The big buzz right now surrounds Pfizer’s potential COVID-19 vaccine and hopes that it will prove effective and we can return to some semblance of travel normalcy. We await further updates with regards to how this is progressing, and in the meantime, there are still restrictions on where Americans can travel. With the holiday season looming, you may have a hankering to get out and explore (and make a difference helping those less fortunate) our wonderful planet.
But before you start packing your bags, it is important to ask if you should travel. This is a personal judgment call, and some factors to take into account are:
- your age (if you are over 70, reconsider travel right now)
- your immunity levels and overall health
- the prevalence of COVID-19 in the areas you are traveling to
- the availability of travel insurance to cover you if you require hospitalization
Naturally, if you have COVID-19 you should not travel.
Before making any plans, check the U.S. State Department’s travel advisory page, which has links to country pages that explain restrictions. The countries on the following lists do not necessarily have low rates of COVID-19. The situation for each country can change rapidly, so always check for updates before you travel.
The following countries allow Americans to visit in December with no testing or quarantine, along with ways you can make a difference whilst there, in luxury:
All Americans can now enter, and no test is required.
December is normally booked out many months ahead in Costa Rica, so this is an excellent opportunity to stay in one or more of the fabulous eco-luxury lodges and hotels that Costa Rica does so well.
Another plus for Costa Rica right now is we have a fantastic portfolio of luxury villas where you can be more socially distanced.
This is an extraordinary country where you can view volcanoes, zip-line, kayak, spot wildlife, surf, snorkel, and much more.
Rediscover the true meaning of the Holidays by helping at a medical clinic caring for Nicaraguan refugees: take patient notes during consultations, enter patient data, dispense medications in the pharmacy, and help make patients feel comfortable.
Or, inspire your kids to be wildlife conservationists by helping at a wildlife rescue center or at a turtle protection site.
The Rainbow Nation has just announced that all travelers can enter South Africa as long as the following conditions are met;
- All travelers will need to produce a negative COVID test certificate not older than 72 hours from departure (it looks like rapid tests will be accepted as well as standard PCR tests)
- Travelers will need to comply with local health protocols whilst in South Africa
- If a traveler presents symptoms, they will need to quarantine at their own expense.
This is another destination that is usually completely sold out in December, so grab this opportunity to experience incredible luxury safari lodges such as Tswalu, Singita, or Ulusaba, all with private jeeps so social distancing is enhanced. Then explore vibrant Cape Town (stay in one of One & Only’s apartments), and indulge in world-class wines in Franschhoek (stay in a villa at the sublime La Clé des Montagnes).
Make the Holidays meaningful and help renovate a day-care center, care for and socialize dogs in need of a home, or prepare and serve meals to those who can’t afford it.
Peru has also announced that travelers can enter, and commercial flights from the US are available.
The requirements are:
- Certificate of a negative RT-PCR or antigenic test result taken within 72 hours or less prior to arrival. You can also present a COVID-19 Discharge Certificate;
- A digital health affidavit and geolocalization authorization, issued within 72 hours or less prior to arrival;
- In the case of children under 12, they only require a “Good Health Certificate”. This is not an internationally standardized document, and I understand that a letter issued by a pediatrician attesting to the good state of health of the minor will suffice;
- Quarantine is not mandatory when entering Peru unless you present any contagion symptoms upon arrival;
- The Ministry of Health has imposed mandatory self-checkups.
Machu Pichu is open and ready for your visit; for now, only 75 visitors are allowed per hour on-site, which means a total of 675 passengers per day, so fewer crowds! However, for some bizarre reason, children under 12 are currently not allowed to enter.
If time permits, I highly recommend the luxury lodge-based Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, complete with jacuzzis and massage treatments, and of course the views each day are spectacular.
Combine this with the delights of Cusco, Lima, Arequipa, Lake Titicaca, and the Amazon jungle, and make a difference this Holiday Season by building a bathroom block in a Sacred Valley village.
Although land borders are closed, you can still enter Mexico by plane, and the Yucatan Peninsula is a fantastic choice for the Holidays. You can explore the Mayan ruins of Chitzen Itza and Tulum, swim in your own private cenote (freshwater sinkhole), snorkel, swim with Whale Sharks (seasonal), or discover the Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve. Whilst there, make it meaningful and teach at a school, sort donated clothes and food, renovate classrooms, or entertain the elderly at a Seniors Home.
Americans from all 50 states can now enter Kenya if the following conditions are met:
1) you do not have a body temperature above 99.5°F;
2) You do not have a persistent cough, difficulty breathing, or other flu-like symptoms;
3) You have a negative PCR-based COVID-19 test conducted within 96 hours of arrival.
Kenya hosts arguably the world’s finest wildlife parks, with the iconic Masai Mara, Amboseli, Samburu, Selankay, and Tsavo parks to name just some of them. Mt Kenya and a gorgeous coastline are also on offer as well as fascinating Nairobi (stay at Giraffe Manor and giraffes may join you for breakfast!), plus you can help your children appreciate how fortunate they are by working together to build a classroom in a school on the edge of the Masai Mara.
Health insurance covering COVID-19 is required for entry to Brazil. A good operator can assist you with this.
This vast, enchanting country has so much to explore, from the jungles and waterways of the Amazon to the spectacular wildlife in the Pantanal, from stunning Rio and culturally-rich Salvador, from the awe-inspiring Iguassu Falls and sand dunes of Lencois Maranhenses, to the gorgeous beaches of Paraty and Buzios for some serious relaxation time. You can help run sports clinics in Rio to make your Holidays fulfilling.
The Dominican Republic
Entry to this incredible island no longer requires COVID tests, so you can go there with ease.
In addition to relaxing on the beautiful beaches, take a walk through Santo Domingo’s Zona Central, the oldest European city in the Americas, descend the 27 waterfalls of Damajagua, white-water raft on the Caribbean’s only raftable river, and you can help create a basketball court or provide healthy meals to young Dominicans and make the Holidays extra-special.
Americans can travel to the Maldives and get a visa on arrival – all you need is a negative PCR test result (sample taken 96 hours prior to departure to the Maldives, counting from the first port of embarkation en-route to the Maldives).
If you can tear yourselves away from arguably the world’s finest beaches, you can get immersed in the culture and help build a classroom in the local village.
The following destinations allow Americans to enter, with some restrictions:
Taking a PCR test within 72 hours of your arrival date will help ‘fast track’ your arrival process. You may still be required to take a test on arrival. You must stay at Gold Standard approved hotels, and travel with Gold Standard approved guides and operators.
This small country, the only English speaking one in Central America, has packed in so much, from jungles to Mayan ruins, to chocolate making and sublime beaches and the Barrier Reef.
Make your trip to Belize fulfilling and inspire your children to be world changers by building an eco-friendly stove for a Mayan family.
A COVID-19 test is required, and if you pass, the rare opportunity to encounter the wildlife on the Galapagos Islands with few tourists awaits. The same applies to the Amazon, Quito, Mindo Cloud Forest, Otavalo Markets, colonial Cuenca, and more.
Show your children the true meaning of the holidays by renovating a low-income day care center or caring for the children in the center.
A negative COVID-19 test is required to enter Rwanda. Travelers to Rwanda must present a negative PCR COVID-19 test certificate for a test taken no more than 120 hours before their initial flight. The U.S. Embassy recommends that travelers carry a printed copy of their negative test results during all legs of their flights to Rwanda.
One of the world’s most beautiful countries, with its mountains and lakes, its harrowing recent past should not be ignored, and the genocide museum and memorials are excellent. And of course, there is the Mountain Gorillas (minimum age to hike to them is 15) – the hour you spend with them is unforgettable.
You can bond closer with your kids and help build a home for former street-kids in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital.
You may be tested for COVID-19 on arrival, so it is best to bring a negative test result just before you leave the US. There is no longer a mandatory 14 day quarantine for arrivals.
Epic safari beckons in spectacular parks such as Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and Selous. You can see and even trek up Mt Kilimanjaro, and the beaches and Stone Town of Zanzibar are a superb way to round out your trip.
Whilst there, you can make a difference by building a home for a family.
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.
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.