Global Artists Coalition

THE ART OF TRAVEL DURING A PANDEMIC: DISCOVERING NEW MEXICAN TREASURES IN RIVIERA MAYA

We thought we were being uber careful. We sheltered in place for over a year, listening to the wail of ambulances at all hours, the echo of pep rallies for first responders in the early evening, Zoom work, Zoom cocktails, mourning friends and loved ones that didn’t make it through the eye of the storm here in New York City.

Then, the bubble finally burst for us too.

The fear at times overcomes you. Gripped by that sinking dread that you might succumb to any number of potentially lethal symptoms – which runs a close second to the trauma itself.

It feels like you’ve been dealt your hand in a deadly game of poker.

But after recovering, then testing positive for antibodies and negative for the virus, we were determined to plan our escape. While the antibodies lasted!

But this was no longer a simple stroll up to the airline counter to flash your passport and ticket.

Here are10 things to consider when traveling internationally during a pandemic.

By no means is this the definitive list. Check the CDC for the latest information, your airline, local health and safety protocols, entry requirements and real-time changes on the ground at your destination. We encourage all travelers to do their own research.

Morning in Riviera Maya. Photo courtesy, Global Artists Coalition

Natural Covid-19 antibodies was our immune defense but have since been fully vaccinated.

On the latest trip to the Yucatan, also known as Riviera Maya, the pandemic made us switch things up, opting for less adventure and more leisure. A time to discover new Mexican treasures and the ultimate in social distancing. Fifteen hundred miles, give or take, or a three-hour plane ride, door-to-door from New York City to Cancun international airport. Then another hour on Federal highway 307  to our destination nestled somewhere between Tulum and Playa Del Carmen.

10)  ANTIBODIES HELP, BUT THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS 100% IMMUNITY.

Having antibodies to the virus that causes Covid-19 may provide protection from getting infected with the virus again. But even if it does, there is no telling what protection the antibodies may provide or how long the protection lasts. Confirmed and suspected cases of reinfection have been reported, but remain rare. Getting the actual vaccine remains the best defense.

9) SHORT-HALL FLIGHTS MEAN LESS EXPOSURE TIME. MASKS DO WORK.

Riviera Maya is a 100-mile sweep of Mexico’s Caribbean coastline, and home to the Mayan people, the direct descendants of the original indigenous inhabitants of the Yucatán peninsula. Hundreds of ancient pyramids, temples and other structures scattered throughout the Yucatán stand as testimony to the Mayan’s skill in complex building construction.

There is no doubt that this tropical paradise offers more than just pristine white sand beaches. But instead of uncovering ancient Mayan artifacts on a dig or visiting over-run tourist sites, it was time to discover Mexican treasures hiding in plain sight.

This time we put our energy into finding a next level resort deal with clear health-safety protocols, great food, premium drinks, traditional and natural sea water pools, endless beaches and natural wonders just a leisurely stroll away.

TRS Yucatan Hotel, Palladium Hotel Group
Pool View
Mexico’s beaches are now open to all – including the locals – through a law that requires property owners to allow access through their land to reach those beaches or face fines.

The state of Quintana Roo, long considered a gateway to the Mayan world, possesses some of the most spectacular pyramids in Mexico, including Chichén Itzá and Uxmal to name a few.

Full disclosure, I’m not a big fan of resorts, preferring to experience the local flavor and to occasionally climb things – like Chichén Itzá, before it was banned.

This was the year to settle down and avoid the crowds.

Climbing Chichén Itzá was banned in 2006 after an elderly woman lost her life tumbling from the top.

A tropical paradise that offers more than pristine white sand beaches.

Riviera Maya is a 100-mile sweep of Mexico’s Caribbean coastline, and home to the Mayan people, the direct descendants of the original indigenous inhabitants of the Yucatán peninsula. Hundreds of pyramids, temples and other structures scattered throughout the Yucatán stand as testimony to the Mayan’s skill in the construction of complex buildings.

Ancient Mayan Calendar
Map of theYucatan Peninsula

8) Avoid the crowds and stay as far away as possible from “super spreaders”.

Cancun super spreaders, also known as spring breakers, tend to congregate in and around the Cancun Hotel Zone.

We chose a place between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, about an hour’s drive south from Cancun. A great base to explore the natural beauty and ancient Mayan ruins – and this time, any travel outside the property would be by taxi.

Another option is Colectivos, a shuttle service used mainly by locals and travelers looking to spend less on transport. The white mini vans run all day long from Cancun to Tulum along Highway 307 and can be flagged down from the side of the road.

Attempting to negotiate a ride from the shoulder of a major highway is another matter.

Tourist sights were not on the menu and that was confirmed when our plans for a car rental at a great price were dashed by a bait and switch move pulled by a dubious sales person at the airport’s National Car Rental. Instead, we arranged a private taxi for about $70 U.S. and hoped the pictures of the property and descriptions were true to form. Overall, we were pretty pleased.

7) Discover new natural Mexican treasures.

The main tourist sights have been over run in recent years, creating an  eco-crises for areas like Tulum that don’t have the space, capacity or infrastructure.

The good news: the pandemic has been a boon for world ecology, with the earth’s natural wonders getting a chance to rest and recover.

Insist on an ocean view just in case an extended stay becomes mandatory. Photo credit: Global Artist Coalition
Encountered many of these amazing natural stone treasures.

Thankful for the care package that arrived from our friends at Brand House Group and 7th generation Master Tequilero, Pepe Hermosillo.  

Minus the bumpy ride the Casa Noble took on the luggage cart, everything else was smooth.

Casa Noble (pronounced No-blay) was one of the new Mexican treasures we acquired. But you must be 21 years or older to enjoy.

Agave is one of Mexico’s national treasures. Native to the hot, arid parts of Mexico and the southwest United States, It is used in a variety of Mexican products you see everyday, from a natural sweetener to twine rope – and the most precious variety of all, the blue agave used for making the best tasting tequila.

Our goal was to spend more time discovering new Mexican treasures that didn’t involve crowds of people. We found one!

Blue weber agave piña freshly harvested

Agave is another of Mexico’s Natural Wonders. It even has its own ancient Goddess.

Pepe explained: “Long before becoming one of the first certified organic tequilas, our devotion to preserving the land was present in everything we do. From establishing agave fields on a high altitude estate, to making our own compost, we continue giving back to nature because of everything that is given to us.”

While we encourage our friends to try Pepe’s new handcrafted sipping treasure while in Mexico, don’t lose hope. The new taste and bottle will arrive in the United States this Spring and Summer.

We asked Jorge if he could hold the Casa Noble in the backbar fridge so we could try them chilled later. He said sure, but made no guarantees they would be there when we got back. We took the hint.

6) Being Covid Conscious: Requires being vigilante 24-7, not letting your guard down.

Being careful reduces the risk, but it’s no guarantee. More surfaces equals more infections whether your carrying antibodies or not. Travel equals increased risk of infection. There’s no way around it, every countertop, door knob, and human interaction increases the potential for exposure to the novel coronavirus. It’s about managing the risk and considering all the factors.

If you are still letting your nose escape your mask, or not wearing a mask at all, you are not being Covid conscious. It’s a big red flag.

5) Do your due diligence on the health and safety protocol at your hotel. Don’t leave it to chance.

Are the staff required to wear masks at all times?  Do they use foot mats to sanitize all shoes before entering public spaces?  Do they conduct spot temperature checks? Disinfect rooms, dining tables and public surfaces after each use? Practice social distance dining? Provide menus on phone apps or websites instead of handling physical menus? Are there hand sanitizer dispensers everywhere, including mini bottles in the room?

The property attendees were genuinely friendly, welcoming and Covid conscious. The vibe felt local but upscale, and I’m sure scaled way back from far less bookings.

Less people was the point, one of the few perks from this pandemic. You could wonder through the adjoined Palladium properties, quite often alone to yourselves. Get a drink and eat with little hassle. The menus were on the app. A quick temperature check on your forehead and you were good to go. A concierge stationed at the foot of the steps to the room entrance was impressive and convenient.

4) Grab a hotel business cards when you arrive at the front desk.

That way, if you ever get lost or sick, you have the name and address of the hotel in the local language.

3) Notify your bank and credit cards to avoid fraud alerts.

Notify your credit card company’s fraud department of what countries you will be visiting and on what dates. This way, they won’t think your card is stolen and shut it off just when you need it the most.

2) Avoid International data roaming.

Set up your cell phone to avoid international data roaming. T-Mobile is one carrier that includes Mexico and Canada under its local umbrella.

1) Purchase travel Insurance. Make copies of every document, including passport.

One of the biggest anxieties is not knowing what will happen if you contract the virus while on vacation. How much is it going to cost in terms of quarantine time, money and your health. Pay attention to how the local healthcare system works and how your own insurance works abroad. Getting sick and being stranded is an outlier but it can happen.

If you catch the  virus while abroad, a luxury hotel room sounds way more appealing than a thrifty Airbnb. Purchase travel insurance that  guarantees your extended stay is covered from a mandatory quarantine. 

Make printed copies of all your documents: attempting to plead your case after your phone battery dies is not going to work.

When picking a room or apartment type, make sure to take the time to think about the pandemic and your precautionary level of comfort. This might also be the time to splurge by insisting on an ocean view.

Terry Nelson is a freelance writer, adventure traveller and wine & spirits iconoclast with a degree in Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Stay tuned  for the new Wine & Spirits Journal launching later this year.

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