As a travel planner, I find booking transportation to be one of the most complicated parts of creating the perfect trip. One amazing lesson I have learned is, when possible, always book a local, private driver! In each case we have done this, we have been given unique side trips and tours that aren't listed on any website. Believe me, locals know best. You can read all the blogs you want by foreign travelers, but locals will always have the private tips to the less touristy spots and of course, the best food! This travel article is dedicated to our most favorite finds through our private, local drivers.
When we arrived to the Mayan Riviera in Mexico, we had the basic day trips on our list: Chichen Itza and Tulum. I was a novice planner at this time. We grabbed a local driver through our hotel and talked about our interests and he said he could give us a more local experience. Our first stop was a completely empty and private sacred cenote pictured above. The stairs were barely stairs and the light was our driver's own spotlight. It was an overwhelming experience to be alone. We actually weren't able to appreciate how unique this experience was until our tour to Chichen Itza the next day when we stopped at cenote Ik Kil, which had been built up to handle hundreds of visitors at a time and you had to wait in a LINE to swing on a rope into the beautiful cenote waters.
We also were suggested to visit the Coba ruins, which is a less popular site that takes you right back in time. The Coba ruins are MUCH less packed than the other famous ruins in the area, and they are still set in a natural environment. At Tulum, you're separated by structures by hundreds of meters and rope. At Coba, you were up close and personal with everything including a 120 step climb to the top of the Coba Pyramid. The best part about this experience was that you could rent bikes for basically nothing at the front gate and maneuver your way around at your own pace, which wasn't just good on our legs, but a super fun experience! All of these wonderful memories thanks to our hotel's local driver pick!
We had such a short amount of time in Beijing, China. So we searched Trip Advisor for private drivers who would take us around to the major tourist attractions in Beijing. We came across Peter Zhao and we are SO lucky we did. When we told Peter we wanted to see the Great Wall of China he mentioned how busy and touristy the well-preserved portions were, and that he had somewhere more special for us. An hour and a half later we arrived at a completely isolated portion of the Great Wall that gave us the most amazing, private experience.
Along the way, Peter and his wife took us to the most amazing local spots for food. We had a traditional Chinese breakfast and a traditional fresh fish lunch in a rural spot near the Great Wall. It was a wonderful day of experiences only some will ever have!
Last, but certainly not least, is our trip to Bali, Indonesia. It was around our five year anniversary, so I decided to hire a photographer to take some vow renewal pictures, and he ended up being our private driver AND tour guide. His name is Dean, and aside from being an incredible photographer, he took us to the most gorgeous locations off the beaten path, and was extremely flexible. This incredible tree rivaled the ones we saw in Sequoia!
This amazing temple above is a largely un-visited temple called Pura Gubug off of Tamblingan Lake. When we arrived there were just locals fishing, and they were excited about our pictures so they watched and even helped pose us. Not a single tourist arrived to this temple with us, which gave us the most amazing private experience to take photos and meet local Balinese fisherman. Still one of the most amazing days of our lives!
These are just a few of our favorite times in which we took a local driver and ended up with the most unique experiences and locations. As tourists, it's hard to find places like these that give you a real sense of what these communities and cultures are like. You often get funneled into tourist attractions with large tour groups, hoping everyone will move out of the way so you can take a beautiful picture. By utilizing the expertise and knowledge of local drivers and tour guides, you're more likely to get these once in a life time experiences.