Whether you like it or not, you’ve probably spent the past several months at home due to the coronavirus. Now, you may have heard that Cancun and the Riviera Maya, which includes tourist hotspots like Playa Del Carmen and Tulum have re-opened for tourism, and that recently, they reduced many of their restrictions, citing reduced risk of transmission.
The good news doesn’t stop there; Mexico doesn’t have any COVID-19 related entry restrictions, regular flights to Cancun are starting again from various cities across North America and the world, and hotels are offering great deals to get tourists back.
While all this may sound like a great opportunity to book a much deserved getaway, it’s important to note that the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing, which presents some risks. I’m sure you have many questions about traveling to Mexico at this time, the risks involved, and how it’ll affect your travel plans.
I’m going to try and answer the most commonly asked questions and give you the resources you need to get the latest updates. That way, you can make an informed decision about traveling to Mexico in 2020.
Flying into Cancun
At the time of writing, Mexico’s land borders are closed to non-essential travel, so you’ll have to fly into Cancun International Airport. A common misconception is that airlines aren’t booking the middle seats to allow for social distancing. Unless the airline company explicitly advertises this, it won’t be the case. The majority of airlines will sell as many seats as they possibly can. Masks will be required on all flights at all times.
During this pandemic, Mexico has some of the easiest entry requirements in the world. That is to say, there are very few COVID-19 related restrictions in place. They don’t require PCR COVID tests, and there are no mandatory quarantines or travel insurance required to enter Mexico. Travellers of all nationalities are allowed to fly into the country as they previously did. The only additional measures will be health questionnaires and temperature checks at the airport.
Of course, normal entry requirements like visas will still apply as per usual.
Get the COVID status in Mexico
How to know the current status (Stoplight system)
The first thing you want to do is understand the current situation in Mexico. The government has created a stoplight system to inform citizens and visitors of the current status for each state. The colors in this particular stoplight include red, orange, yellow, and green. The four metrics that determine the color/status are: the trend in numbers of new cases; hospital occupancy trends; current hospital occupancy rates; and percentage of positive cases.
The color status determines what businesses or services can open, and any other restrictions that may apply. The stoplight status is updated weekly, so check this before your visit to get a better idea of the current situation- that way you can avoid landing in a COVID hotspot, or an area with shutdowns/restrictions.
Stoplight colors and what they mean
- Only essential businesses are open (e.g. grocery stores, hospitals, pharmacies, banks).
- SOME non-essential businesses can open at a maximum of 15% capacity (hotels, restaurants, historic sites, water/theme parks).
- Closed in this stage: schools, churches, public beaches & parks, movie theaters, bars & nightclubs, barbers & salons, gyms.
- Many more businesses can open at 30% capacity. These include hotels, restaurants, some historic sites, golf courses, movie theaters, shopping malls, barbers & salons, tours, water/theme parks.
- Bars, nightclubs, public beaches/parks, and gyms remain closed.
- Similar to orange in terms of which businesses are open, but they can open at a higher capacity of 60% or higher.
- Public beaches & parks can open at 60% capacity.
- Gatherings of up to 50 people are allowed.
- Virtually no restrictions
To get a full list of business/attraction types and their imposed restrictions, refer to the Quintana Roo government’s official chart.The website is in Spanish, so use Google Translate if needed.
What is the current stage/status?
The state of Quintana Roo has been updating the status on a weekly basis. You can check the current “stoplight” status here (Spanish site).
The government of Mexico also has a national map showing the status of each state.
If you’re planning a trip, it’s important to know where you’ll be visiting and staying because different parts of the state may be in a different stage. For example, at the time of writing this, the southern part of the state, which includes Bacalar & Chetumal, is in the orange stage whereas the northern part, which includes Cancun, Cozumel, Playa Del Carmen and Tulum was in the yellow stage.
What is open?
Aside from the list above, the Quintana Roo government’s official chart shows a complete breakdown of all business/destination categories and the restrictions that apply based on current the stoplight status.
Almost all hotels & resorts have re-opened, but it’s best to check the hotel or resort’s official website to see their full status, and also check the health & safety measures being taken.
Grupo Xcaret parks (Xcaret Park, Xel-Ha, Xplor and others) are mostly open with a few restrictions and limited capacity. The status and schedule of the parks can be found at the bottom of the Xafety 360 page.
An important note
Government corruption and untrustworthy reporting is a sad reality in Mexico.
Like many leaders, President López Obrador has downplayed the severity of the coronavirus threat on several occasions. And a New York Times story reported that a survey of hospitals around Mexico City found many more COVID-19 cases and deaths than federal statistics showed.
Now before you panic, keep in mind that Mexico City is very densely populated, and is the hardest hit part of the entire country; no other area in Mexico comes close. In addition, regardless of the accuracy of case numbers, the Mexican federal and state governments have taken COVID safety measures very seriously, and the result is very easy to see. This alone is the single most important factor in controlling spread and allowing “normal” life to go on.
Even though the numbers reported may not be accurate, it’s what we have to work with, and it’s still useful. It’s a good idea to try and verify claims, and err on the side of caution. So pay attention to health officials & statistics, not just the government.
Precautions & safety measures
The state of Quintana Roo has implemented new health and safety standards for tourism sectors including hotels, restaurants, bars and tour operators. Every business must receive a certification indicating that it has met these standards before reopening.
It’s quite impressive and re-assuring seeing how seriously Mexicans adhere to the precautionary measures set by the government. As a tourist, you’ll find it comforting to know that the people of Mexico are quite good at practicing the recommended precautions.
Mandatory masks in public
Firstly, the use of face masks in public is mandatory. If you’re near other people or are entering a business, you’re required to wear a face mask.
Hotels, resorts, and similar private properties are free to choose whether or not to require masks for guests.
Restaurants & stores
When entering restaurants, stores, and many other places, they’ll take a number of preventative measures. These include checking your temperature, making sure you have a mask, offering hand sanitizer, and, something I haven’t seen anywhere else, sanitizing the bottom of your shoes by making you step on a special mat.
Social distancing and basic preventative measures are also in place, and as expected, the staff will all be wearing masks and other relevant protective equipment.
Hotels & Resorts
Hotels & Resorts are perhaps the most impressive when it comes to sanitary measures. Not only will they take all the common steps mentioned above (temperature checks, masks, sanitizer, social distancing), but they’ll go above and beyond. Every hotel will be a little different in their approach, but here are some of the common examples that travelers have reported.
- Hotel capacity has been greatly reduced. Fewer guests makes social distancing much easier. The capacity of the hotel will vary with the current stoplight color.
- Resort staff are masked at all times.
- Hand sanitizer stations have been added throughout hotels/resorts.
- Hand held menus have been eliminated. You’ll either see a menu poster on a wall, or you’ll need to use your phone to scan a QR code to see the menu.
- Designated hotel staff will plate and serve buffet food for you.
- Your luggage will be sanitized upon arrival, and you’ll receive a health kit which includes disinfectant sprays, wipes, hand sanitizers and masks.
- Rooms are thoroughly sanitized. Things like cups will either be replaced with disposable ones, or they’ll be wrapped in plastic so that they’re tamper proof. High-touch items like TV remotes, door knobs, and light switches will be sanitized.
The best strategy for searching hotels or resorts is to narrow down to specific hotels or brands, and research the safety measures being taken. Pay close attention to the sanitization work being done in your room, and the amenities that help you keep your distance from other travelers; things like balconies, room service, or the size/layout of the resort can all help reduce your risk of exposure while enjoying your vacation. As a general rule though, higher star or boutique hotels are likely to be more thorough with their cleaning efforts. That’s not to say other properties are worse, but it’s very likely that you’ll be
Public beaches are closed in the red & orange stages, but beaches belonging to hotels or resorts are open as per the capacity of the hotel. The reason for this is because hotels can regulate the number of people on their beach, whereas the public beach can’t easily be enforced the same way.
Nightlife is is regulated quite noticeably. Depending on the current stoplight status, any nightlife venues that are permitted to open will be limited in capacity and operating hours.
There’s only one loop hole in all of this, and that is other guests. Most hotels and resorts don’t force guests to wear masks, except for some enclosed common areas. That means that one of the biggest risks for exposure is actually your fellow travelers. Just something to think about.
Offers & Promotions
To help generate interest, the local hotel associations have launched the #Come2MexicanCaribbean campaign which features incentives and savings on just about everything.
Offers vary, but you can find deals on hotels, resorts, rental cars, excursions, parks and tours. You can find all the available deals at Come2MexicanCaribbean.com
An insider’s view
Another great way to learn more and verify claims is to check with locals, that way you get an idea of how life is for those that are there on the ground every day.
In addition to message boards and Reddit, I’ve been following a few YouTubers who are currently in various parts of Quintana Roo. Seeing their vlogs & videos has allowed me to get an up-to-date inside view of what life is really like in Cancun and surrounding areas.
Some of the YouTubers that I recommend checking out are:
William Taudien- https://www.youtube.com/user/williamtaudien/
My Trish Advisor- https://www.youtube.com/c/MyTrishAdvisor/
Tangerine Travels- https://www.youtube.com/c/TangerineTravels
Jesus Milan- https://www.youtube.com/c/SoyJesusMilan1/
Divert Living- https://www.youtube.com/c/DivertLiving/
Assess your risk
If you are choosing to travel during a pandemic, you must understand that you are assuming some risk, no matter where you go.
Even if you feel healthy, it’s a good idea to have your physician do a check up. That way, you can get a better idea of what you’re risking, and how a potential COVID exposure could affect you or those around you.
Currently, Mexico doesn’t require COVID tests prior to landing, but many countries in the Caribbean do. Keep an eye on the entry requirements in the days leading to your flight and be prepared to do a COVID PCR test if that requirement changes.
Should you travel to Mexico?
As I was doing research to write this post, I kept coming across posts, comments, and questions from people asking if they should visit now or wait a little bit longer.
I will say that based on my research, I feel quite confident in the precautions enforced by the Mexican & state governments. It’s very reassuring to see Mexicans who work in the tourism industry take the precautions so seriously, and do such a good job of adhering to them. In fact, I have no problem trusting the locals and tourism workers, I’d be more worried about fellow travelers.
So, is it safe to visit Cancun in 2020? The only correct answer is that it depends. Traveling anywhere during a global pandemic means that you’re assuming some risk. You need to take an objective view of your situation and that of those around you. Understand what risks you’re taking, and what the potential impact of those risks will be. Also take a look at your destination to ensure that you’re comfortable with the current situation. And last but not least, remember to follow local laws and customs when you’re in Mexico.
And don’t forget, it’s not just about you. Aside from mitigating risks to yourself, you also need to be mindful, respectful, and responsible of the risk you present to others.
Regardless of what you decides, I hope this article gives you the information you need to make the best decision for yourself. Now I’m curious to hear your thoughts. What do you think about travelling in 2020? Will you be going to Mexico anytime soon? If so, do you have any doubts or concerns? What precautions will you be taking?
Is there anything more you need to know in order to make an educated decision? Do you have any tips for your fellow travelers?
Please let me know in the comments!