Mexico has long been a favorite destination for travelers coming from the US. That was true earlier in the pandemic as people flew to one of the few countries that Americans could enter, and it’s remained true as vaccination rates in the US increase and travel picks back up.
I packed my bags and grabbed my passport to travel to Mexico (or anywhere outside of the country) for the first time since early March of 2020 for a late-July trip to Cabo. Despite Mexico’s popularity, I still had a lot of questions about what the travel experience would be like and how things are in the country for visitors. One thing that became immediately clear is that I wasn’t the only one — especially as cases are once again on the rise and the increasingly present threat of the Delta variant complicates things even for vaccinated travelers.
Here’s what you should know if you’re thinking about a trip to one of Mexico’s resort towns.
The Los Cabos tourism board made a reference sheet for anyone traveling to the region. It suggests you fill out the risk questionnaire, official entry form, and customs declaration form prior to boarding your flight. Mexico doesn’t currently require travelers to be vaccinated or show proof of a negative test.
The documents themselves are easy enough to do from home, though you’ll need a printer. That said, it’s not completely necessary other than for the risk questionnaire, which you can do by phone and save the QR code (my health assessment was merely glanced at upon arrival rather than being scanned, however). The official entry form and customs declaration were handed out on the plane just like they were prior to the pandemic, and airport employees were also handing the documents out for people who didn’t get one once I arrived.
Overall, the flight there isn’t much different other than the masks. Masks are required in airports and throughout the entirety of the flight in the US, and the same is true in Mexico.
Assessing restrictions and safety
Planning ahead is more necessary than ever when you travel to Mexico. Los Cabos was the first verified travel destination through the Sharecare health security designation. This ensures a set of standards at hotels, resorts, and restaurants designed to keep both travelers and locals as safe as possible.
On a broader level, Mexico operates on a state-by-state risk assessment system organized by colors according to COVID-19 cases. Green is the most open, followed by yellow, orange, and red. Baja California Sur, where Cabo is located, was orange at the time of my visit and at the time of writing. The higher the level, the more restrictions, including earlier closing times and lower capacity at restaurants and hotels — something people who have chosen to go out as things open up have gotten used to in the States as well. Find more information on the official government page, so you know what to expect before you arrive.
What it’s like in Mexico
Every seat was filled on my flight down. A large portion of people were honeymooners, though there were also a fair amount of families and small friend groups. Crowds may not be like they were in the past, but there were still plenty of people no matter where you looked.
Mask requirements at resorts
The first thing to know is that mask requirements are much more strict in Mexico than in much of the US. Compliance is also much higher. Yes, it’ll be hot in many of the regions you go to, but keep your mask up when you’re around people inside or out, 90 degrees with 75 percent humidity be damned. Over the course of a week at resorts and excursions, the only people I saw not wearing masks were Americans. Do the right thing and be respectful of another country’s rules.
The exception is when you’re actively eating and drinking or when you’re at the pool or beach. At one of the resorts I stayed at, Cabo Villas, there was security personnel in black shirts at the entrances from the beach and the street telling anyone who passed uncovered to mask up in both English and Spanish. Things were more relaxed on the pool deck, at the bars and restaurants, and at the pool bars, though just about everywhere requires a temperature check before entry.
Masks during excursions and events
It’s admittedly not always easy to have a mask on at all times in a beach town. After five days of carefully keeping my mask on hand and only losing one, I went from a sauna straight into the plunge pool with my mask in my pocket just before a spa treatment at Casa Dorada.
On an excursion with Cabo Adventures to an Eco farm, my small group moved from activity to activity with their masks on other than when taking pictures or eating and drinking. Feeding and petting the rescued goats, donkeys, and parrots was no less enjoyable while masked up.
A good guideline is to use common sense and communicate with the people you’re around. People were generally relieved to hear I was vaccinated but also told me that’s not always the case. It’s impossible to know if travelers are vaccinated because there aren’t requirements to enter the country. A blanket mask order helps keep everyone safe and, importantly, helps keep those who rely on tourism safe. Miguel, a driver with Transcabo, told me that despite the threat of coronavirus, he appreciated the tourists coming in because so many jobs rely on travelers. Tourism makes up 80 percent of the local economy, and 90 percent of residents work tourism or tourism-adjacent jobs.
Know that things close early
Don’t expect to be sipping tequila at the bar until daybreak. Under the orange guideline, bars and restaurants closed at 10 PM.
Once again, proper planning is key. The beachside bars fill up early but know that taking a daytime excursion means you likely won’t have much time to partake if you also plan to squeeze in dinner. Shortly after 10 PM hit, the resort and strip of nearby bars got quiet impressively fast.
For this reason, it may be easier to opt for an all-inclusive resort package or plan on having most of your meals on-site. Thankfully, in my experience, Cabo resorts do food the right way with plenty of fresh seafood and sushi to choose from. Case in point: on-site options like Baja Brewing for craft beer and elevated bar food at Cabo Villas, or award-winning tacos and seafood at Casa Dorada’s 12 Tribes.
That said, a trip off the resort is always well worth it, even in resort towns like Cabo. I went north to San Jose del Cabo for dinner at Agave (a number of locally inspired restaurants have opened or expanded in the past year), and then again during the town’s Thursday art walk for a stop by the Patricia Mendoza Art Gallery. Like at the resorts, everything felt safe thanks to carefully followed guidelines.
What you need to return to the US
Getting to Mexico is the easy part. Getting back is a little harder. The US has a stricter set of entry requirements for citizens whether they’re vaccinated or not, and you’ll need proof of a negative antigen test or a nucleic acid amplification test taken no more than three days before departure.
Thankfully, it’s not hard to find a place for an approved test, as the resorts offer onsite testing with medical professionals. Prices for these tests vary, but won’t break the bank. I was able to schedule a test for $30 at Casa Dorada and receive the results by email within 30 minutes.
Plan to arrive at the airport early. The flights are crowded (my return trip also had all of the seats filled), and you’ll need to fill out another health questionnaire, complete a COVID-19 attestation and submit your documentation for your negative test, and fill out the multiple immigration form. There will undoubtedly be people who are somehow surprised that there’s more steps to getting home than they expected, and they will inevitably slow everyone else down. At the Cabo airport, all of the food options were also impossibly crowded, so eat beforehand if you can to be on the safe side.
It’s up to each person to decide whether they’re comfortable traveling. Mexico is still the easiest country for people from the US to get to, making it an attractive destination for people thirsting for a change of scenery. If you do decide to travel to Mexico, expect things to take a little longer and for there to be a lot more planning and paperwork. Still, it’s well worth it for the added safety.