The travel industry is in a strange state.
People who regularly travel a few times per year are feeling terrified of getting on a plane, confused about international travel restrictions, or worse, condemning anyone they see traveling.
Then, there are the few who are still daring enough to travel but feeling guilty and concerned about what other people will think.
After extensive research and talking to a local friend living in Playa del Carmen, my friend and I decided it was fine to visit Mexico for three days of freediving, scuba diving, and swimming with Whale Sharks!
If you’re one of the daring few who wants to travel during COVID madness, here’s what it’s like traveling to Quintana Roo, Mexico from the USA.
Disclaimer: I traveled to Mexico during the last week of July and this article is accurate as of 8/15/2020. Restrictions are constantly being updated so refer to the most up-to-date information before booking your trip.
Pre-Booking Research Confusion
If you’re interested in traveling anywhere international during COVID-19, good luck finding useful, accurate information. Getting a clear understanding of what kind of rules and restrictions you may face is extremely hard.
When researching leisure travel from the US to Mexico, you’re going to find a lot of information on crossing the land border. This land border restriction information does not apply to flying.
While I didn’t find much clear information on what to expect, the most helpful information I found was on the U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Mexico website.
What I Learned From My Research
After doing extensive research over the course of a week that included referencing government websites and referring to “Mexico” posts in the Facebook Group the Solo Female Traveler Network, my friend and I decided it was safe to visit Playa del Carmen and Cancún. The main advice I learned from my research included:
- Masks are required in the airports and on planes.
- Quintana Roo was designated “orange” by Mexico’s federal government meaning “hotels, restaurants, barbershops, open-air parks, and gyms are limited to 50 percent capacity. Markets and supermarkets will operate at 75 percent capacity. Additionally, shopping malls, churches, cinemas, theaters, museums, and cultural events will be limited to 25 percent capacity.”
Make sure the area you’re visiting is designated orange or less before visiting! Otherwise, it’s probably not worth going since everything will be closed.
- Cancún airport is checking temperatures on arrival and requiring you to fill out a form stating that you have not received a positive COVID test, had any symptoms, and have not been in contact with anyone with COVID in the past 14 days.
Is it Safe to Fly on Planes During COVID-19?
According to the CDC website, “Air travel requires spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which can bring you in close contact with other people and frequently-touched surfaces. Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes. However, social distancing is difficult on crowded flights, and sitting within 6 feet of others, sometimes for hours, may increase your risk of getting COVID-19.”
So basically, being on a plane is not COVID dangerous because of the “recycled air” everyone is so worried about. It’s just because you’re close to masked strangers for a prolonged period of time, similar to how you are if you are doing ANYTHING other than staying in your house—like going to work, eating in restaurants, taking public transportation, etc.
Departing from FLL Airport
Everything at FLL airport was business as usual, other than everyone wearing masks and many restaurants being closed. The airport was less crowded, security moved quickly and everyone waiting for flights spaced their seating.
Once on the plane, seats were assigned so that the middle seat was open in each row unless the passengers were traveling together. We still received water and snacks, it was just in a plastic bag.
Arriving at CUN Airport
Arriving in Cancún was also completely typical, except there was a person in full medical gear with a little station sitting along the path after customs. Our temperature was never taken in the airport, and the form we filled out on the plane wasn’t needed until we returned to the airport to fly home.
Keep the COVID questionnaire you fill out! If they don’t take it on arrival, you may need it when leaving the country.
Getting to Playa del Carmen Via Public Transportation
This visit was my third time visiting Playa del Carmen, Mexico for diving, and every time I take the ADO public transportation from the CUN airport to the ADO terminal in Playa del Carmen for ~$10.
Per usual, the ADO bus showed up and we saved a ton of money getting to Playa as taxis cost like $40 per person one way. The bus filled up quickly and there was no social spacing of seats, but everyone was wearing a mask.
Daily Life in Playa del Carmen
Cities and businesses worldwide have taken advantage of the limited foot traffic during COVID to get renovations and construction done and Playa del Carmen is no exception. Normally, Quinta Avenida is a bustling street packed with pedestrians and shoppers, but right now the whole road is under construction. Most businesses on Quinta are closed.
Not everyone is wearing a mask walking the streets but you need a mask to enter any business or restaurant.
Almost every place of business we visited took our temperature and gave us hand sanitizer before entering. All staff wears masks as well.
Where We Stayed in Playa Del Carmen
We stayed at Selina Playa del Carmen. It’s typically a bustling hostel with a pool, activities, drinking games, a bar, and a restaurant, but during our stay, it was like a ghost town. We rented a nice private room (instead of a dorm room) and enjoyed the peacefulness.
Playa del Carmen Activities During COVID-19
Many restaurants and tour companies are open, but not as many as normal. Fortunately, we were able to eat at almost all of my favorite Playa restaurants, plus many more like Yum Yum and the Tiny Tiki Hut. There was no clubbing or nightlife aside from getting dinner and drinks.
The purpose of our visit was to swim with whale sharks and dive, so all of our activities were outside. Aside from eating at restaurants, we spent the entire day either diving or preparing to dive. If you’re interested in scuba or freediving in Playa del Carmen, you can’t find better companies than Good Vibes Diving and Amancay Freediving—both are based out of Sayab Hostel.
It seemed like plenty of tour companies were open as we walked through town, so it’s likely you can do whichever tourist activities you’re interested in!
Departing From Cancún Airport & US Arrival
We were curious about what it would be like departing the country and everything was typical except the confusion when they asked for our COVID questionnaire that we received on the flight to Mexico. Fortunately, we both still had ours so the security officer just asked us to update the dates on the form.
I saw a QR code for an electronic form on the airport screens but we already had paper forms so we didn’t try it. The security official that checked our documents before going through security looked at our forms but didn’t take them.
Arriving in Fort Lauderdale and going through customs was no different than usual. We went through customs, walked to our car, and drove home!
Happy Travels, or Not!
Live your life and be mindful and respectful of others.
We have no idea when COVID-19 restrictions will end, which country is taking the right measures, and who’s on the right “side”. Many people are just trying to live some semblance of normal life and that includes seeing friends, going to work, and, yes, even traveling.
Stop and think before you condemn someone for traveling, going to work, or not wearing a mask. You don’t know what they’ve been through or their situation.
About the Author: Tara Caguiat is a freelance copywriter and avid traveler with a passion for minimalism and watersports. Check out her copywriting business, SwellCopy.com, or her blog SheNeedsLess.com.
Tags: Travel During Covid