Worry-Free Travel To Mexico: What To Expect During Covid

The view from above for our travel to Mexico

I ‘d heard of Americans still traveling to Mexico in the midst of Covid here and there. A “someone-who-knows-someone” kinda thing. But I didn’t actually personally know anyone. And, after the spring surge calmed and the lockdowns subsided stateside, I was curious about a quick, international fall escape. So, we opted for the beautiful beaches of Cancun. And had a completely seamless trip. Now I’m back, I stayed healthy, and I’m dishing all the deets on travel to Mexico during Covid. Curious? Here’s what you can expect…


Assessing International Travel To Mexico During Covid

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I haven’t made up my mind on whether it’s okay to travel during Coronavirus or not. …Still. I’ve reviewed and re-reviewed all the bullet points on ethical exploration right now and I keep coming back to my personal levels of health, hygiene, and comfort. What’s right for you. And I think you have to be brutally honest with yourself about it.

My household is quarantined 99% of the time these days. And we’re very diligent about masks, social distancing, hand-washing, and sanitizing. We’ve quarantined before and after each trip for two weeks. So, while asymptomatic cases are abound, I feel fairly comfortable that I won’t personally be—and haven’t been—responsible for infecting someone else with Covid.

This being said, nothing is for certain, and travel right now is a calculated risk. I can’t control everyone else around me or be certain that they’re as careful as I am. But the truth is, I could contract the virus any number of ways at home, too. Despite appropriate precautions. And, when people suggest being fearful of contracting the virus in other countries, all I can think is that, really, everyone else should be scared of us right now. Because the United States isn’t exactly known for keeping Covid under control. …Travel to Mexico? I’ll bite.

At the end of the day, I would urge everyone to honestly assess whether international travel is a good idea for you. Or those around you. I do not—in any way, shape, or form—advocate abandoning all common sense during a global pandemic. Covid is very real, it’s very contagious, and it’s deadly. And I’ll be getting my vaccine as soon as is humanly possible. I would encourage all of my readers to do the same.

Visit the CDC site for the latest Covid guidelines. Like how quarantine recommendations just recently went from two weeks to 7–10 days. And/or, opt for Mexico travel insurance for that extra level of security.

CDC Covid Guidelines for your travel to Mexico

Researching How To Travel To Mexico (Or Anywhere Else, For That Matter…)

Check Out Kayak’s Travel Restrictions Page

I imagine your average, not-completely-travel-obsessed individual isn’t keeping track of which countries are currently open to Americans and what their restrictions are like I’ve been. Not to worry. I’ve found Kayak’s International Restrictions page to be a solid resource for cursory Covid travel research.

Assess travel to Mexico on Kayak's International Travel Restrictions page

It doesn’t outline absolutely everything you need to know for every country, but it’s the most up-to-date and comprehensive source I’ve found thus far for tracking the latest and greatest. (i.e., it’s a great place to start!) It’s color-coded, very visual, easy-to-understand. I recommend using the desktop version, as I’ve heard the mobile version is less user friendly.

Get Specifics From The Department Of State

From there, I recommend checking the Department of State’s individual U.S. embassy or consulate page for your country of interest. These pages outline the nitty gritty details. And are specific to Americans traveling internationally during Covid.

Assess travel to Mexico on the State Department website

Understand Mexico’s Covid “Stoplight System”

When researching places to stay, know that most hotels are listing their Covid protocols up front and out in the open on their websites. That aside, the government of Mexico has implemented what they’re referring to as a “stoplight system,” mandating the bare minimum requirements. Hotels can choose to go above and beyond that, if they so choose. (Yay for those places!)

Individual Mexican states are assigned specific levels—red, orange, yellow, or green—based on their infection rates. And travel between states is monitored appropriately. Whatever stoplight color Quintana Roo or Yucatán has been assigned, for example, determines their Covid protocols and capacities. For our travel to Mexico, Cancun hotels were operating at 30% capacity, which made me feel very comfortable. They’re currently at 50% capacity.

Return flight from Cancun

Actual Travel To Mexico

As of January 2021, non-essential air travel to Mexico from the United States is permitted. (Border crossings by land are not.) No negative Covid tests are required for entry, but you do need to complete this quick health questionnaire and you can potentially get screened on your way in. Nothing is required to go home because, let’s be honest, what do they care? You’re leaving. And presumably taking most of your germs with you. And the airline on the way back requested nothing from us.

Airline Covid Policies

Airlines have their Covid policies posted on their websites, and we received follow-up emails reiterating those policies. All the airlines I know of openly state, “no mask, no travel,” so be prepared to wear a mask for the entirety of your flight, plus before and after at the airport.

Other than that, some airlines are formally enforcing social distancing, and some aren’t. Most are implementing it as much as they can, when they can. Some airlines are serving snacks and beverages, and some aren’t. So be sure to plan feeding times accordingly, especially if you have kids… or just get hangry like I do.

The Health Questionnaire

We were automatically emailed the health questionnaire a day or two prior to our flights. It’s quick and easy, and you can just show it on your phone once you arrive. They asked to see it right before we entered the Customs queue. (Take a screenshot if you plan on relying on Wi-Fi!) You’ll need separate forms for each traveler, regardless of whether you’re all in the same party or not (not like the Customs declaration forms).

Health questionnaire for travel to Mexico

If all else fails, they have hard copy forms available. But—at the Cancun airport, anyway—you’ll get stuck having to touch the forms, the pens, the little table, etc. …All while a swarm of travelers from who knows where pass by (closely!) because the table is basically located at the entrance to the Customs lines. (You can see how my OCD gets the best of me sometimes, right? I just picture all those touch points and all that transference. Yuck.)

Health Screening

Other than the sort of honor system health questionnaires, there was no screening. Not at our home airport, not by our airline, and not when we landed. I did notice one of those monitors that does thermal screening of people walking past collectively. So, maybe you’d get pulled aside if your temperature was elevated and a more in-depth check would happen. I didn’t observe that happening in practice, though. All of this is to say that there was a kind of screening, just not individual temperature checks.

Riu Palace Peninsula beach view

The Real Deal Sitch When We Got There

Arrival & Transfer

De-planing and Customs were your typical sort of herding-cattle madness, completely devoid of social distancing. But overall, I’d actually say that Mexico was far more diligent in their Covid protocols than what I’ve observed in any number of cities across the United States. To be honest.

They had plexiglass and masks everywhere—at both the airport and the hotel. And, while our transfer—compliments of our resort—wasn’t socially distanced, masks were required and they literally sanitized our luggage before loading it onto the bus. (And then again when it came off, actually.)

Hand sanitizer was accessible everywhere. In fact, they would even let you enter the shuttle or the hotel without sanitizing your hands. (That happened on our Mayan ruins and cenoté excursion, too, by the way.)

Riu Palace Peninsula All-Inclusive

We stayed at the Riu Palace Peninsula, an all-inclusive that includes unlimited alcohol in its pricing (no drink package needed). Bar and restaurant seating at our hotel was all six feet apart and required hand sanitizer on the way in. Most people seemed cognizant of social distancing in the elevators or in the resort queues, in the pools and out by the beach. And the hotel was constantly disinfecting, so… I was kind of left thinking—what more can they do, really?

A side note that, while the Riu isn’t the swankiest all-inclusive I’ve ever stayed at, it was still great. And the service, the cleanliness, and the price for what you get was terrific, so I feel completely comfortable recommending it. Excellent value. Like $200 a night when we stayed. We got an ocean-view suite upgrade, too. (And, yes, those are affiliate links.)

Riu Palace Peninsula view from our balcony

Our Mayan Ruin & Cenoté Excursion

The biggest complaint of our whole trip was probably with our tour guide operators. We hand sanitized constantly, which was great, but they had us packed into an entire massive tour bus for the whole excursion. 12 or 13 hours. (4x longer than our flight.) No social distancing. With, like, 50 other travelers.

They skipped our stop in Valladolid due to Covid, but didn’t tell us ahead of time. And I get that it’s probably determined by the government and all, but just give us a heads up. Because that’s part of what we paid for and I was actually kind of looking forward to that stop.

Then, the cenoté stop was gorgeous, but there was no distancing whatsoever. And very few masks since, well… you can’t really swim with a mask on. People left them in their lockers, so everywhere outside, in the line down the stairs, and physically in the cenoté, there were no face coverings.

I would just advise to confirm the protocols directly with the tour company if you’re planning an excursion. I can’t imagine all the tour companies are operating this way, but it did make me uncomfortable. If I’d’ve known they weren’t going to distance us on the bus for a full-day field trip, I may have made a different decision.

What To Do After You Travel To Mexico

It may have literally been the exact day we got back that the CDC changed the quarantine period from two full weeks to 7–10 days. And both the #AdventurePartnerForLife and I quarantined for ten days. Just… do your part. Make arrangements to telework, have your groceries delivered, and exercise at home for that period of time. Don’t be a dick.

Full disclosure: I did have an upset tummy after returning (all the crushed ice in my mojitos and daiquiris and piña coladas, I think!). After like a week of it, I stopped by urgent care. Since I’d been out of the country, they gave me a Covid test out of precaution. But otherwise deemed my tummy issues to be… “traveler’s illness.” Negative for Covid. Which was texted to me just a couple days later.

Bottom line here—every state has different recommendations or protocols for out-of-state and out-of-country travel. Know what your state’s are before embarking on a trip so you can be prepared for the time after your return. I’m in Maryland and we have an entire website devoted to everything Covid. Your state likely has one, too. If it doesn’t because it’s backwards and denies science, please refer to Kayak’s US Restrictions page or to CDC guidelines.

Is Travel To Mexico Right For You, Right Now?

Travel to Mexico is an option for Americans looking to get away. And now you know everything you can expect, should you decide to make the journey. It’s a personal decision, but it really is about more than just you. Should you decide you’re comfortable with the possibility of international travel right now (or any travel, really), please be responsible and be aware. And please, if you want the world to “get back to normal” and if you want to contribute to the greater good, get your vaccine as soon as you can.

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Cheers, Jordan