasting.
Their mother Gabriela, who always dreamed of opening a restaurant, serves up the kind of home cooking you find yourself craving for months afterwards. Creamy guacamole and chips, chicken drenched in rich mole, tender enchiladas, and crispy flautas topped with sour cream and lettuce. Her "Mexican caviar" quesadilla stuffed with ant eggs, a local delicacy, is a showstopper.
"Some guides will take you to the worst restaurant, with the worst food, and try to sell you overpriced souvenirs because they get a big commission," Hugo says. "We're not trying to sell you a thing. You're a guest in our home."
Hugo and Gabriel have been offering this all-day outing for the past five months through Airbnb Experiences and its rapid success has exceeded their expectations.
"When we started this we used to dream about the moment we would have 50 great reviews," Gabriel says. "And now already we have more than triple that, and so many referrals, it's amazing."
Designed and led by locals, Airbnb's tours are a way for travellers to immerse themselves in the hosts' special part of the world. In much the same way as Airbnb accommodation allows visitors to feel they temporarily live in a destination like a local, the tours are an opportunity to see special places through the eyes of a host. It's also a way for hardworking locals to get a leg-up and earn some real money from travellers who value these authentic experiences.
Fussed over by Gabriela, embraced by Melisa and instantly at ease with Hugo and Gabriel, I'm hoping the family soon opens their home to overnight guests. I'm moving in.
Kristie Kellahan travelled to Mexico as a guest of Los Cabos Tourism and was a guest of Airbnb Experiences.
Airbnb offers hundreds of stylish homes for short-term rental in Mexico City. Polanco is one of the most appealing residential neighbourhoods. See airbnb.com.au
The culture walk of Teotihuacan, The City of Gods, is an eight-hour experience led by brothers Hugo and Gabriel. Priced at $113 a person, the tour includes transport, entrance to the archaeological site and a mezcal tasting. Lunch is an additional charge, with an average price of US$10. See airbnb.com.au