Traveling has always come with complications, but the coronavirus pandemic has made it more challenging than ever. Our By The Way Concierge column will take your travel dilemmas to the experts to help you navigate the new normal. Want to see your question answered? Submit it here.
The answer to whether you should travel to Mexico during the pandemic changes depending on who you talk to. Locals fall on both sides of the argument. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention says that all travelers, including those vaccinated, should avoid travel to Mexico because of the risk of getting or spreading the coronavirus and its variants.
However, Mexico has been open to tourism throughout the pandemic and has remained one of the most popular destinations for American travelers this and last year. In places like Cancún and Riviera Maya, economic pressure has made it difficult to turn tourism away, putting workers at risk when tourists don’t follow safety protocols.
Molly Fergus, general manager of the travel planning site TripSavvy, says that before Americans decide to go, they should keep in mind that while they don’t have to do much to get into Mexico, they will have to present a negative coronavirus test to return to the United States.
“If you’re vaccinated, just keep in mind the odds of contracting covid are pretty low, but it’s possible,” Fergus says.
Those who test positive abroad will need to extend their stay until they can produce a negative coronavirus test, which could add days or weeks to your trip. Buying coronavirus-specific travel insurance could help protect you against the financial hit of getting infected abroad, whether for medical care, getting medevaced home or extra hotel costs.
Jessica Shepherd, a physician and chief medical officer of the online health resource Verywell, says she doesn’t recommend visiting places where a vaccine rollout is not robust, but she does think it is a personal decision. Shepherd says travel will always pose a risk whether someone’s been vaccinated, and she recommends those at high risk for severe coronavirus infection (older, immunocompromised or pregnant travelers) consider the decision to travel very carefully.
To decrease your coronavirus risks while traveling through Mexico, Shepherd says vaccinated travelers should keep wearing masks, practicing social distancing and avoiding crowds.
Following those protocols not only helps protect you, it protects the community you are visiting.
Lily Palma, a tour guide of Zapotec descent (an Indigenous community of Oaxaca) who lives in Tlacolula, 30 minutes east of Oaxaca City, has been hosting tours since February. She screens customers to make sure they are willing to follow coronavirus protocols.
However, she sees plenty of tourists around the region who do not follow local safety mandates. She says locals regularly share social media posts about the ongoing issue of tourists refusing to wear masks.
While Palma welcomes tourism, she asks that tourists wait until they are vaccinated before they visit, or get a coronavirus test ahead of their trip. When traveling through Mexico, particularly if you’re visiting Indigenous communities or going into someone’s home, be vigilant about wearing your face mask and practicing social distancing no matter what you see others doing.
“In a lot of these [Indigenous] communities, they don’t have much access to the city and they may not be wearing a mask themselves,” Palma says. “Don’t take that as an invitation to take your mask off.”
Palma also encourages American travelers to support small businesses during their visit and find accommodations owned by locals, when possible, to put money back into the community.
Bill Esparza, James Beard award-winning writer and owner of the Mexican food tour company Club Tengo Hambre, also doesn’t discourage travel to Mexico as long as visitors are respectful.
“When you talk to chefs and you talk to the street vendors, they’re hurting,” Esparza says. “They don’t have PPE loans, they don’t have government checks. … They need the revenue.”
Esparza has traveled throughout the country during the pandemic and doesn’t recommend visiting one place over another. He says you will find coronavirus precautions including temperature checks and mask protocols in different destinations.
“The other thing that travelers have to prepare themselves for that is things just aren’t going to work out exactly the way you want,” Esparza says. “There are going to be places that are closed or there’s going to be a weird inconvenience that are a part of the pandemic that you just have to deal with.”
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