Americans Flock to Mexico, Despite Fresh COVID-19 Surge – TravelPulse

Mexico has always been a dream destination for many American vacationers, thanks to its promise of year-round warm weather, beautiful beaches and opportunities for outdoor recreation. But, now, during a time that’s considered “post-pandemic” in the U.S., a torrent of holidaymakers are taking their summer trips south of the border.

As vaccination rates in the U.S. climb and vacation-starved people who’ve been largely pent up for the past 16 months start to travel again, U.S. tourists are pouring into Mexico for a long list of reasons. But, amid a staggering spike in COVID-19 infections south of the border and low vaccination rates among the locals, American visitors may not be as safe as they imagine.

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On Tuesday, Reuters said that Mexico’s Health Ministry reported the greatest daily increase in new COVID-19 cases since February, which—according to deputy health minister Hugo López-Gatell—constitutes a third new wave of contagion. The ministry’s data showed case counts increased by 11,137 to reach 2,604,711 total cases, while the number of daily deaths rose by 219, bringing the overall death toll to 235,277.

The New York Times’ tracker states that the average amount of daily new cases has risen 92 percent since two weeks ago, with death counts increasing by nine percent over the same period. There’s speculation as to how large a role the most highly contagious COVID-19 strain, the Delta variant, is playing in the current surge.

Tourism Areas Are Turning Into COVID-19 Hotspots

Three of the five Mexican states currently dealing with the highest infection rates are home to major tourism hotspots: Quintana Roo, which encompasses Cancún, Cozumel and Riviera Maya; Yucatan state, home to Chichén Itzá, Uxmal and Mérida; and, on the west coast, Baja California Sur, home to Los Cabos. The popular seaside resort destination of Los Cabos has the worst infection rate at 47 cases per 100,000 people, accounting for 54 percent of all active cases in the state.

“Covid is substantial down here,” Jon Gabrielsen, an American living in Los Cabos, told the New York Times. “It’s not like the U.S. where they have brought infection rates down to very low numbers with the vaccine. The vaccination rate is not very high here. Fellow Americans should understand they need to mask up.”

Cancun hotel zone. (photo courtesy of Quintana Roo Tourism Board)

The Mexican government’s efforts to vaccinate its citizens haven’t been nearly as robust as ours in the U.S. While it’s gotten off to a slow start, Mexico is reportedly now racing to acquire and distribute COVID-19 vaccines. Only about 16 percent of its population is fully vaccinated, while 28 percent have received at least one dose.

The three heavily tourism-reliant states maintain that they’re enforcing COVID-era health and safety protocols, including mask mandates, social distancing imperatives, imposing curfews and banning large gatherings. Quintana Roo’s Tourism Authority told the New York Times that the state government performs random rapid testing in the busy downtown Cancún area and has deployed workers who distribute masks and hand sanitizer.

Travelers Continue To Take the Risk

While U.S.-Mexico land borders have remained closed to non-essential travelers since the start of COVID-19, Mexico has remained conspicuously open to international air arrivals throughout the course of the pandemic, and its government never imposed any quarantine or testing restrictions. Plenty of Americans, vaccinated or not, have taken trips there this year, with two million U.S. tourists having visited Mexico in the first four months of 2021.

Aerial view of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Aerial view of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. (photo via ferrantraite/E+)

Mexico is enticing, not only because it’s got pretty much everything you could want in a summer getaway, but because its unbeatable proximity to home likely appeals to travelers who may still be trepidatious about crossing international borders.

For example, you can fly from Dallas to Cancún in under three hours, from San Diego to Los Cabos in just over two hours or from Miami to Cancún in about an hour and a half. Tourists will find that there’s no shortage of direct flights from major southern U.S. cities to Mexico’s tourism hotspots.

Another aspect of Mexico’s appeal is that it’s an affordable destination with a favorable exchange rate, with one U.S. dollar being worth about 20 pesos.

According to statistics from Mexico’s Tourism Ministry, Americans make up 76 percent of all international air arrivals. Based on ticketing data, analytics firm Forward Keys found that the volume of air travel tickets from the U.S. to Mexico in the third quarter of 2021 is up almost 32 percent over the same period in 2019.