Should I travel to Mexico from the Bay Area right now? We combed the guidelines so you don’t have to – SF Gate

The pandemic put a halt to travel to many parts of the world. Some countries are not accepting international travelers at all, while others set strenuous restrictions that effectively take leisure travel off the table. Meanwhile, major destinations like Rome, Tokyo and Bangkok have seen dramatic reductions in the number of foreign tourists. At the same time, there’s a pent-up demand for vacation travel, especially among newly vaccinated people.

Mexico is one of the relatively few places in the world where there has been an increase in tourism over the course of the pandemic. In a report by the travel booking site Skyscanner released yesterday, Cancun rose a jaw-dropping 42 spots in its rankings of the most-searched global destinations between 2019 and 2021 — the most significant increase of any place in the world. It is now the fourth most-searched destination on the planet, according to Skyscanner.

Among Californians in particular, Mexico is a wildly popular getaway. While overland border crossing remains prohibited for nonessential travel, nonessential plane travel between the two countries is allowed (while heavily discouraged). And Mexico’s proximity to the U.S. may make it feel like a safer, better option than places farther afield.

JetBlue launched a new service in November, 2020 from San Francisco to Cancun in Mexico.

JetBlue launched a new service in November, 2020 from San Francisco to Cancun in Mexico.

Getty Images

Is flying to Mexico as a tourist advised? 

According to the U.S. State Department’s April 20 travel advisory, the answer is a definitive no. Because of COVID-19, the State Department issued its highest level warning for the country, the Red (or Level 4) “Do Not Travel” warning.

The State Department referred potential travelers to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, which pointed to Mexico’s startlingly high number of COVID-19 cases (2,333,126 confirmed as of April 27). The country also has one of the highest death rates in the world, surpassed only by Brazil and the U.S. in total number of deaths. 

And while the State Department warnings cite the Mexican government’s documented coronavirus cases and deaths, it is widely believed those numbers are a significant undercount — a belief reinforced by a recent revision in the data that increased the total deaths by some 60%, according to a BBC report.  

Tourists walk at the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, Aug. 3, 2018. 

Tourists walk at the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Aug. 3, 2018. 

Eduardo Verdugo/Associated Press

What is Mexico’s vaccination rate?

Mexico’s vaccination effort has been a bumpy road, according to a recent Associated Press story detailing its successes and struggles. Wealthy Mexicans are traveling to the United States to be vaccinated, according to a recent Los Angeles Times story. According to the New York Times’s vaccination tracker, Mexico has fully vaccinated only 4.8% of its population and partially vaccinated 9.5%, compared to the 29% and 43% of the United States population that is partially and fully vaccinated, respectively.

As part of its phased rollout, Mexico is still only vaccinating people ages 60 and up. Within the next couple days, that is supposed to open up to people over 50, then people over 40 beginning in May and the remaining population through March of 2022.

What if I’m vaccinated? Can I travel to Mexico then?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the answer is still sadly no. Or, at least, you shouldn’t. 

“Because of the current situation in Mexico even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants and should avoid all travel to Mexico,” reads the CDC advisory for vaccinated travelers to the country, last updated April 2, 2021. 

That recommendation, however, does seem to be in some conflict with other recent CDC guidelines. On April 2, the CDC made a major update to recommendations for fully vaccinated travelers, allowing for international travel. The CDC guidance was updated again Tuesday, walking back some of its caution-throwing (perhaps in reaction to India’s devastating outbreak) and emphasizing the increased risk posed by international travel, even for fully vaccinated travelers, while not going so far as to recommend against it.  

“Fully vaccinated travelers are less likely to get and spread COVID-19,” instructed the CDC. “However, international travel poses additional risks and even fully vaccinated travelers are at increased risk for getting and possibly spreading new COVID-19 variants.”

What’s it like to travel in Mexico during the pandemic? 

Mexico is a large country. So, as in the U.S., COVID-19 impacts different regions in different ways at different times. And, like California, the country relies on a tiered system of travel and other restrictions based on how badly the pandemic is impacting a particular state or city. 

There are currently no states under the most restrictive red tier. There are, however, six states that are designated as “orange,” which means many services, including hotels, and restaurants, parks and gyms are operating at 50% capacity while markets operate at 75% and malls, theaters, museums and cultural events are limited to 25%m. 

Those orange tier states include three of the country’s major tourist destinations: Quintana Roo, which is home to Cancun, Baja California Sur, where Cabo San Lucas is located, and Mexico City. 

It also includes the states of Chihuahua, Hidalgo and Tabasco. These tiers will be reevaluated May 9. 

The CDC advises that travelers check region-specific guidance, which can be found on the U.S. Embassy’s page.

Does Mexico impose any entry restrictions on tourists from the U.S.?

Very few, in fact. Mexico requires neither a negative COVID-19 test no quarantine upon arrival. 

Beginning March 21, 2020, travelers from the United States have been restricted from crossing the U.S.-Mexico land border for nonessential reasons. That agreement, made between the two countries, was just extended April 20 and will remain in place until at least May 21, 2021. 

The best place to find updated information on entry and exit restrictions is the U.S. Embassy of Mexico’s COVID-19 “Entry and Exit Requirements.”

One of Mexico's historic resort towns, Acapulco. 

One of Mexico’s historic resort towns, Acapulco. 

Alan Solomon/TNS

What happens if I contract COVID-19 in Mexico?

For those who get sick with or test positive for the coronavirus while abroad, there are a few possible outcomes — and none of them are good. 

First, anyone boarding a plane to the United States must have either a negative COVID-19 test within three days of reentering the country or be able to show that they have recovered from an infection within the past three months. According to the Jan. 21 executive order by President Biden, that includes U.S. citizens — even those who are fully vaccinated. 

In practice, that means that contracting COVID-19 while abroad means you won’t be allowed to board a plane home. Instead, you’ll be required to quarantine where you are until you’re virus-free. If you’re staying in a pricey resort, you may be stuck footing the bill for anywhere from 10 days to significantly longer, depending on how long it takes you to test negative and get medical clearance to travel. And should you get badly sick, you will need to receive treatment abroad. In a country like Mexico, that might mean inadequate care due to the large number of cases already burdening the medical system. 

There have been multiple horror stories reported in the press about U.S. citizens unable to return home after a positive test while on vacation in Mexico, including some cases that involve fully vaccinated people.

What if I decide to go anyway? 

While the CDC and every other U.S. government agency is currently strongly advising against travel to Mexico, it does offer some guidance for those who choose to travel anyway.

“If you must travel to Mexico, get fully vaccinated before travel. All travelers should wear a mask, stay 6 feet from others, avoid crowds, and wash their hands.” 

While fully vaccinated travelers should continue to follow CDC recommendations for traveling safely and get tested three to five days after travel, they do not need to get tested before leaving the country, unless required by the destination, and they do not need to self-quarantine upon their return. 

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Should I travel to Mexico from the Bay Area right now? We combed the guidelines so you don’t have to – SF Gate

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