Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine has cleared its latest hurdle, with the FDA approving the vaccine for emergency use.
This is clearly exciting, and good news for those eager to travel again. In the meantime, there are still restrictions on where Americans can travel. With January having amongst the lowest temperatures, you may have a hankering to get out and explore our wonderful planet.
What’s more, you may make New Year’s Resolutions for 2021 that include being kinder, more compassionate, and mindful of those in greater need than you, so this summary includes ways that you can make a difference as well.
But 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, 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 January with no testing or quarantine, along with ways you can fulfil your New Year’s Resolutions and make a difference whilst there, in sustainable luxury:
You can enter Mexico by plane (including private jet), and the Yucatan Peninsula is a fantastic choice for the Holidays. You can take a cooking class, relax on the beach, or get active and 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 spectacular Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve. Whilst there, make your time in Mexico meaningful and teach at a school, sort donated clothes and food, renovate classrooms, or entertain the elderly at a Seniors Home, all in Cancun.
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.
South Africa is usually completely sold out in January, so book a trip 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 (repose in a villa at the sublime La Clé des Montagnes).
Make 2021 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, all in and around Cape Town.
All Americans can now enter Costa Rica, and no test is required.
January is peak season in Costa Rica, and this is another destination is normally booked out many months ahead, 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 is that it has a dazzling array of luxury villas where you can be more socially distanced.
Costa Rica is an enchanting, welcoming country where you can view volcanoes, zip-line, kayak, spot wildlife, surf, snorkel, and much more.
Give life to your New Year’s Resolutions 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.
Peru has also announced that travelers can now 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, strangely, 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 in January by building a bathroom block in a Sacred Valley village that would appreciate your help.
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 some of 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, or even help teach there.
Health insurance covering COVID-19 is required for entry to Brazil. A good operator can assist you with this.
This vast, vibrant 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 get 2021 off to a positive start.
The Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic 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 2021 extra-special.
Americans can travel to the Maldives and obtain 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, wonderful beaches and of course the Barrier Reef – the 2nd longest in the world.
Make your time in Belize fulfilling and inspire your children to be world changers by building an eco-friendly stove for a Mayan family.
These stoves are fantastic in that:
- They replace open flames, so are much safer, especially with young children running around;
- They have a chimney to expel the smoke, reducing respiratory problems such as asthma and lung cancer;
- They are much more fuel-efficient, so are better for the environment than burning on an open stove.
A COVID-19 test is required, and if you pass, the rare opportunity to discover the wildlife on the Galapagos Islands with few tourists awaits. Other parts of Ecuador, including the Amazon, Quito, Mindo Cloud Forest, Otavalo Markets, colonial Cuenca, and more are all well worth exploring.
Show your children that 2021 will be a positive year by renovating a low-income daycare center or caring for the children in the center.
A negative COVID-19 test is required to enter Rwanda. You must provide a negative PCR COVID-19 test certificate for a test taken no more than 120 hours before your 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.
Rwanda is 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 are the Mountain Gorillas (minimum age to hike to them is 15) – the hour you spend with them is an hour you will treasure forever.
In January, 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.
Spectacular safari beckons in parks such as Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Ruaha and Selous. You can see and even trek up Mt Kilimanjaro, and the beaches and Stone Town of Zanzibar are a superb way to finish off your trip.
Whilst in Tanzania, you can make a difference by building a home for a family – sure to be one of your highlights, and will get 2021 off to an awesome start.
Whatever you end up doing in 2021, be safe and make it meaningful!
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.