Vacationing in Belize During a Pandemic

Social Distancing

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.
Sea Turtle

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.

Social Distancing
Social Distancing on Silk Caye

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!

The World Awaits

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 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!

The Yukon: Larger than Life

yukon sign

By Susan Hammond

Last month, I was invited by Anderson Vacations and Yukon’s Department of Tourism and Culture to experience the spectacular and truly unique place they call home: Canada’s Yukon. With pristine landscapes, abundant wildlife, a rich cultural heritage and outstanding services, I quickly found out that the Yukon has something for absolutely every kind of traveler—even in the winter.

So, off I went with six other travel advisors (I was the only American) and our hosts to Whitehorse, Yukon (the territory’s capital) to hunt the dancing aurora, snowmobile through the woods, experience a dogsled “limo” and try to ice fish for the first time. Working in the travel industry for most of my adult life, I really thought I was pretty good in geography, however since I have never been to Northern Canada, I really didn’t know exactly where Whitehorse was located in North America. After spending my first night in Vancouver, we all took an approximate 2-hour nonstop flight the next morning on Air North, which is the Yukon’s airline, headquartered in Whitehorse. Now I know that this small city of approximately 28,000 in population is a couple hours north of British Colombia and a 2.5 hour drive northeast of Skagway traveling along the Klondike Highway.

After visiting Air North’s headquarters and their brand-new hanger near the Whitehorse airport, we checked into our hotel for the next five nights, anxiously awaiting the adventures ahead. Well, I would like to let you in on a little secret—the Yukon gets even more intriguing in winter. Almost 80 percent of the Yukon is pristine wilderness. That’s over 350,000 square kilometers (218,000 square miles) of mountain vistas, boreal forests, wild rivers and crystal clear lakes. And since there are 10 times more moose, bears, wolves, caribou, goats and sheep than people, there’s the possibility of seeing wildlife around every bend. We actually saw a lynx quickly creeping across a frozen lake our first day out. I can now say the Yukon compares to Alaska—without all the people and it’s more laid back with less tourists.

The Yukon River winds through Whitehorse, which is nestled in a broad, forested valley, with mountains flanking either side. The Yukon’s capital city is steeped in culture and history, with wonderful restaurants, vibrant arts community, world class attractions and top-notch tourist services. I found all the amenities of a large city with an endearing small-town personality. Whitehorse doesn’t come without its characters though. As we took a quick city tour, we stopped at the 98 Hotel Breakfast Club at 10 am one morn-ing to visit with some of the local characters. This bar is home to the famed breakfast club, a badge of honor worn by morning drinkers; he establishment opens at 9 am and closes at 11 pm. There’s an air of mystery around the place.

“People will either tell you to avoid the 98 like the plague, or make a point of going for an authentic Yukon experience,” says General Manager Angel S. “We’ve got the most colorful people in town. There’s nothing fake in this place.” I personally love this experience!

Our first day started around 8:30 am with a hearty breakfast as we prepared to drive about 45 minutes south of Whitehorse to an area called Carcross in the Southern Lakes region. The vilage of Carcross is home to the Carcross/Tagish First Nation. It boasts incred-ible scenery, cross-country ski and snowshoe trails and a variety of visitor’s services. Some of the Yukon’s oldest buildings dating back to the days of 1898 are located in this community. The year 1898 is significant in the Yukon because that is the year that the Klondike Gold Rush was coming to an end. Carcross got its name years ago since it was a major migration crossing for woodland caribou prior to the gold rush. It’s easy to feel the draw to Carcross because the compelling First Nation culture invites you to experience their heritage. We had the opportunity to stand in the presence of totem poles master carver—Keith Wolfe Smarch, as we were invited inside a carving shed to watch and learn the significance of his artwork’s shapes and colors. I quickly learned that wherever you travel in this territory, Yukon First Nation’s history and culture is part of what makes the Yukon the special place it is.

Upon sunrise (around 10 am) the next morning, we headed over to the start of the 36th annual Yukon Quest. This event is a dogsled race from Whitehorse to Fairbanks, Alaska. For the last 36 years, dog teams have answered the call to endure 1,000 miles of rugged terrain across the heart of Alaska and the Yukon. The Yukon Quest poses challenges that no other race on Earth can boast. Extremely cold temperatures are guaranteed, and long distances up to 200 miles between checkpoints means a musher and dog team must be mentally and physically prepared for the worst Mother Nature can dish out. As we all were waiting for the race to start, the temperatures were hovering around -33 degrees Fahrenheit. Fortunately, our hosts provided us all cold weather gear to keep us warm in the extreme

Dog Sledding team
Carcross Visitor Center, Yukon

temperatures, however my heart went out to the dogs that were so eager to take off and run! This year, they had 31 teams that took on this challenge, representing six different countries. The race takes preparation, knowledge, skill and strategy just to finish and was a once in a lifetime experience for all seven travel advisors that attended this event for the first time!

After watching most of the teams head out on their journey, we were taken to the Lumel Studio in downtown Whitehorse for some hands-on glassblowing. Upon entering the warm studio, we each were allowed to select a piece we wanted to make and take home. I chose to make a small bowl with assistance from one of the apprentices of the studio: Angus. Angus was very patient as I selected the colors of my personal piece and success-fully made a bowl that is actually round and sits level on my desk holding candy for my clients’ enjoyment.

The following days we encountered snowmobiling through the woods, ice fishing on a lake for trout, conducted site inspections at a few local hotels/inns and spent a couple evenings hunting for the northern lights. Leaving at 10:30 pm both evenings and driv-ing 30 minutes south of Whitehorse to get away from the small city’s lights, we came upon three very comfortable and warm yurts and two teepees with bonfires roaring inside. These outer buildings offered hot chocolate, tea and s’mores fixings while we waited for the weather to gift us with this other light source. Unfortunately, we did not get a break in the clouds either of those nights, however we loved the hospitality from our hosts and Aurorae guides.

As I look back at my short journey in Northern Canada, I am already thinking about taking my family back in the summer for some hiking, canoeing down the Yukon River, attending one of the many festivals offered each season and enjoying the midnight sun. The creative spirit is strong in the North, and any of our professional advisors at Endless Travel can assist you experience this territory’s wildness, beauty and contradictions.

Jennifer M.

Castle in Scotland

Earlier this year my husband and I traveled to Scotland. Our trip was planned in totality by Endless Travel. It was fantastic! Susan Hammond went over every detail prior to our trip and between the excellent logistics and the foreknowledge of what to expect and do; we could relax and enjoy this beautiful country. Our trip was the highlight of our year. We plan to use Susan and Endless Travel for our travel in future (we live in Texas!). Great company! Highly recommend.

Jennifer M