Good news! Our prospects for traveling more extensively and safely are steadily improving, and this New York Times article makes the point that all five vaccines have eliminated Covid deaths, and are reducing Covid to the status of a mild flu.
I am excited, and no doubt you are too.
Whilst restrictions on where Americans can travel are still in place, and you must exercise your judgment, you can still travel – and make a difference – to a good number of countries in March (a delightful month to visit many countries near the US).
However, do keep in mind the recent requirement for Americans to have a negative PCR test from within 72 hours of arriving back in the US needs to be kept in mind when you decide whether or not to travel.
And before you start planning your trip, it is important to ask yourself: “should I travel?” This is an individual decision, and some factors to take into account are:
- your age (if you are over 70, consider waiting to travel until you are vaccinated)
- your immunity levels and overall health
- the number of cases of COVID-19 in the areas you are traveling to
- the availability of travel insurance in case you require hospitalization
Before you make travel plans, review the U.S. State Department’s travel advisory page, which has links to country pages that explain restrictions in each destination. The countries I am suggesting below do not necessarily have low rates of COVID-19, and may even be against U.S State Dept recommendations. The situation for each country can change rapidly, so always check for updates before you travel.
The following countries allow Americans to visit in March with no quarantine (but you will have to self-isolate for at least 7 days when you get home, and present a negative PCR test), along with ways you can travel with purpose and give back whilst there, in sustainable eco-luxury.
Highlight on Africa – travel to save wildlife
But first, here’s another reason to travel – to Africa: conservation of wildlife. The African Wildlife Foundation has serious concerns for the future of wildlife in Africa; “The fear is that Coronavirus in Africa could reverse 30 years of conservation gains, including communal conservancy programs in multiple countries.
The full effect of travel bans, border closures and vacation cancellations on protected areas and the local communities co-existing with wildlands is just starting to sink in across the African continent. The large revenue streams that supported livelihood and a stable economy were abruptly cut off in late March 2020. No job in these areas was left unscathed. COVID-19 has revealed the fragility of wildlife conservation in Africa. With limited funding for most state-run nature agencies, there has been an over-reliance on tourism to support efforts.”
By choosing to travel to Africa, you will bring much needed dollars to the local economy, and remind people of the long-term importance of conservation, especially as some are tempted to poaching as a means to earn money to support their families.
Americans from all states except California, Texas and Florida can now enter Kenya without having to quarantine if you satisfy the following conditions:
1) body temperature below 99.5°F;
2) No persistent cough, difficulty breathing, or other flu-like symptoms;
3) A negative PCR-based COVID-19 test conducted within 96 hours of arrival.
A mandatory health form must be completed and submitted before travel.
Kenya has some of the world’s finest parks to observe wildlife, such as Masai Mara, Amboseli (with its views of Kilimanjaro), Tsavo, Samburu, and Selankay. A gorgeous coastline awaits (Diani has the best beaches in my opinion, and the archipelago of Lamu is enchanting) as does vibrant Nairobi (choose to stay at Giraffe Manor if you like to share your breakfast with giraffes!).
Make 2021 your year of living with purpose and whilst in the Masai Mara, volunteer to build a classroom or teach in a school, or install fuel-efficient stoves. You will head home feeling like you are a Masai.
Americans can enter with a negative PCR test taken within seven days before your flights. Children under 5 do not need a test.
With one of the lowest population densities on earth, Namibia is ideal for social distancing. What’s more, it is jaw-droppingly beautiful, from the world’s highest sand dunes and the second largest canyon in the world, to the beguiling Skeleton Coast, and is the best place to encounter desert-adapted elephants and rhinos.
Moreover, you can leave a legacy and help conserve these desert elephants, saving them from being killed, by digging alternative water sources far from human settlements where elephants can drink without coming into conflict with villagers.
You need a negative COVID-19 test certificate for a test taken no more than 120 hours before your initial flight.to enter Rwanda. The U.S. Embassy recommends that travelers carry a printed copy of their negative test results during all legs of their flights to Rwanda.
Rwanda is famed as the land of a thousand hills (which are really more like mountains, especially in the west) but its lakes, forests, and “hidden gem” game viewing in Akagera National Park (stay at eco-luxe Magashi Camp) should not be overlooked.
The country’s dark past should not be ignored, and the genocide museum and memorials provide sobering accounts of what the people went through (though of course use your discretion with younger children).
Naturally the Mountain Gorillas are high on many peoples’ bucket list (It was one of the most spell-binding hours of my life), the minimum age to hike to them is 15, so keep this in mind.
You can give back and make your trip even more significant and fulfilling by helping build a home for former street-kids in Kigali, Rwanda’s fascinating capital.
PCR tests are no longer required to enter Tanzania, and superb safari experiences await in reserves whose very names inspire wanderlust: the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Selous and Tarangire. Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, can be viewed on a clear day, and Zanzibar Island is an awesome way to finish off your trip (I recommend staying at nearby Mnemba Island for social distancing in paradise).
Take the kids and inspire them to be world changers by building a home for a family in need of a decent place to live – this is sure to be one of your highlights, and will get 2021 off to a positive start.
Visitors to Zambia must show results of a negative PCR test taken in the seven days before travel to bypass a 14-day quarantine. Some airlines require the test to be done within 72 hours in order to board the aircraft.
Zambia is co-host to one of the world’s must-see sights: the Victoria Falls, which are at their most powerful from February until May. Zambia’s wildlife parks are not as well known as others, but that is your advantage, as whilst the game viewing is superb, there are no crowds – ideal for social distancing.
Botswana’s Chobe Reserve, home to the highest numbers of elephants in the world, can also be easily reached from Victoria Falls.
The Falls are also near to where you can get immersed in the culture, engage with the locals, and build a home for a widow and her children. Luxury options abound, and my personal favorite is Tongabezi Lodge, or the Royal Livingstone for views of the Falls.
USA – doh!
Yes, take this opportunity to explore your own backyard! The USA is so underrated, with a plethora of incredible sights, and being so vast, space does not allow me to do anything more than scratch the surface, but here goes:
– New Orleans is at its most temperate, with very pleasant temperatures, and where you can explore the bayous and the French Quarter, as well as help renovate a home damaged by Hurricane;
– Florida is also best enjoyed in March, with Disneyworld open again, but don’t miss vibrant Miami (home to eco-luxe gem 1 Hotel South Beach) and the Keys (stay in Key West and enjoy superb snorkeling in Dry Tortugas National Park)
– Texas is epic in winter, and this one state can keep you busy for weeks; for the intrepid luxury lover, head to Cibolo Creek Ranch, and from there discover Big Bend National Park, then go north to Dallas to make your trip meaningful by helping at Riding for the Disabled
– Yellowstone can be explored by snowmobile in March – truly a bucket list experience to encounter herds of bison with steaming hot pools as the backdrop, surrounded by snow;
– Alaska will be huge come the summer (book now to have any chance of securing a spot)
Americans can enter Costa Rica with no PCR test required (but one is needed to re-enter the US) however insurance that includes at least $50,000 coverage for medical issues related to the coronavirus is required. There also must be an addition $2,000 coverage for expenses due to pandemic illness or trip interruption or cancellation due to illness. A digital Health Pass must be completed before boarding a flight to Costa Rica.
March is peak season in Costa Rica, and thus is normally booked out many months ahead, so this your chance to stay in the sublime eco-luxe accommodation that Costa Rica does so well. My March favorite: El Silencio, which is donating 10% of your rate to fighting Covid in their community.
To be even more socially distanced, stay in villas with an in-house chef or book out captivating Kasiiya for your family’s exclusive use.
Costa Rica offers jungle, Fair trade coffee and chocolate, volcanoes, zip-line, kayak, spot wildlife, surf, snorkel, and much more.
Travel with compassion and purpose by helping at a free medical clinic that primarily for Nicaraguan refugees: enter patient data, take patient notes during consultations, dispense medications in the pharmacy, and generally make patients feel welcome and calm.
Or, volunteer at a wildlife rescue center or at a turtle protection site and inspire your kids to be wildlife conservationists.
You need to show a negative PCR test in order to enter Belize (and provide a negative PCR test taken within three calendar days of travel to re-enter the US). You must stay at Gold Standard approved hotels, and travel with Gold Standard approved guides and operators.
Belize is the only English-speaking country in Central America, and offers so much in its small size, from Mayan ruins in the jungle, to organic farming and chocolate making, blissful beaches and the 2nd longest Barrier Reef in the world with sublime snorkeling and the opportunity to dive the legendary Blue Hole.
You can inspire your children to be world changers by constructing an eco-friendly stove for a Mayan family, which enables you to meaningfully engage with the local culture and gain insights into their lives.
These stoves are superb because:
- They are much safer as they replace open flames and thus reduce burns, which are all too common with young children running around;
- They include a chimney to safely remove the smoke, reducing respiratory issues such as asthma and lung cancer;
- They are more fuel-efficient, so are a win from an environmental perspective as well.
Tourists may be subject to temperature checks and other health screenings at the airport.
Fly to the Yucatan Peninsula where you can relax on the beach or get active and explore the Mayan ruins of Chitzen Itza and Tulum, participate in a cooking class, swim in your own private cenote (fabulous freshwater underground limestone reservoirs), snorkel, swim with Whale Sharks (seasonal), or explore the spectacular Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve. In Cancun you can make your time meaningful and teach at a school, sort donated clothes and food, renovate classrooms, or entertain the elderly at a Seniors Home.
The Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic no longer requires COVID tests, so you can go there with ease. Free emergency travel assistance to visitors arriving by air on or before March 31 is provided by the government as long as the visitor stays at a hotel. The Ministry of Tourism is offering free viral antigen testing within 72 hours of departure to visitors staying at hotels who need to meet the protocols needed for return to the United States.
In addition to relaxing on the incredible beaches, Santo Domingo’s Zona Central is the oldest European city in the Americas and well worth wandering around in. Adventure loving families can descend the 27 waterfalls of Damajagua, white-water raft on the Caribbean’s only raftable river, and you can make 2021 positive by creating a basketball court to provide enjoyable exercise for the locals, or preparing and serving healthy food to young Dominicans in need of nutritious meals.
All Americans need to enter the Maldives is a negative PCR test result.
Tourists must submit an online Health Declaration Form within 24 hours of departure. A confirmed booking with a registered tourist property is required.
If you can tear yourselves away from arguably the world’s finest resorts and beaches and exploring the ocean’s delights, you can bond closer as a family, get immersed in the culture and change lives by helping build a classroom in the local village.
In order to board a flight to Ecuador, travelers of all ages must have proof of a negative PCR test taken no more than 10 days before entry. Those age 14 and older may be subject to random rapid antigen testing at the airport at their own expense, and if positive, the traveler must quarantine for 10 days at a government shelter.
Those visiting the Galápagos Islands should arrive in Ecuador with proof of a negative PCR test taken no more than 96 hours before arrival in the Galápagos. (This can be the same test as the test used to get into Ecuador, assuming it was taken within 96 hours of arrival to the Galápagos.) If the time frame doesn’t fit, the traveler will need to take a second test in Ecuador at their own expense and wait at their lodgings for the results.
A negative COVID-19 test is your gateway to encounter the habituated wildlife on the Galapagos Islands with only a few tourists with you. You can even charter a yacht (my pick is Ecoventura’s Theory) to explore with just your family bubble (and your sanitized staff). Other parts of Ecuador, including the Amazon with its abundant wildlife, Quito, Mindo Cloud Forest, Otavalo Markets, colonial Cuenca, are all well worth exploring.
Show your children that 2021 will be a positive year by renovating a low-income day-care center, or by caring for the children in the center.
Visitors age 10 and over need a negative Covid-19 PCR or an antigen test in the 96 hours before arrival. A Health Pass must also be completed.
Guatemala is arguably the most culturally-rich country in Central America, with colorful indigenous clothing worn by many people, as well as one of the most beautiful colonial towns in the Americas (Antigua), one of the most beautiful lakes in the world (Atitlan) with fascinating villages dotted around it, awesome Mayan ruins (Tikal) and spectacular volcanoes (such as Pacaya), and much more (and if you ever wondered what happened to all those old American school buses, well, they’re here!).
You and your family can change the lives of a family in need by helping build a home – an incredible family bonding experience that can be achieved in just five days.
NB: this is a fluid situation so the status of the destination you are interested in may have changed by the time you read this.
Whatever you end up doing in 2021, traveling or otherwise, be safe and live with purpose!
Christopher Hill is Founder and CEO at Hands Up Holidays. Hands Up Holidays is an award-winning travel company specialising in tailor-made luxury family trips that combine sightseeing with hands-on service projects.
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