Whether that’s a good thing depends on who you ask.
While vaccinations are becoming more available in Mexico, around 26 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, according to University of Oxford’s Our World in Data. As in the United States, Mexico is experiencing a rise in cases, reporting more than half a million new infections in August. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a “Level 3” warning for Mexico, stating only fully vaccinated people should consider travel there. The CDC has the same warning for popular tourist destinations such as Italy, Croatia and Jamaica.
So should Americans avoid travel to Mexico — to protect both themselves and locals? The answer from many locals is more nuanced than a simple yes or no.
Samantha Martinez, a marketing and commercial director for Hospital Multimédica Norte, located just north of Mexico City, has felt frustrated by Mexico’s loose entry requirements for international visitors compared to those of other countries. Americans do not need to show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test upon arrival — just a health declaration form.
She said she thinks that is part of why Mexico has become such a popular tourist destination during the pandemic, not only for Americans but also visitors from other parts of the world. However, Martinez doesn’t believe those tourists are aware of the reality of the country’s coronavirus battle.
“A couple of weeks ago, we registered the highest peak in the pandemic with more than 24,000 cases per day,” she said. “So the situation in Mexico is not getting any better regarding covid.”
Martinez recognizes the impact of the pandemic on tourism, and tourism’s impact on Mexico. She also understands the need for people to travel. When people ask her if it’s okay to visit Mexico, “my answer depends 100 percent on the responsibility of the tourist,” she said. “You need to be conscious. You need to be responsible. … If you are willing to travel, I think it’s a great idea only if you agree to respect and follow local requirements.”
Fabiola Santiago, who runs mezcal tastings in Santiago Matatlán in Oaxaca, agrees. As someone who splits her time between California and Mexico, she doesn’t want to be hypocritical and tell tourists to stay away, but she also knows that tourism can put local populations at risk.
Santiago recommends any visitors follow masking requirements strictly, particularly if they’re visiting remote communities with limited access to health care.
For Vicente Reyes, an Oaxaca native and president of social impact collective Hermano Maguey, which works on promoting an equitable agave ecosystem in the region, if visitors fully vaccinated and get a coronavirus test before their trip, “I would be happy for people to come to Mexico,” he said. “It’s for their own health; they need to know if they have it or not.”
He added: “I think that’s the most responsible for yourself and other people.”
From a travel industry perspective, Americans are welcome to visit Mexico at this time.
“We live and breathe tourism,” said Rodrigo Esponda, the head of the tourism board of Los Cabos, Mexico, where Americans make up 80 percent of visitors. “It’s the only economic engine in the destination.”
Esponda said the delta variant surge hasn’t impacted the region’s tourism outlook yet, and so far this year, visitor numbers have been strong. In July, the Los Cabos region received 25 percent more visitors than in July 2019. The September bookings project the region will outpace 2019 numbers by 20 percent.
Carmen Joaquin, president of the Cozumel Business Owners Union, said because the island relies on cruise visitors, businesses are suffering from reduced tourism numbers, despite having more flights to the island than ever before. Instead of five or six ships a day, the island is getting five or six a week.
“There’s still less income … we used to have 20,000 people coming over in a day,” Joaquin said. “We haven’t been like this for 30 years when cruise ships started booming here.”
In Los Cabos and Cozumel, as well as in many other tourist destinations, there is a push to get the hospitality workforce vaccinated, a move that not only protects employees, but also serves as a selling point for coronavirus-concerned guests. Esponda said 80 percent of adults in Los Cabos are fully vaccinated, and ongoing campaigns are working to increase that number.
Hotels in Mexico have been invested in getting staff immunized, as well.
At the UNICO 20˚87˚ Hotel Riviera Maya, the majority of employees are vaccinated, as well as the employees of the hotel’s subcontractors, such a tour operators and wedding vendors. Frank Maduro, a spokesman for AIC Hotel Group, which represents UNICO 20˚87˚, said the property is very selective about the vaccination status of the companies they work with.
The hotel also offers travel insurance to guests. Should a guest test positive for covid-19 in Mexico, that insurance covers their medical care and extended stay to self-isolate, which has happened.
Maduro recommended that travelers to Mexico look into the health protocols at any accommodation before booking.
“There’s a lot of reputable hotels that take this seriously because this is their life,” Maduro said.
Smaller tourism-driven businesses have also had to take precautions seriously. Graciela Montaño, a chef who teaches cooking classes in Mexico City — and since the pandemic, virtually as well — said she believes travel can be done safely when following common sense protocols. But she doesn’t think travelers should consider Mexico in a vacuum.
“This new virus is all over the world, so thinking about [travel] per country makes no sense because it’s something we are in together,” she said. “It’s not about Mexico or Washington or New York; it’s what you do to feel safe.”
Since Montaño has resumed her classes during the pandemic, she has adjusted them to have fewer guests at a time, has changed where she takes people for local tastings so they can remain outdoors, and has a masking policy that follows local city protocol.
Sonia Gil, founder of Fluenz, a Spanish-language learning program with immersive experiences in Mexico and Barcelona, has done similar adjustments to her business since reopening after its coronavirus hiatus.
“We were closed for 16 months completely,” Gil said. “The first few months were brutal.”
Gil said that with the delta variant surge, she hopes Fluenz doesn’t have to close again, but she is watching the situation closely. For now, she encourages potential travelers to assess their risk tolerance before deciding to take a trip to Mexico. For those feeling anxious about traveling now, she said, “Wait it out. You don’t have to come now.”
Ultimately, Gil encouraged tourists who are willing to follow local coronavirus regulations and be considerate to locals to visit Mexico.
“I think that we are ready to welcome people as long as they can be respectful and mindful of what’s happening,” she said.