Travel

Everything You Need to Know About Traveling to Mexico Right Now

If you're confused about the rules and regs, you're not alone.

SVongpra/Shutterstock
SVongpra/Shutterstock
SVongpra/Shutterstock

Along with countries throughout Europe and the Caribbean, you may have noticed Mexico is open to tourism-likely because you’ve seen nothing but #beachporn splashed across your IG feed this summer. Now, you may be wondering, “Can I get in on that?”

The short answer? Yes. Mexico never actually closed to visitors, even in the very beginning of the pandemic. In fact, it’s currently the easiest country in the world to visit, despite the rise of the Delta variant. That means your upcoming trip will likely go uninterrupted-with a few caveats.

As of August 2021, travelers can visit Mexico without undergoing quarantine. But with rapidly-changing restrictions and no uniform federal policy in place (something we Americans are, ahem, very familiar with), it can be hard to tell what’s really going on south of the border. What’s actually open? What does a vacation look like right now? And most importantly, should you take a trip at all? Here’s everything you need to know if you’re considering a visit to Mexico.

What are the rules and restrictions for traveling to Mexico right now?

As you may have expected, it’s complicated. Technically, there are no restrictions on travel to Mexico right now. You can get on a plane without proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test. (But if you’re going to travel, please, for the love of all that is moral, we hope you are vaxxed and/or Covid-negative.)

Mexico left Covid-19 management up to individual states, so what’s true for one destination may not be for another. Some regions have adopted a “traffic light” system to indicate which regulations should be enforced. These are updated weekly, with changes (if any) going into effect the following week. Unfortunately, the system isn’t consistent nationwide, and activities remain open even in some “red” destinations.

On top of that, the situation can change without warning, so you’re gonna need to practice serious patience, flexibility, and due diligence. Be sure to check in with your hotel or resort in the days leading up to your trip and stay up-to-date on restrictions by destination.

What’s open in Mexico?

Again, it varies by state. More often than not, you’ll find that restaurants, bars, beaches, and hotels are all open with varying capacity restrictions. And despite regulations, there are some places (tourist hubs, we’re lookin’ at you!) where nothing seems to have changed at all. Here’s where things currently stand in Mexico’s most popular regions-and again, be sure to double-check your destination’s policies before you head out.

Quintana Roo
Quintana Roo is where you’ll find fan favorites like Cancún, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum (among other lesser-known but equally beautiful destinations). Both the northern and the southern regions are in the orange traffic light phase. That means hotels, restaurants, historic sites, theme parks, golf courses, and tourist services are operating at 50% capacity. Beaches and public parks are operating at 30% capacity, as are supermarkets, movie theaters, and casinos.

Bars, nightclubs, and performance theaters are closed. That’s right: The bars and nightclubs in Cancún, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum are closed. This will disappoint some, while others (my fellow introverts) are breathing sighs of relief. This is our time, people. This is our time.

Los Cabos
Los Cabos isn’t using a traffic light system-they’re going by numbers. As of August 18 they’ve moved to Stage 3, meaning that hotels, businesses, and recreational activities are open with an occupancy limit of one person per 10 square feet, plus an 11 pm curfew. Face coverings or masks are required for all indoor and outdoor activities throughout Los Cabos.Puerto Vallarta
A lot of weirdly specific percentages here, but work with us. Puerto Vallarta’s hotels are operating at 80% capacity (and at 50% capacity in common areas). Hotel pools, beaches, spas, and gyms are open, and restaurants can operate at half capacity until midnight. Casinos are open at 60% capacity, while bars and clubs remain closed for the month of August with restrictions subject to review for September. Masks are required in all public spaces.

Oaxaca
Nine municipalities in the state of Oaxaca (including Oaxaca City and the coast) are in the red following a recent surge in Covid-19 cases. That said, hotels, bars, and restaurants are still open. Currently, hotels and restaurants in Huatulco are limited to 30% capacity. Beaches in Puerto Escondido, Zipolite, Puerto Angel, and Salina Cruz are open from 8 am to 5 pm at 35% capacity (although locals report that restrictions on beaches aren’t always enforced). Masks along the coast of Oaxaca are mandatory, and in some areas, there will be fines for those who go without face coverings in public.

Nayarit
Like Oaxaca, Nayarit is also in the red. But also like Oaxaca, that doesn’t mean things are shut down. Businesses and organizations are operating at 70% capacity, including hotels, beaches, and tours. Major attractions are open and there is no curfew in place.

Do I have to quarantine if I go to Mexico?

Nope.

Do I need a Covid test to get back into the US?

Yes! The CDC requires proof of a negative Covid-19 test (rapid or PCR) for all air passengers returning to the States. Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to obtain a test in Mexico. More likely than not, your hotel has a testing plan in place for guests.

How do I get a Covid test in Mexico?

You have a few options. First, check with your hotel. You can often schedule an appointment for 72 hours before your departure at check-in, get tested on site, and receive your results via email before your flight. If your hotel doesn’t offer this, or you’re staying at an Airbnb or with friends, you can make an appointment at a local hospital or clinic that offers testing.

You can also go through a pharmacy like Farmacias del Ahorro, which is likely the cheapest option. And if push comes to shove, several destinations in Mexico offer rapid testing at the airport-but this option is a gamble since it’s so last minute, and if you test positive, you’ve already checked out of your hotel and may have nowhere to go.

Prices for rapid tests generally range between $12-30 USD, while PCR tests tend to be considerably more accurate but much more expensive (around $130 USD) with a longer wait time for results.

What happens if I test positive for Covid in Mexico?

There’s no real way to sugarcoat it: If you test positive for Covid, you’re going to get stuck in Mexico for a bit. But don’t panic! You’re gonna make it home.

Many resorts have set up blockades of rooms (a Covid wing, if you will) where travelers who test positive are sequestered for a period of two weeks, usually at no cost. But before you think you’ve scored a free vacation extension, remember, you’ll have to stay in your room for the duration of the quarantine. You’ll be provided with meals, but it’ll be a pared-down menu, not the typical room service spreads. And if you’re traveling with a partner, they won’t be allowed in your quarantine room with you, nor will their stay be covered if they test negative-they’ll either need to go home on their own or pay for a room themselves.

Assuming you test negative after two weeks, you’ll be able to go home. However, many people who have recovered from Covid-19 symptoms continue to test positive for several weeks after. In that rare case, you’ll need to get a doctor’s note declaring that you completed your quarantine, are no longer symptomatic, and are fit to fly. That note has to be submitted to your airline and is subject to their approval.

Remember that this is all worst-case scenario, but if you do decide to travel internationally during the pandemic, you’re running the risk. That being said, it’s good to stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.

So…should I go to Mexico right now?

Rapidly changing restrictions aside, Mexico is open, so yes, you can go.

But while you’re there-traveling from, you know, the Covid capital of the world to a country whose economy relies on tourism-just be sure to mask up, follow local rules and regs, and generally avoid acting like an ass. A margarita on the beach costs $5 and a hotel room in Cancún costs $100, but it’s free-ninety-nine to be conscientious and kind while you exercise your privilege to blow off some steam.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Meagan Drillinger’s writing has appeared in Lonely Planet, Travel + Leisure, InsideHook, Men’s Health, and more. She is a long-time Thrillist contributor and the Mexico reporter for Travel Weekly magazine.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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