Considering a warm weather getaway for the holidays? Here’s what to consider about COVID-19 risk before you book your trip.
As the temperatures drop and we head firmly into winter, you might be thinking of visiting a tropical destination for the holidays.
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to complicate travel and no destination is risk-free, there are some destinations where you can find warm weather refuge with lower transmission rates and safety protocols that may help put you at ease.
Healthline spoke with health and travel experts about what you should consider before booking a trip to a tropical locale, why you may want to choose one destination over another, and how to remain as safe as possible throughout your visit.
When asked where you could consider traveling for a tropical vacation this year, Lonely Planet Senior Editor Alex Butler told Healthline you should keep in mind the reality that “traveling anywhere during the pandemic carries some amount of risk.”
That being said, choosing a tropical destination could be on the safer side, given you can be outside, which mitigates some of the risk from indoor transmission.
“While there are many tropical destinations with lower COVID-19 rates than the U.S., you should also factor in the local vaccination rate,” Butler stressed.
“You don’t want to take the risk of spreading the disease in the local community, so make sure not only that you are vaccinated, but the majority of people who live in your holiday destination are as well,” she said.
Dr. Abinash Virk, consultant in the division of infectious diseases at Mayo Clinic, echoed Butler, saying you should be vaccinated and “continue to do masking indoors and while in flights or at airports” while traveling to a tropical locale.
Additionally, you should practice physical distancing when traveling to countries that might have less stringent COVID-19 rules.
Virk told Healthline you should assess the risk criteria that a given destination might fall under.
She pointed to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination map, which can help you avoid destinations that might be deemed “high risk” at this time.
“If someone must travel to higher-risk countries where COVID-19 is more prevalent (present and circulating), then I would limit activities that increase exposure to people, especially in crowded places like indoor markets, concerts, etc.,” she said.
Virk added it would be safer to rent a house than stay at a hotel, and safer to prepare your own meals rather than eat out at restaurants.
Virk also stressed that if you have risk factors for severe COVID-19, then you shouldn’t consider traveling at this time, especially abroad.
“If travel is necessary for such a person, then they should consider how they would manage the situation if they get COVID-19 while overseas,” Virk explained.
She advised that people consider the status of hospitals at a destination, the availability COVID-19 treatments there, air evacuation possibilities (which may be limited), as well as the need for testing and possible quarantine upon return.
“If staying in a hotel, what are the hotel COVID-19 mitigation measures? Are staff masked and vaccinated?” she added.
Additionally, Virk suggested you develop a sense of pre-travel awareness of the situation in a given tropical destination.
If COVID-19 rates have worsened in the time since you initially booked your ticket, you might consider canceling your trip.
Though COVID-19 rates and recommendations continually change, there are some tropical destinations that may pose a lower risk than others at this time.
Nevertheless, keep in mind that traveling to any destination during the pandemic will include some level of risk.
Also, in addition to COVID-19 case numbers, vaccination rates and safety protocols are other important factors to consider before booking a trip.
If you’re set on a holiday vacation in a tropical location, here are a few destinations you may want to consider and why.
While the CDC ranks Aruba, in the Dutch Caribbean, as having “very high” COVID-19 levels, Butler said a deeper dive also shows the country has vaccinated about 75.3 percent of its population, according to Reuters.
Aruba is requiring fully vaccinated visitors ages 12 and older to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of their departure, or they might have to spend $75 to receive PCR testing at the airport upon arrival.
For unvaccinated visitors, a negative PCR test must be done within 1 day of travel.
You have to fill out a personal health assessment, purchase mandatory $15 insurance, and wear a mask on the airplane, in the airport, and until you make it to your hotel room.
For those who do a PCR test at arrival, they have to remain in quarantine in their hotel room or other place of lodging for up to 24 hours until the results are processed and released.
Masks are also mandated in all indoor public spaces, like retail stores, casinos, and museums, among other popular destinations, according to the government’s COVID-19 website.
Right now, the Bahamas are listed as “very high” risk by the CDC. While its COVID-19 vaccination rate is just at 33.9 percent of the total population as of publication, its transmission rates have been falling significantly, according to Reuters.
Fully vaccinated travelers to the Bahamas must still get a negative COVID-19 test that was taken no more than 5 days before arrival.
Those who aren’t vaccinated have to get a negative COVID-19 PCR test no more than 5 days before their arrival date.
All children between ages 2 and 11 have to obtain a negative COVID-19 test (either rapid antigen or PCR) no more than 5 days before arrival, according to the Bahamas government website.
Butler pointed to Fiji as another good holiday travel option.
Fiji is reopening quarantine-free travel to fully vaccinated adults starting Dec. 1 “after more than 80 percent of its population has been fully vaccinated,” Butler said, citing an announcement from the Fiji government earlier this fall about rates of fully vaccinated adults.
Those who are fully vaccinated will need to provide results of a negative PCR test that has been taken within 72 hours of departure for the islands.
Then, these visitors will have to take another test after getting to their place of lodging.
Quarantine will not be required, according to the government’s website.
Butler also pointed to Seychelles, which Reuters reports has fully vaccinated 87 percent of its population as of publication.
Visitors flying do not have to show proof of vaccination, but will have to provide proof of a negative PCR COVID-19 test within 72 hours before departure.
You’ll also have to purchase health insurance that can cover some of these testing costs.
Vaccinations are also available to visitors.
Masks are required on public transit, according to the U.S. Embassy in Mauritius and Seychelles.
Turks and Caicos
As of publication, Turks and Caicos, a U.K. territory, has vaccinated about 73.8 percent of its population.
All tourists who are ages 16 and older are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter.
Tourists also need to show a negative COVID-19 test that is administered 3 days before entering the islands.
Children ages 10 and younger are not required to adhere to this.
You’ll also have to purchase insurance to cover COVID-19-related medical costs and complete an online health screening before arriving.
Once you get into the islands’ borders, no additional COVID-19 tests are required, and visitors are allowed to stay for 90 days.
All visitors over 2 years old have to wear masks in public spaces, a mandate in place until Nov. 30.
People not wearing masks in public spaces could be fined $550, according to the government’s website.
Virk stressed the importance of getting vaccinated and the protection it can provide against COVID-19.
“Vaccines could mean a difference of life and death,” she said. “Vaccines work fantastically to decrease the risk of severe COVID-19.”
Some of her further recommendations include weighing any potential risks to you or your family and double-checking your destination’s entry requirements, and whether you can meet those requirements in time.
Further underscoring the very real risks involved with any travel at this time, Virk stressed another concern: “How and who will transport your body back if you die overseas?”
That above point isn’t mean to be a scare tactic, but a reminder that we are still living in a deadly pandemic, and any travel does bring with it some risks to yourself and others.
Butler added that you have to be mindful of the people who live in these tropical vacation destinations.
“If you’re traveling to a region with a low rate of COVID-19, the most important thing is that you aren’t the one spreading it. That means getting vaccinated before traveling and adhering to all the local rules and regulations,” Butler explained.
“Being a responsible traveler can also mean going above and beyond what’s required by law. Just because a destination doesn’t require a negative COVID-19 test doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get one — before and while on your trip,” she added.
“A PCR test is reliable but can be expensive. You can also buy antigen or lateral flow tests that can be self-administered for peace of mind at a lower price,” Butler said.
We understand that you’re worried about your health and safety away from home, and the safety of the communities that you’re visiting around the world. As regulations and requirements for travel shift, we’re here to help you navigate this complex and often confusing landscape. Whether you’re driving to a natural wonder in your state or flying around the globe, we can help you protect yourself and others.
Check back often to learn how to protect yourself and your loved ones on your next journey.