Africa’s safari areas have made great strides in recent years to combat poaching and promote conservation. Tour operators on the ground, led by some of our favorite preferred partners, have done admirable work not only in fostering wildlife preserves but also in making sure the communities they operate within benefit from the tourism dollars flowing in. From jobs to schools to health initiatives, safari-goers and safari companies have been supporting the communities that support them. The COVID-19 pandemic has threatened that, as a lack of business leads to less funding for animal sanctuaries, fewer jobs for locals and more poaching as opportunities to earn money dwindle.
There are, however, now several countries in Africa’s safari areas that are accepting American travelers. With that comes the opportunity to glimpse some of the world’s most stunning wildlife and stay in some of the world’s best lodges and have the places practically to yourself.
The vast grasslands of Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa are open to travelers. Kenya requires a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 96 hours of arrival, along with a health screening upon landing. Tanzania might test you on arrival depending on your screening. Once there, you have open to you the majesty of Kilimanjaro, the Ngorongoro Crater and the Olduvai Gorge open to you, along with cultural visits with the Maasai people and oh so many beautiful creatures.
Neighboring Rwanda is also open to visitors with a negative test within five days of arrival in addition to a negative test on arrival (you’ll have to spend a day in quarantine at your lodging to await results). Once cleared, travelers can go gorilla trekking and birding in the country’s verdant national parks. Uganda is also open, with a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival required.
Moving south, Zambia allows visitors in with a negative PCR test taken within two weeks of arrival. You will also need to inform officials of where you will be staying for potential follow-up screening. You can still go on safari there and visit Victoria Falls, though anyone crossing to Zimbabwe not only needs a negative test taken within 48 hours, there is a 14-day quarantine.
Namibia’s dunes, wildlife and birds are open to you if you have a negative test taken at least 72 hours but no more than seven days before your departure. Going to South Africa is more complicated but possible as part of a longer itinerary as you’ll need to spend at least 10 days in a low-risk country (the U.S. is high-risk) first. You’ll also need a negative PCR test within 72 hours of departure, a government contact tracing app, mandatory travel insurance and a health screening on arrival.
In the wide open spaces of Africa’s safari areas, you’ll be able to go on private or small group tours with a feeling of safety and security, see amazing animals and cultures up close and help spur the local economies. And you’ll easily avoid the crowds.
“It sounds so simple I just got to go,” James Taylor sang of Mexico. He was spot-on at any time, but particularly now when it’s one of the few places Americans can travel without taking a COVID-19 test first or quarantining on arrival. That’s not to say safety isn’t a priority, as enhanced airport protocols have masks, sanitizer and social distancing ubiquitous. Visitors do fill out a health questionnaire on arrival and temperatures are taken. It’s that Mexico is just a quick flight away for most of us, and our neighbor to the south has been a favorite destination for decades.
There are so many layers to Mexico, you can go time and again and never have the same journey twice. Even the familiar areas are always adapting with the times, with new resorts that blend in with natural surroundings and emphasize quality, service and wellness. Though entry is simple, hotels and resorts are at reduced capacity and have safeguards everywhere. Fortunately, there are so many Virtuoso-preferred accommodations in Mexico that you can travel throughout the country in style and safety.
Cancun/Riviera Maya, Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos tend to see the most visitors and are probably the areas you’re most familiar with. What you may not realize is the sheer variety of the resorts there means there’s a lot more to them than the cookie-cutter all-inclusives swarmed by college-aged spring breakers you might imagine.
Just minutes away from the Cancun airport is NIZUC Resort & Spa on grounds that once served as a getaway for Mexico’s president. Given the tranquility you’ll find there, you’d scarcely believe how close you are to the busy hotel zone. Down the coast, resorts such as Chable Maroma, which offers a Mayan rebirth ceremony, and Rosewood Mayakoba, which preserves the mangrove ecosystem around the resort, deliver authenticity as well as a great beach. Overwater bungalows along the Riviera Maya can satisfy your desire for the lagoon experience without venturing all the way to the South Pacifc. Just inland in the Yucatan, Merida is a base for exploring a land of cenotes and Mayan ruins.
Just outside Puerto Vallarta, resorts such as Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit, Four Seasons Punta Mita and One&Only Mandarina are oases of exclusivity with secluded settings, culinary delights and endless activities for families and couples. There are resorts aplenty in Los Cabos at the end of Baja California. Given the area’s geography, there aren’t swimmable beaches aplenty. One of the few can be found at One&Only Palmilla, where every room has a view of the dazzling Sea of Cortez.
From Costalegre to Zihuatanejo, Mexico’s Pacific coast is dotted with secluded coves and pristine beaches. All along that stretch, you’ll find Virtuoso-preferred boutique hotels and resorts to put your feet up and take a load off. Be it the 16-suite Las Alamandas spread out over 1,500 acres of tropical paradise, the Cuixmala private estate on 32,000 acres of biosphere reserve or the romantic retreat of 59-room Cala del Mar, you’ll be far away from cares and crowds. The 56-room Thompson Zihuatanejo is close enough to town for day exploration before you retire to your private beachfront oasis. No wonder Red and Andy were so eager to get down there after they left Shawshank.
We love the beach as much as anyone. We’d be remiss to leave out the wonderful cultural experiences in Mexico’s colonial interior, however. Mexico City is one of the culinary capitals of the world, and three Virtuoso-preferred hotels there put you in the heart of the restaurant scene and the posh neighborhoods of Roma, Condesa and Polanco. The magnificent ruins of Tenochtitlan are just outside the city, and the centro contains the city’s well-preserved Spanish architecture.
Puebla’s entire downtown is an open-air UNESCO World Heritage site, as is Oaxaca, which preserves key components of pre-Spanish cultures, passed down today in artisan villages where time-honored traditions produce handmade textiles from natural materials. San Miguel de Allende, another World Heritage site, is about as close to heaven as you can get on Earth and an artist’s dream. The service and accommodations at Rosewood San Miguel de Allende and Belmond Casa de Sierra Nevada keep that heavenly feeling instilled all through the night.
If you want to eat, drink and be merry in 2020, there may be no better place than colonial Mexico. Just like James Taylor, you might forget to go home.
The Irish will tell you that if you’ve only been to Dublin, you haven’t been to Ireland. The Emerald Isle might be an extreme example of this, with wide open green spaces all around outside of the main city. But there’s a lot of truth to the notion. Can you really claim to have seen Italy if you’ve only been to Rome? Japan if you’ve only been to Tokyo? Australia if you’ve only been to Sydney?
The idea of being more of a traveler than a tourist isn’t new. We’ve been promoting living as a local for years. It helps you get more of a feel for what life is really like in the destination you’re visiting rather than what the inside of the major tourist attractions is like. That’s not to say you should skip the major city in your destination. But combining it with the surrounding territory gives you a much fuller picture.
It’s also especially valuable in the COVID era, when privacy and personal space are luxuries. You can still see the attractions of the capital, but with an after-hours tour that enhances the experience and avoids the crowds. If you’ve seen the top attractions before, check out the hidden side of the city outside the main tourist zone, where real locals carry out age-old ways of life. Then spend a few days in the regional areas where locals go when they need a break from the city.
Those regional areas can open up a much more authentic and fulfilling experience. Think of how much better a trip to Florence is when it’s combined with time out in the Tuscan countryside. You can apply that same principle to practically any destination. Think Cape Town and the Cape Winelands, Buenos Aires and Mendoza, New York and the Hudson Valley. You get the idea.
There’s way too much beauty in the world, far too many things worth seeing, doing and learning, to limit yourself to part of a place. When in Rome, does as the Romans do: Get out of the city and see the rest of the country.
Winter is coming. That’s not just relevant for the characters in “Game of Thrones.” After a summer spent rediscovering the great American road trip, we’re headed toward cold weather again. We’ve been keeping you up to date with openings and regulations in the Caribbean, and starting Oct. 15 visitors to Hawaii will be able to avoid a 14-day quarantine with a negative COVID-19 test and health declaration form. That will come in especially handy when the first snows fall. Meanwhile on the U.S. mainland, a lot of destinations will get a lot less pleasant to be outside in soon. These places are great to check out before winter arrives.
New York City
Sadly, it will be well into next spring before Broadway is back. But NYC is hardly “dead forever” as some have opined. Autumn in New York is so lovely there’s a jazz standard and a movie about it. Without international visitors, the businesses that depend on tourism could really use some income, and prices for accommodations are far below their typical highs. New York is still New York, and there are a million things to do. Be aware, though, that only visitors from certain states are allowed to travel to New York without a 14-day quarantine, so consult with your travel advisor — who can also set up private and behind-the-scenes touring — before planning a trip.
The Mountain West
The aspen trees are golden in Colorado and the Tetons. The Big Sky Country of Montana has a few more weeks before that sky is filled with snowflakes. The temperatures for hiking and biking are becoming much more bearable in the national parks. There’s one last chance to save the fresh air of the great outdoors before Old Man Winter creeps in and much of the wildlife goes into hibernation. Alaska’s Katmai National Park has already crowned a “Fat Bear Week” champion, so it’s only a matter of time before the Lower 48 bears start heading to their winter quarters.
The fall foliage is always a sight to behold. This year there are far fewer cruise options since ships with more than 250 passengers are under a no-sail order. A car trip through the region going from one great boutique inn or wellness resort to the next is the relaxing getaway you need before settling in for a long winter. Again, be sure to plan your route with your travel advisor to ensure you’re following state-by-state travel advisories.
Wherever you live, you’re bound to be within a few hours of a lake. The fishing is just as tranquil and the calm of the water just as soothing as it was in summertime. Now there might even be a mist rising off the water in the mornings as the cool night air starts to warm. The leaves are changing colors and reflecting off the glassy surface of the water, making for a picture perfect scene as you kayak or paddle across, or just take the scene in from afar.
Do you know which countries—even states—you can travel to right now? Do you know what the requirements are? The list changes every week. It’s not fun to do, but think back to March when countries first started shutting down borders. Thousands upon thousands of people had to scramble to get home with little or conflicting information. Those who booked with online travel agencies had an unbelievably difficult time getting a person on the phone and often got little help when they could talk to someone. If you were traveling during that time, it’s an experience you’ll never forget.
Those who worked with travel advisors not only got through to them, they most often found that their advisors were already working to rebook them and get them home safely. We advisors worked tirelessly with our partners to get refunds and future travel credits for our clients, and as restrictions stretched on for weeks and then months we helped them dream of future travels. We advised on booking early for next year as places fill up fast given the huge increase in demand and limited capacity.
We remain up to date on the ever-changing regulations, safety protocols and trends to enable socially distanced travel. It’s a lot of work, but it’s reflective of what we do. We are our experts in the field of travel and have relationships with partners on the ground all over the world. Our clients have a VIP experience wherever they go. Now that safety is the new luxury, it’s just another thing we’ve added to our repertoire. We work with the best of the best, and they help us make sure your experience is safe and enjoyable.
We don’t just handle the nitty-gritty details of getting you from Point A to Point B so you can focus on having a great time. We also craft indelible life moments you can’t find on the internet, and maybe couldn’t even find in your imagination. With the Virtuoso Wanderlist tool, we can help envision your next adventure or series of adventures and discover excursions you didn’t know existed. You might even find that there’s a destination you never would have thought about that matches your wish list. Dream with us. Plan with us. Let’s get back to creating the good kind of unforgettable experience. Reach Stefany at (917) 653-9346 and or email@example.com and or firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.
If you’re a cruiser, you love cruising and probably already have one booked for 2021. If you’re not a cruiser, you might be thinking there are some deals to be had. To an extent, you’re right, but you shouldn’t wait too long to make your booking for next year. That’s because demand is sky-high (thanks to all those dedicated cruisers). With the CDC likely to extend its no-sail order for ships with more than 250 passengers through the end of the year, most lines aren’t restarting until 2021. And when they do start, they won’t be at 100% occupancy. So just like with premium hotels and tours, space will be limited and if you don’t book early you could end up waiting for a year or two.
During their time away, the cruise lines have been busy putting together panels of experts in infectious disease, public health, hospitality and maritime operations to ensure they can deliver safe and fun experiences on the high seas. The measures they’re implementing will begin before you even board the ship, with enhanced screening in the terminal before passengers board and negative COVID tests likely to be required. The traditional muster drills at the beginning of the cruise will be done electronically, either via app or in-cabin TV to avoid gathering in large crowds. Masks will be required in public areas, and extra space will be allotted for distancing in restaurants and at shows.
Cleaning protocols will be stringent, with every surface throughout the ship routinely sanitized. Even before the pandemic, Lindblad Expeditions introduced the industry’s first self-disinfecting fleet, powered by the ACT CleanCoat system that breaks down unwanted microbes via a photocatalytic process.
If you want to secure space but still not sure how you’ll feel about cruising next year, that’s OK. Cancellation policies are incredibly flexible, with most giving you until 48 or even 24 hours before sailing to change your mind without losing money. The cruise lines and your advisor want you to feel comfortable, not pressured. If you’re not sure what your schedule will look like next year—and let’s be honest, who among us is?—it’s easy to adjust your cruise dates without penalty, so long as there’s space.
Remember, that no-sail order applies only to ships with 250 or more passengers. Small ships, already a fantastic way to have a more intimate experience and get into smaller ports the big ships can’t even reach, can still sail. That means small ships such as those from UnCruise Adventures, SeaDream Yacht Club, Azamara and others are sailing, and adding some unique itineraries to their repertoires.
Cruises will be back and better than ever. The question is, will there be any space left by the time you book?