This winter I considered and decided on traveling to Mexico. This article discusses my personal experiences. Starting with the factors and risks I considered when making that decision. It includes my planning, finding medical insurance, and my travel experiences. Including at airports, car rental agencies, restaurants, grocery stores, on the beaches, at diving centers, and more. The purpose is to provide anyone considering traveling to Mexico now with info to use in making their decision.
This article is not providing advice on whether someone should or shouldn’t travel to Mexico. That decision is a personal one. And involves assessing many factors and risks. Each specific to the person considering traveling to Mexico. This article is to provide insight into what it is currently like traveling to Mexico now. Specifically, to the Riviera Maya. These are my personal experiences of traveling in Mexico.
In deciding whether to travel to Mexico or not during Covid-19 I considered many things. Including, but not only limited to the following
The first consideration was the Covid-19 rates of infection in Mexico. Mexico had had a high rate of infection. But based on the number of cases per 1 million of population, Mexico had 90 countries around the world that had worse rates. And as the graph on the right shows below the situation was improving, rather than deteriorating. The rate of infections in Mexico was clearly dropping.
But how does this compare to Canada where I was contemplating traveling to Mexico from? Canada had fared well through Covid-19. But to my surprise has a higher rate of Covid-19 infections per million population than Mexico. As well, the rate of infections at home was on the increase as the graph shows. As I wasn’t quite expecting this I decided to also check out the USA and the United Kingdom as well out of curiosity.
The USA had a much higher rate of infections per million population than Mexico. And like Canada also had an increasing rate of infections. The United Kingdom while doing better than the USA was far higher than Canada and Mexico. And like Canada and the USA, it also had an increasing rate of infections as well.
As well I then looked at the situation in the Riviera Maya where I was hoping to be traveling in Mexico. The authorities in Mexico developed a 4 phased sanitary alert system for Covid-19. Often called the traffic light system. Each area is given a traffic light color based on the status of Covid-19 in that area.
If there is a red light only essential activities are allowed to operate. There are no school activities or activities in public spaces. And there are restrictions for high-risk individuals (over 60 years of age, those with a chronic disease, and pregnant women).
Essential and nonessential labor activities are permitted. But with limitations and following strict safety protocols. Some restrictions apply to high-risk individuals. At orange, there are no school activities. Activities in public spaces are allowed, but with certain limitations. Activities in closed spaces are completely suspended.
All economic and labor activities may be performed while following approved safety protocols. With some restrictions on high-risk individuals continuing. Still, there are no school activities. There may be activities in public spaces, but with certain limitations. Closed spaces may operate with restrictions.
All educational, labor, economic, and social activities may resume without restrictions. Activities also resume without restrictions for high-risk individuals.
At the time of making my decision, the Riviera Maya was at the yellow/medium level. As of writing it still remains at this level.
This information was also reinforced by friends who live full time in the area. They emphasized that in the community in which I stay it was like living as normal with a few changes. Such as wearing masks when going anywhere near another person.
I am a fifty-four-year-old white male, who is generally pretty healthy and reasonably fit. According to the US Centers for Disease Control Non-Hispanic white people have a much lower rate of hospitalization from Covid-19 than other ethnicities. For example, Hispanic, Latino, non-Hispanic Black and non-Hispanic First Nations peoples have much higher rates of hospitalization. The death rate from Covid-19 of all cases for males is 2.8%, while for females is 1.7%. But as someone aged 54 I have a mortality rate of 1.3%. (see graph on the right).
However, I do suffer from seasonal allergies and a little asthma during the worst of the allergy season. So, with Covid-19 having potentially life-threatening impacts on the respiratory system this was a concern. Apparently, people with a chronic respiratory disease have a 6.3% death rate across all cases. So, my chances of dying (not a pleasant thought) if I contracted Covid-19, lay somewhere between 1.3 – 6.3%. Since Covid-19 started 0.8% of the population in Mexico has contracted Covid-19. So my chances of being infected AND dying from it were actually between 0.01 – 0.05%. Now, this doesn’t consider that I might contract it and be ill for a long period of time, which is also a big `consideration.
One of the greatest concerns I had was the safety and the risks involved in flying. Sitting next to people in a confined place for a long period of time, with air recirculating didn’t seem to be a good idea.
But then I investigated further. And my initial perceptions were challenged. What I found was very interesting. US Department of Defense research had been done on Covid-19. It showed that the risk of Covid-19 exposure on a plane is ’virtually non-existent’ when wearing a mask. But what does ‘virtually non-existent’ mean? "It indicates that being on board an aircraft is the safest indoor public space, because of the unique configuration inside an aircraft that includes aggressive ventilation, lots of airflow." Within 6 minutes of a particulate release, 99.99% is sucked out of the plane due to the HEPA filtered air circulation.
A major consideration for me was to get travel medical insurance covering Covid-19. Usually, I use my credit card travel insurance which has a good medical plan. But, when I checked with the credit card company Covid-19 was not covered. Since the Canadian Government had issued a notice to avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada, due to Covid-19. So, my credit card insurance couldn’t cover medical expenses from Covid-19.
Then, I did an internet search and found a couple of insurance companies in the US that covered people for travel and medical expenses including Covid-19. One of them was a company called SafetyWing which has a policy called Nomad Insurance. Prices range based on your age but it covers travel for any person in the world to any country in the world. Rates are as little as $40 US for up to 4 weeks of coverage, while for my age it was a little over $100 US if I wanted the coverage.
I based my decision to go traveling to Mexico now, considering all these factors and more. Being able to have travel medical coverage was a requirement for me. Fortunately, the policy coverage with SafetyWing met that need.
As a mostly healthy, and reasonably fit, 54-year-old white male my chances of surviving if I contracted Covid-19 are good. Albeit diminished a little by having a mild form of asthma. Also, I was traveling from a country with a higher rate of Covid-19 infections to a country with a slightly lower rate. But perhaps more importantly the trends for the rates of infections were diverging. In Canada (as in the USA, and the UK) the rate of infections was increasing. In Mexico, the rates were declining. While I was initially very hesitant about traveling on a plane, the research told another story. That actually it's quite safe to travel on a plane. As well, I knew where I was traveling in Mexico was a quiet community without lots of people. I knew once there I could easily socially distance. I wasn’t going to an all-inclusive resort with lots of people. I was staying in a vacation rental apartment in a small building.
My main concern was about going to the grocery store and buying supplies. Although I knew if I had to that I could get food delivered too, albeit at an extra cost. I also was more than willing to wear a mask at all times if necessary. And I knew I would be able to spend time in outdoor spaces away from people – such as on secluded beaches. So, I decided that the risks were manageable. And that I actually had a better chance of not getting Covid-19 in Mexico, than further north. Due to the increasing rates going into winter.
After making my decision it was then down to making good choices in preparing for traveling to Mexico. For example, I bought a plastic face shield, and packs of medical masks, nylon gloves, and lots of bottles of hand sanitizer. Making sure that the volume in each bottle was less than 100 ml so I could take them as carry-on baggage. I also of course purchased the travel insurance.
When I booked my flights, I wanted to make sure I went the most direct route I could. I didn’t want to have to connect on multiple flights if I could avoid it. I thought that there was more likelihood of coming into contact with an infected person if I went through many airports. As it was I booked a flight from Victoria that connected through Calgary airport on WestJet. For the dates, I needed this was the best flight I could find. And the connection time was very short.
I also decided to only take carry-on luggage. I thought that way my luggage would be handled only by me. I also booked a rental car figuring that traveling in Mexico on my own was safer than taking buses or a collectivo.
So with all my planning done, on November 8th I left Canada and went traveling to Mexico.
Taking a taxi I arrived at Victoria airport at 4:15 am for my 6 am flight. The short taxi ride was uneventful and I appreciated the plexiglass shield in the cab separating me from the driver. Victoria airport is a small airport and doesn’t have too many people milling around in normal times. But at 4:15 am during a Covid-19 pandemic it was almost deserted. There was almost as many cleaning staff as there were passengers in the airport at that time. All the cleaning staff by the way wore masks, gloves, and rubber boots. Except for one strange fellow who wasn’t wearing a mask and who was walking around the airport in his thick woolen socks. He was part of the cleaning staff too. I should have gotten a picture but I’d already taken a couple of pictures and the security guard was giving me quizzical looks.
I had already checked in online, and I didn’t have any baggage to check so I went to go through the security clearance. But, it was still closed and wasn’t due to open till 4:30 am. Although I was the first person in line several people arrived shortly afterward. As you can see from the picture opposite, there was excellent Perspex separation between lines of passengers. As well, before entering the security clearance area there was a temperature station set-up. Each passenger before entering airside had to have their temperature checked. As you will see later on this was the first of many, many temperature checks throughout my trip.
What was very evident was the notices about procedures about Covid-19. They were very conspicuous. This was comforting knowing that things seemed to be well organized. This also extended to the washrooms as well which were posted with signs. Upon arriving at the airport gate, some seats were restricted from being used. To maintain social distancing. On boarding the plane, as it wasn’t a full flight, passengers were well segregated. As far as I could see no one had been placed in a middle seat. Leaving a separation between each passenger which was very comforting.
The short flight to Calgary airport was uneventful. People disembarked the plane in a very orderly and socially distanced manner. The airport in Calgary looked pretty normal except that there were a lot fewer people around. There was lots of space at the gate for my connecting flight with seating areas well separated.
One thing you need to do before you get on the plane when traveling to Mexico now is to complete a Covid-19 questionnaire for the Mexican officials. You can download and access it here.
The flight to Cancun airport was full. Unlike my connecting flight before, the middle seats were all occupied with passengers. On all my flights I chose the window seat, even though I prefer an aisle seat. This is because I had read that the safest seat for not contracting a virus was the window seat. In the aisle, you are closer to more passengers and airline staff walking up and down the aisle.
On getting on the plane, we were given a disinfectant wipe, which was nice, even though I had lots of hand sanitizer in my bag. In transferring between flights I’d didn’t have a lot of time so I didn’t buy any food to take on the flight with me. And I guess I’d missed the part about them not serving food. You could buy a limited number of snacks but this was a 5-6 hour flight. I ended up buying a couple of snacks. But in the future, I would make sure I purchased food before boarding the plane. As well they don’t serve alcohol. All they served was water. Not even soft drinks. That’s part of the protocols I assume to reduce the number of interactions between you and the airline crew.
The flight itself was uneventful, except for one thing. The person in my row, sitting in the aisle seat seemed to be having trouble with his mask. I hadn’t actually noticed but other passengers had complained about him. The airline crew came a few times and asked him to put his mask back on. What happened was that the mask he had kept slipping down. So his nose was exposed. He changed his mask for another one and that seemed to work fine. Yet, this wasn’t before he received an official warning from the crew. They handed him a card that explained the consequences if he failed to comply again. It was good to see prompt action for a minor infraction. And the fact that other passengers had complained showed how vigilant people were in following the protocols.
Covid-19 and Disinfectant Mats – What’s That All About
In traveling to Mexico now one of the things that surprised me was the number of disinfectant floor mats everywhere. I must admit when I first saw them at entrances to restaurants, grocery stores, and all sorts of places I thought this was silly. But they are everywhere. So, I decided to google it. What I actually found surprised me.
In studies, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found COvid-19 on the floors of hospitals and other areas. But they also found that it could be spread from one location to another from the soles of people's shoes. The CDC concluded at the end of their study that stricter measures should be taken to sanitize footwear. My question now is not why are the mats everywhere in Mexico, but why aren’t the mats used in Canada and the US?
Landing at Cancun airport and disembarking was also uneventful. Again everyone was respectful and there wasn’t the usual pushing or rushing off the plane. On entering the airport it was almost deserted. Similar social distancing measures were in place as had been at the Canadian airports. But they had significantly restricted the number of people allowed inside. This included in the outside areas when you left the airport. If you’ve ever been to Cancun airport you’ll know how busy it can be outside. After you leave the airport building you walk into an open-air gathering area.
This is where people meet their transfer or pick up their car rental or get a taxi. Usually, this is a very crowded area, packed with people. Not only passengers. Usually, there is twice the number of people selling car rentals and airport transfers as passengers. But now it was almost deserted.
I got on the shuttle bus to my car rental location and I was the only one on the bus. The driver also wore a mask. When I arrived at the Mex Cancun Airport car rental office this was the first place I’d been where I found Covid-19 procedures were lacking.
While the staff working outside on the cars who handed the car over were, the indoor staff at the counter weren’t wearing masks. And there was no Perspex or other separation. There were a couple of bottles of hand sanitizer which I used when receiving documents back from the agent but that was it. And the people who needed to be wearing masks the most – the people working inside, weren’t. I was not impressed.
The only thing they seemed to have done was ask accompanying traveling members to wait in a second room, or outside. Waiting outside was fine. But the extra waiting room was small compared to the number of people inside it. I’m not sure what the Covid-19 procedures at the other car rental agencies are, but hopefully, they are better than at the Mex car rental agency in Cancun airport.
So, although my travel experience had felt safe and well-coordinated, I had found the car rental experience concerning. Would I experience the same level of lack of regard for safety while traveling in Mexico for the rest of my trip? Or would it be more like the good experiences I had at the airports and on the airplanes?
During my stay in the Riviera Maya, Mexico I took precautions while traveling around. Such as always wearing a medical mask. And using hand sanitizer regularly and after I touched any surface. And I was socially distancing all the time. While I did limit the number of excursions I did I still did many of the things one usually does on a vacation. Such as going to the beach, restaurants, the grocery store, the pool, and so forth. Here are examples of my experiences as they relate to Covid-19 protocols.
My first experience this trip of shopping was to go to a Chedraui Superstore. For those of you who don’t know Mexico well, Chedraui is like the Mexican version of Walmart. They sell groceries and all the supplies you need. Including appliances. I went to the Chedraui for 2 reasons. Firstly, it’s the normal store I go to here to buy my groceries as it's located only a few minutes away. Secondly, I wanted to experience what it was like shopping in a larger store first. Before testing the Covid-19 protocols of small local stores located in the Pueblos.
I have to say that I was very impressed. As I walked up towards the entrance to the Mall where the Chedraui is, everyone, even outside, was wearing a mask. On entering the Mall I had to step on a mat containing disinfectant. This was the first time I had come across this, but as you will see later, definitely not the last time.
When I got to the entrance of the Chedraui store itself there were a handful of people waiting to get in. They were socially distanced and each person was standing on a marked spot on the floor. The reason they were waiting was that every person entering the store is checked first. When it was my turn I was given hand sanitizer and they ensured I was wearing a mask. Then they checked my temperature. Once that was quickly confirmed then they wiped down the handles on a shopping cart and allowed me to proceed into the store. I was impressed. At no time during Covid-19 in Canada had I ever had my temperature checked at a store. Nor anywhere except upon entering an extended care facility or getting on a plane.
Before I shopped for my groceries I stood and looked around the store. Nowhere in the store was there anyone who wasn’t wearing a mask. Also, in the Chedraui there is lots of space. The aisles in the stores between the shelves are very wide and make it easy to keep your distance. I walked around the store and then went to the cashier to pay for my groceries. While waiting in the checkout line people were very aware to socially distance. At the check-out, the cashier was separated by a Perspex screen from the customer and the process went very smoothly.
I took my groceries and returned to my car and looked around outside. I had taken my mask off this time since I was outside in a spacious area, but I felt somewhat self-conscious. Since everyone else was still wearing a mask.
Having had a good experience at one of the larger grocery chains I then decided to visit an OXXO convenience store. For those of you not familiar with the Riviera Maya, think of OXXO as the Mexican version of 7/11. Here the standards were high as well. Large signs greeted you on the outside of the doors explaining the number of people allowed in the store. Again all the staff wore face masks, and the cashier sat behind a perspex screen. The only difference was that they didn’t take my temperature on entering.
From here I ventured into a small, local grocery store in Akumal. The Akumal General Store is located past the Oxxo store. It’s a local grocery and convenience store. Selling a combination of grocery items, convenience items, and gifts. The door had a sign indicating the number of people allowed in the store. And as you can see from the photo they had gel sanitizer available. And again all the staff were wearing masks. The cashier was behind a Perspex screen also. They did have a temperature measuring device, but they didn’t test me on entering.
Next, I passed by a small craft stall featuring the work of local artists. As you can see from the photo opposite there is a large bottle of sanitizer highly visible. Not only are the staff wearing masks but on the right they are selling decorative masks. And the signage about Covid-19 safety is very obvious .
The first restaurant I went to while traveling in Mexico this time was the Lol-Ha Restaurant and Snack Bar. This is a favorite spot of mine as it's located right on Akumal beach, and you get free parking as a customer too! To get to Lol-Ha you have to drive into Akumal and then past a security checkpoint. This is on the right just past the Oxxo store. Here I was stopped by 2 security guards both wearing masks. After they’d established where I was going they asked me to step outside of the car. They made sure I was wearing a mask and gave me hand sanitizer. Then they directed me to stand on the mat of disinfectant. While there they took my temperature and my license plate number. I passed again so I was allowed to continue on and they removed the barrier so I could drive through to the restaurant.
On arriving at Lol-Ha I again had to step on a mat of disinfectant. Right at the entrance, and dotted around the restaurant, are bottles of hand sanitizer. Immediately noticeable was the spaced-out tables. Clearly, quite a few tables had been removed from the restaurant which reduced the capacity allowed. In the restaurant, and at some of the tables, there were even some customers wearing masks when they weren’t eating. All the staff at the restaurant wore masks and gloves.
The day afterward I went to the Turtle Bay Café to eat lunch. The procedures there were again similar to those at Lol-Ha. Hand sanitizer was available, tables were spread out, and all the servers wore face masks.
I also had the good fortune to go to one of the best Italian restaurants in Mexico - La Taverna. Here again, all staff had masks, there was sanitizer as you entered as well as a temperature check. And as usual, the food, the wine, and the ambience were all amazing!
Having had very good experiences at all the restaurants I then ventured into Akumal Pueblo and went for lunch with 2 friends. We decided to try a new restaurant. La Cueva Del Pescador opened a restaurant in the Pueblo. Again the health and hygiene standards were excellent. Gonzalo the proprietor also wore a face shield over his face mask.
On your vacation eating out is often one of the highlights. But with the increasing cost of vacations, more people are turning to stay in vacation rentals. Where they can cook for themselves. At least some of the time. With Covid-19 this is likely to become more common. While going out to restaurants will still be a special treat you do have the alternative to cook for yourselves too. Especially if you want to reduce your interactions with others. During my stay at a vacation rental, I generally had breakfast at the vacation rental, and then either lunch or dinner as well. Once a day on average I’d eat out at a restaurant.
As well you also have the option of ordering food to be delivered. Besides pizza and other fast food delivery, there are restaurant delivery services as well. Near Akumal for example there is a local delivery guy who picks up your order from local restaurants and delivers it to your door. As well, you can have your groceries delivered too if you’d prefer not to have to go to the grocery store.
Traveling to Mexico this time I didn’t do as many organized leisure and recreation activities as I normally do. I tended to go to secluded beaches I know. Or snorkel in out of the way lagoons and inlets where there weren’t many people. But, I did go to the Akumal Dive Center. And saw first hand how they were dealing with Covid-19 and the restrictions placed upon them.
As mentioned earlier when I entered Akumal I had my temperature taken, stepped on the disinfectant mat, used the hand sanitizer, and wore my mask. The entrance to the Akumal Dive Center now is through one main doorway. On the doors are signs mandating that you must wear a mask. And at the entrance is a station with hand sanitizer. As well you have to walk through the obligatory disinfectant mat. And Covid-19 signage is very visible in the dive center. Including the Government issued Clean Sanitation Certificate. Required before businesses here can open. And again all staff and customers have to wear masks all the time.
Diving and snorkeling tours are still offered but the group sizes are reduced. Once you enter the dive center and have your equipment and are ready to go, you exit through a separate area. Then you are led to a Panga boat that takes you to your scuba diving or snorkeling destination. While walking from the Dive Center along the beach to the boat you still have to wear your mask. Including while you are on the boat. You can only remove the mask when you are ready to enter the water. Then on returning to the boat you are required to put your mask back on again. Everyone was extremely safety conscious.
The beach clubs across the Riviera Maya come in all shapes and sizes. From small little kiosk locations to large places in the prime tourist locations. My favorite beach is XpuHa so I had to head there a few times during my travels in Mexico. It’s a wonderful long stretch of beach. Mostly frequented by locals with a few tourists mixed in. It has 2 beach clubs here. I went first to the road leading to La Playa XpuHa. However, at the entrance, I was told that the restaurant was at capacity and they had no room for me. As it was lunchtime and I wanted to eat before relaxing on the beach I headed to the second beach club.
As I arrived wearing my mask, stepping on the disinfectant mat, and using the hand sanitizer I was surprised about the number of people. Usually, at XpuHa there are some people but this was relatively busy. Later I found out that today was a National Holiday in Mexico so people had ventured to the beach. However, as you can see from the video, people were still well spread out in family groups and social bubbles. All the sunbeds were set up in pairs. Each pair separated by several feet from the other pairs of sunbeds. Again at the beach bar-restaurant, all the staff was wearing masks and the tables were spread out as well.
The following day I happened to go to La Playa Xpuha again with a couple of friends (the first beach club that was full the day before). If anything the staff here were even more stringent. At one point I had come off the beach and was waiting for one of my friends' several feet from the bar. As there weren’t many people around and we were outside, steps from the beach I didn’t have my mask on. One of the staff kindly reminded me to put it on :o)
Consideration of Traveling to Mexico now requires a realistic individual assessment of the risks. I made that assessment and for me, it was definitely the correct decision. That doesn’t mean that it is for everyone. However, my experience of traveling in Mexico to the Riviera Maya provides you information about what to expect if you do decide to come. Knowing what to expect provides more information for you to make your decision. And decide whether it's right for you to be traveling to Mexico now.
About Our Blog
Exploring The Riviera Maya is Ocean Breeze Akumal's Blog. Here we explore the diversity of Mexico's best tourism destination to highlight the best beaches, cenotes, restaurants, attractions, Mayan ruins, etc., etc. We provide information to help you explore this spectacular part of the world and give you tips and tricks that only the locals know. Helping to give you the vacation experience of a lifetime.
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