COVID-19: Tourism & Re-openings in the Rest of Central America

Belize’s borders have been closed since the end of March.  Just last week, a very limited re-opening of the International Airport has been announced for August 15th.

Arrivals in Belize are HIGHLY recommended to have a COVID test within 72 hours of arrival to be fast-tracked thru the customs and immigration process.  But they will have to go directly to a certified hotel that will provide not just a room but meals, tours, and everything that the visitor will need.

There are still MANY questions about the specifics.  How long do they expect this phase to last?  What metrics will they be looking at to expand tourism – allow tourists to exit their hotels?  What about homeowners and people visiting those with home – when can they return?  Hopefully, we will get some answers soon.

The Q&A Sessions with the Belize Tourism Board that was scheduled for tomorrow at 10am has been postponed.

Here is what I do know:  Land borders will remains closed for the foreseeable future.

The Caribbean is starting to see limited re-opening…St Lucia, Jamaica, Antigua, Aruba.  Some are not opening to Americans right now, some are requiring testing.  (The Points Guy has a good summary of all islands and Belize)

Belize is often put in both buckets – the Caribbean (because of our well known sandy cayes, reef and official language – English) and Central America (because we are…in Central America!)

We are hearing about the re-openings in the Caribbean but what about Central America?

While we do have a bunch in common with many Caribbean islands – we have a very big difference.  We have land borders on 3 sides – with Guatemala and Mexico.  The most recent (contained) cases of COVID have been illegal “border jumpers”.

So while our total numbers remain low (30 in total since the end of March), we need to look at the countries around us to see how they are faring during this pandemic.

There are 7 countries in all – and they all rely on tourism to some degree…but none more than Costa Rica. Costa Rica is the most visited country in Central America with over 2.9 million overnight tourists in 2019 (compared with Belize’s 500k).

Here’s a summary I compiled from scouring the internet – if you know anything different, please let me know.  Overall, it is a story of the escalation of the virus and caution around border openings.

  • Belize (Total confirmed cases as of July 5, 30 and approx. population, 383K ): All airports in Belize are closed. The international airport will re-open with multiple restrictions on August 15.
  • Costa Rica (4996 cases, pop: 5M ): Airport re-opening announced for August 1st allowing ONLY countries with low COVID rates to enter. There has been no announcement yet what countries those are. (This blog has a great update on the whole situation.)
  • El Salvador (8027 cases, 6.4M): The country is currently closed.  The country wide quarantine officially ended June 16th and a 5 stage plan for re-opening was announced.  Phase 2 is scheduled to start tomorrow but the president has already threatened to slow down the plan and/or impose quarantines in different states/areas.  Tourism is part of Stage Four and the airport is scheduled to re-open August 6.
  • Guatemala (23,238 cases, 17.2M): Airports are still closed until further notice – the “State of Calamity” was extended today until Aug 5.
  • Honduras (23,943 cases, 9.6M): Airports are closed until further notice – includes Roatan.  On June 19, a Four Stage plan for air activity was announced – no dates are given.
  • Nicaragua (2,182 cases, 6.5M) : Airports are “effectively” closed until further notice  – Nicaragua has not officially done much and have likened their response to that of Sweden.  Many seem to think that the numbers of very underreported.  (Did you know that the VP of Nicaragua is the wife of the President, Daniel Ortega?)
  • Panama (38,149 cases, 4.2M): They saw a surge in cases in early June and re-tightened restrictions. I see no planned re-opening for the airports, they have humanitarian flights scheduled to the US weekly in July.

And a quick look at Mexico, which is part of North America, but closer to Ambergris Caye than any other country.  In fact, I’m sitting about 15 miles away from the Mexican “border” – the canal that separates Ambergris Caye from the rest of the Yucatan.  (It’s one of the best day trips to venture thru there…especially with super guide Panny)

One side of the mangroves is Belize, the other Mexico.

Mexico is a vast country in size and population (over 126M).  They have seen over 257K cases of COVID – with over 4000 in the state directly to our north, Quintana Roo.  They are working on a state by state and even a town by town basis when re-opening.

Flights never officially stopped to many Mexican airports but tourism in Cancun and the surrounding tourism areas started in June.

What does all this mean to me?  I’m not exactly sure.  I don’t think there is anyone who is “exactly sure” of much right now.

It means that there is quite a bit to learn before booking a trip to Belize right now…or honestly?  To travel anywhere internationally.  Proceed with caution and make SURE you know all the rules and regulations/cancellation policies before you do anything!

And, as with everything, stay safe.


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