Vacationing in Belize During a Pandemic
By Susan Hammond, Agency Owner
There are two Great Barrier Reefs. One that you have probably heard of, and another that may be less familiar. The Belize Barrier Reef is a 190-mile long section of the 560-mile Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which is continuous from Cancun on the northeastern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula through the Riviera Maya and down to Honduras, making it the second largest coral reef system in the world. Rich with wildlife, the coast attracts large schools of bonefish, tarpon and the elusive permit. All these are catch and release, and those who enjoy sport fishing naturally follow.
”Prior to entering the country, all travelers are expected to have a Belize Travel
Health app on their smartphones.”
One of my sons, Jack, is an avid fly fisherman and recent college graduate. Bone fishing off the coast of Placencia, Belize was his optimal destination and with the last child off the payroll, we thought that a celebration was in order…right?
Of course, this is 2020, and things are different now. The last thing any of us wanted to do was put anyone in danger, be it members of our party or those in the Belizean communities. The question, then, was could it be done? Belize opened its borders to Americans on October 1. After nearly eight months of closure, the government implemented strict protocols for incoming tourists, requiring every one to present a negative PCR test for COVID-19 before departing from their country of origin. All tests needed to be administered 72 hours in advance. Our family also took the precaution of self-quarantining the week before just to be safe.
Prior to entering the country, all travelers are expected to have a Belize Travel Health app on their smartphones. Their safety measures were quite thorough, and necessary.
Once we arrived at the Belize City Airport, the next step was to take a short commuter flight from Belize City to Placencia, about 160 miles south along the coast. We just missed Hurricane Eta that sent a lot of rain from Honduras to Belize, so we had beautiful weather for sitting on the beach, fishing and snorkeling.
Since our resort was booked at about 25 percent capacity, we were warmly welcomed at this beach resort by the staff, who followed all local health and safety protocols making us all feel extremely comfortable. Masks were required just about everywhere we went. But, despite not showing our faces all that much, the amazing staff had all our names memorized by the second day.
For those who did not care to fish took a snorkeling excursion from Placencia to the Belizean reef and snorkeled around Silk Caye. We were thrilled to get to snorkel with rays, nurse sharks, lionfish, brain coral and other exotic ocean life.
The small, laid-back town of Placencia was a delight to explore during our stay. With the resort’s daily complimentary shuttle into town, we were able to eat at local restaurants, have a cool adult beverage on the beach, or shop for local souvenirs and artisans.
The four young adult boys in our group hired a driver one day to take them to a local waterfall for a refreshing swim. Of course, the story is that the local drug lord owned the land where the waterfall was located, which made the excursion even more thrilling. Fortunately for them, they were the only people there.
Our time in Belize came with obstacles and a natural reflection process to follow. As one of the leaders in the travel industry, we take it upon ourselves to make sure that we are doing just that: leading by example. What I can say is that COVID-19 has challenged us in ways this industry never expected. We have, in good spirits, pivoted to a lane where we can advise clients about safety and leisure, staying up to date with the most relevant information. If we were not confident that we were staying safe and keeping others out of harm’s way, we would say otherwise. Our experience was enjoyable, even with the masks and social distancing.
Without reaching too far into the realm of rationalization, we also must recognize the economic component that COVID-19 has had on countries dependent on tourism. Much of the staff and personnel we interacted with during our time were there temporarily. They were being paid, but for six months, this simply was not the case. Belize does not have a robust unemployment system. Without tourism to provide business, people working in this industry are at risk of failing to support themselves and their family members. Traveling safely, therefore, is key right now.
Your personal travel advisors at Endless Travel are optimistic about 2021. We feel that the first quarter is going to see travel rebound in a strong way for a couple of reasons. First, the news of the vaccine is a psychological boost. We see it as one of the first encouraging signs in recommending our clients start their travel plans. They may not travel immediately, but they will begin booking for later in the year or the following year.
Second, cruise line execs are feverishly working to get the ships afloat again, with new sanitation protocols that will alleviate the fears of contamination. We believe cruise ships (river and ocean) will begin to sail in the second quarter on a limited basis. When cruising does resume, the Endless Travel advisors will be at the forefront, counseling our clients while we all continue to navigate the uncertainties of this transitionary period.
As we say goodbye to 2020, the Endless Travel team wants to thank you for remaining positive and hopeful in a challenging year for all industries. We know this year has been difficult for so many people around the world, both personally and professionally, and we are looking forward to a new year filled with good health, happiness, and hopefully new travels!
By Joyce Masyga, Agency Owner
One of the most incredible aspects of travel is its ability to change us. It teaches us lessons we didn’t know we needed to learn. It alters perspectives we didn’t know would ever change. And it provides experiences that instill compassion, tolerance, patience, and so much more. But why do we do it? Why do we pack our bags, board planes and travel to places both near and far? Perhaps it’s the adrenaline that makes us feel alive, or maybe it prevents us from feeling complacent in life. For some, maybe it comforts us to know we’re forever evolving into better humans,widening our view of the world. Or perhaps it’s simply watching our children experience new things with pure joy and excitement in their eyes. No matter what your reason is, it’s your motivation, it’s your calling, and it’s your ‘why.’
Consumers are anxious about traveling again and are looking to professional travel advisors for information on what is safe, what is open, which hotels have implemented enhanced hygiene measures. They want an advocate if something happens before, during or after their trip. There is a need for information and trusted guidance. Expectations may be frequently translated into support from a travel consultant who is very familiar with all stages of the journey. Even after travelers get vaccinations, travelers are likely to remain more cautious of health issues going forward.
In a COVID-19 world, travelers are much more cognizant of the need to travel to destinations that make it easy to maintain social distancing practices. Endless Travel Advisors can get creative by designing itineraries that avoid public forms of transportation or crowded tourist areas. This may take the form of itineraries focusing on more remote locations or niches such as birding tours or biking tours, where travelers are less likely to come into contact with others.
Here are a few destinations that are open for business with some restrictions in place.Alaska
Explore Alaska’s vast landscapes. Let us cre- ate your ideal itinerary—the things and places you’ve always wanted to see.
For adventurers, how about trekking on a gla- cier, kayaking on a high mountain lake or sea kayaking, mountain biking or a photo tour of incredible scenic beauty and wildlife. Families can take sled dog tours or rides, nature hikes, gold panning, or visit Alaska Native culture sites and museums. Alaska is always a great place for fish- ing trips for any age or level.
An example of a Self-Drive 7-day vacation:
Day 1 – Anchorage
Upon arrival in Anchorage, pick up your full-size rental car with unlimited mileage (We use full-size cars because they are very stable and can handle your luggage.).
Day 2 – Anchorage to Homer
Enjoy the 225-mile drive to the picturesque town of Homer at the “end of the road.” Enjoy the day as there is a lot to see on these scenic highways.
Day 3 – Homer
Enjoy a half day halibut fishing excursion. For the non-fishermen, you may choose from fly-out bear viewing, a day-cruise across Kachemak Bay, or strolling the beaches and shops.
Day 4 – Homer to Seward
Drive 175 miles to Seward. Visit some of the places you missed on your drive to Homer. See the Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward and learn about the unique eco-systems of the area.
Day 5 – Seward Sightseeing
Depart on an exciting cruise of Kenai Fjords National Park. This tour will visit the glaciers and give you an opportunity to see the area’s wildlife. Visit dog sled kennels and ride on a training sled.
Day 6 – Spencer Glacier Float Trip & Alyeska Resort
Depart Seward for a short 65-mile drive to the Portage Train Depot. Board the Alaska RailroadHawaii
Hawaii is a beautiful tropical vacation hot spot unlike any other in the world. From its beautiful white sandy beaches and its majestic mountains and steep valleys to its city life, there really is something for everyone to enjoy! The weather in Hawaii is always perfect. Hawaii has a winter season, but it doesn’t get much colder than 75°F (24°C) during the day—ever. It is summer all year long to the typical vacationer, and shorts and bathing suits are normal attire. The Hawaiian culture is very much alive, and it shines through its people! From its city and beach names (which are almost all still in the Hawaiian language) to hula demonstrations at luaus and ukulele or lei making lessons, it is a great way to learn more about Hawaiian culture. All of the Islands are open for visitors now, so take advantage of the low airfares to Hawaii. Mexico/Caribbean
Endless Travel is seeing that all-inclusive vaca- tions make a lot of sense for travelers today. Families and couples can get away to a foreign country and take advantage of the ocean, and do it safely.
All-inclusive vacations include all of your meals, drinks, transfers, most non-motorized water sports and often tips. Travelers booking beach vacations are looking for relaxation and fun; nothing is more relaxing than knowing you can enjoy yourself to the fullest extent and not have to worry about a bill at the end. We all like to indulge on vacation, so being able to have all food, beverages, entertainment and a wide vari- ety of activities included in the package price provides great value.United States
I am sure many of you have done most of your traveling in the United States this past year while visiting family or doing short driv- ing trips. The statistics show that RV rentals are at their highest. In fact, my husband and I, along with my two sisters and husbands are planning an RV vacation to The Mighty Five in Utah this March. The Five National parks that make up the Mighty Five are: Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capital Reef National Park and Zion National Park. Each park anchors a travel region that beckons trav- elers to immerse themselves in not only the iconic national park, but state parks, national monuments and small towns that weave texture into southern Utah. All national parks are open, but services and activities may be limited due to COVID-19 protocols. Reach out to Endless Travel for assistance in booking this type of trip with a group or self-drive.
Although nobody knows exactly what will happen, one thing is clear; we won’t be able to travel as freely (without consideration for our health) as we used to… at least for the foresee- able future. With a considerable amount of uncertainty regarding travel safety and contradic- tory information online, travelers will continue to look to the experts when it comes to planning their trips. Travel has become increasingly complex, and travelers may engage with Endless Travel advisors simply to help them manage the complicated airline arrangements and health regulations they must adhere to.
Disclaimer: Endless Travel advisors are not physicians and we can’t predict the future. This article was written with what we know today. It is always your decision as a traveler to know your risks. Please follow all COVID-19 precautions.
The World Awaits
Travel Beyond the Pandemic
By Susan Hammond: Agency Owner/Luxury Travel Advisor
As I write this article, the state of Colorado is moving towards the Safer At Home phase of this pandemic. Retailers are opening via curbside, dog groomers can get back to clipping our pets’ nails and trimming the hair out of their eyes, and we all are continuing to keep our hands washed and practicing social distancing.
Throughout the last 6 weeks, we have seen the world go from bad to worse in the travel industry. I recall getting a phone call at midnight on March 16 from my dear clients traveling in East Africa. They were just told that the borders in Kenya were getting ready to shut down, and they needed to evacuate immediately. Trained in crisis management, I instantly sprang into action getting their air rebooked before the airport shut down and thankfully getting them home as safely and quickly as possible.
We have all seen the horror stories coming by way of social and mass media with some online travel agents (OTAs) like Bookit.com ceasing operations and stranding thousands of their passengers all over the world. Call hold times to OTAs, Costco, cruise lines and tour operators were maxing out 3-4 hours, only to be disconnected. I and all the travel advisors at Endless Travel spent many hours getting all our clients home safely and either cancelled or rebooked their current vacations that were planned over the next few months. I was proud of our efforts and that when our clients called, we answered the phone on the first ring.
When the coronavirus releases its grip, and we slowly start to safely emerge from our homes, the world we see will not look the same as we entered a quasi-hibernation in March 2020. So, I will attempt to speculate what the travel industry will look like on the other side of this mighty virus.
Over the past several weeks, I have been spending many hours reading, participating in industry webinars, and partaking in Zoom meetings with our preferred travel suppliers. One Zoom meeting recently included executives from Travel Guard, Apple Vacations and Royal Caribbean. You think I have a tough job right now? Think again! The VP of Sales from Royal Caribbean never ever dreamed that she needed to worry about finding a parking lot for 27 cruise ships!
Just like 9/11 forever changed air travel, I think the cruise industry will need to make the biggest changes in order to entice their guests aboard again. There are reports that buffets will be turned into food courts allowing the crew to serve each passenger with a plexiglass shield acting as a barrier. Staggering embarkation times, temperature reads, more in-depth health questionnaires and requiring high-risk passengers to have a doctor’s note that they are fit to travel are just some ideas that are currently being discussed by the cruise industry executives. There is also talk about adding medical staff to ships, and I personally would like for each mid to large size vessel to convert a section of the ship that can easily and quickly be transformed to a quarantine ward protecting all those that are healthy.
Beyond this pandemic, I believe that our world is going to be much cleaner and more sanitized. I receive an email every business day from our favorite travel supplier located in Livorno, Italy that works with cruise lines and travel advisors offering shore excursions and tailor-made tours all over Italy that never disappoints. They report that marine life has joyously returned to the lagoon of Venice. Jellyfish propelling themselves along near the surface, schools of fish swim peacefully by, crustaceans clinging to the city's famous jetties, and seaweed of every colour wafts gently on the current is occurring now due to the murky waters clearing in this beautiful and historic city. Airplanes will be cleaner too. Some airlines are already blocking out middle seats on their aircraft and considering loading the planes from the rear first. JetBlue is now providing masks to be worn onboard, and United is promoting that they are electrostactic spraying all their airplanes.
In the foreseeable future, I am noticing that the travel suppliers are continuing with flexible cancellation and rebooking policies. I believe that Americans will emerge from a haze of cabin fever eager to explore the world again. We value the freedom to travel more than ever before, but we expect with different priorities and intentions. Anticipating a trip is a lot like looking forward to a special meal. Both offer the promise of pleasure, a carnival for the senses and a break from our everyday life.
Travel is going to be more complicated going forward, and the benefits of working with a professional Endless Travel advisor cannot be understated, especially now. In addition to knowing the best travel suppliers (and who may be having special deals), we are well-informed about the solvency of various suppliers and can steer you away from a bad investment, which is key during this tumultuous economic climate. And when it comes to navigating travel insurance, we can also match your circumstances with the right provider and policy.
We are all working at home, available to assist or answer any questions. We send best wishes to everyone in our community and hope everyone is safe, healthy and staying sane. We believe that travel really brings people together so see you soon!
La Orana! As you may or may not remember, I began my Colorado Serenity article about Guatemala with a little history lesson. Well, I have another one to preface my December 2019 trip to The Islands of Tahiti. My desire to visit Tahiti was born of a grade school project in the American Midwest. Tasked with researching an exotic destination, I chose the most faraway, unreachable place I could think of - Tahiti. Now, this was in the days before the Internet and I used the resources at my disposal: the library and “Snail Mail”. I wrote to the Board of Tourism and to my surprise and great delight, I received a hand-written response along with informational materials in return. Right then, I knew I would have to visit Tahiti during my lifetime.
Think French Polynesia is too far, too hard to get to? Think again. The Islands of Tahiti are located equidistant south of the equator as Hawaii is North, and in the same time zone as Hawaii. From Los Angeles International Airport, the flight on Tahiti Nui Air is only two hours longer than Hawaii, at eight hours. I was able to relax on a brand-new Dreamliner aircraft complete with a well-appointed travel kit and reclining seats. A pleasant surprise on my flight also included a lovely flower greeting, Tahitian food, and staff who changed from uniforms to traditional Tahitian dress during the flight.
All flights arrive at Faa’a International Airport (Papeete), located near the city of Papeete on the main island of Tahiti. The airport also serves the domestic airline, Air Tahiti, for further service to the other islands and atolls. Upon arriving in Papeete, I was treated to traditional song and dance and swiftly escorted through the VIP Entrance at customs - must do for anyone because it bypasses the lines!
The Islands of Tahiti are comprised of five main archipelagos: Society Islands, Marquesas Islands, Austral Islands, Gambier Islands, and the Tuamotu Atolls. An archipelago is a sea or stretch of water containing many islands; 118 for Tahiti to be exact. The islands are made of atolls, tiny ring-shaped reef, island or chain of islands formed by coral. The coral rings around the islands form the beautiful, calm lagoons of French Polynesia. The older the island, the flatter it becomes, eventually enclosing the lagoons entirely with coral.
My first (and last) stop was the largest island, Tahiti. It was a quick overnight at Tahiti la Ora Beach Resort by Sofitel in the capital, Papeete. The next morning, the air was crisp and the sky was clear aside from a few clouds catching on the peaks of Moorea as we approached Tahiti’s sister island, Moorea, via the Terevau Ferry. My day was spent touring famous sightseeing points of Le Belvedere overlooking Cook and Opunohu’s Bays, the volcano’s crater and the Plateau de la Bounty. Moorea boasts mountainous landscapes with pineapple farms, vanilla plantations, and a fruit juice factory. Moorea’s claim of “the best pineapple in the world” is no joke - I had a freshly picked sample from the fields that day and it was the sweetest I’ve ever tasted. I dare say it surpasses the pineapples from Hawaii!
My next stop was the Island of Taha’a. As with the Hawaiian Islands, the Islands of Tahiti each have their own personality. Taha’a presents with a more agricultural feel. The island produces 80% of all vanilla exported from the country. In addition to a vanilla plantation tour and demonstration, I visited Iaorana Pearl Farm and learned what is involved in creating some of the most beautiful pearls in the world. One of the atolls of Taha’a is home to Vahine Island Resort & Spa where I toured the boutique property and enjoyed a beach luncheon. It was so quiet, I found myself whispering with my traveling companions so as not to disturb the palm trees and fish! The star of my stay on Taha’a was at Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa in an overwater bungalow for two nights. A fun fact for you is that The Islands of Tahiti are the birthplace of overwater bungalows! My bungalow included a beautiful deck with access to the lagoon below, floor to ceiling windows and, best of all, a clear, glass coffee table to watch “Polynesian Television”. Beautiful tropical fish are attracted to the lights from the bungalow and I spent quite a bit of time just watching them swim by.
The final island visit was to the famous Bora Bora and it definitely did not disappoint. Bora Bora’s personality is all about taking advantage of the multitude of water activities available. Calm lagoon waters make the perfect setting for snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, boating, fishing. I experienced first-hand the breathtaking colors of a coral garden surrounded by black-tipped reef sharks while snorkeling. Most of my time in Bora Bora was spent touring the luxurious resorts and their amenities all designed with the ultimate vacation experience in mind. The Le Meridian operates a turtle sanctuary and has a wonderful family feel, the Intercontinental Thalasso & Spa Resort uses cold waters from the depths of the ocean in their spa treatments and the overwater bungalow at the Conrad Bora Bora Nui Resort & Spa was possibly the softest place to land that evening.
I could continue writing another complete article talking about the fresh cuisine, the people and their culture, the animals, etc., but I guess you’ll just have stop by! After seeing only a portion of what The Islands of Tahiti have to offer and realizing they are not an unattainable destination, I am eager to return and explore more. My next visit’s goals are to spend more time on Bora Bora and discover the Marquesas Islands. I dare you to visit French Polynesia too!