Are you traveling yet? Have you been vaccinated? Seeking a luxury volunteer vacation? This Summer is looking set to be a much-needed boon for destinations reliant on tourism.
Our hearts ache for what is happening in India, but fortunately, there are other parts of the world where you can travel to safely.
You can travel to the following countries without testing if you are fully vaccinated:
The destinations described below will let you enter if you have a recent PCR test.
What’s more, protocols are in place so that you can show your kids how fortunate they are and inspire them to be world changers by incorporating a hands-on philanthro-volunteering component.
However, even if you are vaccinated, you do need to have a negative PCR test taken no less than 72 hours prior to arriving back in the US. Many hotels can arrange this for you at your hotel.
Before you start dreaming about your luxury volunteer vacation, ask yourself: “should I travel?” This is ultimately your personal decision, and some factors are:
- your age (if you are over 70, consider waiting to travel until you are vaccinated)
- your immunity levels and overall health
- the number of cases of COVID-19 in the areas you are traveling to
- the availability of travel insurance in case you require hospitalization
And please read the U.S. State Department’s travel advisory page, which has links to country pages that explain restrictions in each destination. The countries I am suggesting below do not necessarily have low rates of COVID-19, and my suggestions may even be against U.S State Dept recommendations. The situation for each country can change rapidly, so always check for updates before you travel.
The following countries allow Americans to visit this without having to quarantine, along with ways you can bond with your family and make a difference whilst there, all whilst staying in sustainable eco-luxury accommodation.
Bali might reopen in June, and from then until November is the best weather.
On this island paradise, you will love the cooking classes, temples, beaches, surf, volcanoes, and vibrant culture, and you can transform the life of a paraplegic, blessing them with a sense of dignity and independence by building a disabled-accessible bathroom for him or her.
Thailand’s Phuket is set to re-open on July 1 (not yet confirmed), and if you are vaccinated, there is no quarantine!
Phuket offers blissful beaches, vibrant towns, tasty cuisine and stunning scenery, and superb eco-luxe properties such as Aleenta Phuket.
If opening Phuket works, the range you can visit may well get extended to Koh Kood (stay at my all-time favorite, Soneva Kiri), Koh Samui (stay at Six Senses Koh Samui), and Koh Phi Phi (stay at Zeavola).
And when the north of Thailand re-opens, head to Chiang Mai to can make your time in Thailand meaningful on a luxury volunteer vacation by helping conserve elephants: preparing their meals, walking with them, watching them bathe and play, and learning about these gentle giants.
USA – doh!
Of course Summer is a tremendous time to explore your own backyard! Some of my suggestions for the summer are:
– The theme parks are open again in Florida, but make sure you check out Miami (stay at eco-luxe 1 Hotel South Beach) and the Florida Keys (do go all the way down to charming Key West and head to Dry Tortugas National Park with superb snorkeling);
– Texas can keep you busy for weeks, and for luxury lovers with a thirst for adventure, stay at Cibolo Creek Ranch, and explore Big Bend National Park, then fly to Dallas and help at Riding for the Disabled to make your time in Texas fulfilling;
– The bears of Yellowstone and the neighboring Grand Tetons are out and about, along with wolves, moose, bison and more, as well as canyons, lakes and geysers.
– Alaska is now in its high season, so accommodation is scarce, but if you can get in, two of my favorite Alaskan lodges are Ultima Thule and Tutka Bay – for wild luxury.
Americans must be fully vaccinated or present a negative PCR test to enter Ecuador. You may be subject to random rapid antigen testing at the airport at their own expense, and if positive, you must quarantine for 10 days at a government shelter.
If you plan on visiting the Galápagos Islands (and I highly recommend that you do), for ease I suggest you go there straight away, to avoid having to take another Covid test.
There you can encounter the dazzling array of wildlife with fewer tourists than usual. Yacht charters are possible (I recommend Ecoventura’s Theory) to explore the islands in your family bubble (plus your superb, sanitized staff). Mainland Ecuador has much to offer too, from the Amazon jungle to colonial Quito, and much in between.
To make a difference on a luxury volunteer vacation in Ecuador, you can renovate a low-income day-care center, or care for the children at the center.
Costa Rica is open to Americans, with no PCR test required (but remember to get one in order to re-enter the US), but you do need insurance that includes at least $50,000 coverage for medical issues related to the coronavirus, along with an additional $2,000 coverage for expenses due to pandemic illness or trip interruption or cancellation due to illness. A digital Health Pass must be completed before boarding a flight to Costa Rica.
It is the rainy season in parts of Costa Rica, but Guanacaste is often good in July, and the Caribbean coast is dry, which is where you can encounter turtles laying eggs in places like Tortuguero. My recommendation for the summer: Manatus in Tortuguero.
Costa Rica is perfect for first-time travelers to Central America, with lush jungle, active volcanoes, many zip-line routes, white-water rafting, wildlife, surfing, snorkeling, Fairtrade coffee and you can even make your own chocolate bars!
Connect on a deeper level with your kids and volunteer at a turtle protection site or at a wildlife rescue center.
Or help at a free medical clinic that cares for Nicaraguan refugees: enter patient data, take notes during consultations, dispense medications in the pharmacy, and make patients feel comfortable.
To enter Belize you need to be fully vaccinated or show a negative PCR test. Stay in Gold Standard approved hotels, and travel with Gold Standard approved guides and operators (your travel advisor can assist you with this).
Compact Belize offers great variety, from Mayan ruins hidden in the jungle to kayaking on rivers with only Howler monkeys to watch you. With the 2nd longest Barrier Reef in the world, the diving and snorkeling is remarkable.
You can make a difference by building an eco-friendly stove for a Mayan family, with whom you get to engage and gain insights into their lives.
These stoves are brilliant in that:
- There are no open flames, which is much safer by reducing incidents of children getting burned;
- They have a chimney to extract the smoke, minimizing respiratory issues such as asthma and lung cancer;
- They use less wood, so are better for the environment as well.
Belize’s rainy season is in full swing throughout the summer, but this does make everything incredibly lush and verdant.
You need a negative PCR test in the 96 hours before you arrive in Guatemala. A Health Pass must also be completed.
Guatemala has preserved its culture, with the highest proportion of indigenous inhabitants in Central America, and the colonial architecture in Antigua, and the wonders of Lake Atitlan will astound you. Magnificent Mayan ruins await you in Tikal along with active volcanoes such as Pacaya, and much more (and if you ever wondered what happened to all those old American school buses, well, they’re here!).
On your luxury volunteer vacation you can build a home and by so doing inspire your kids to be future world-changers and improve the lives of a family in need – in only five days!
The summertime can be pretty wet though, so keep that in mind.
Upon arrival (land borders are closed) to Mexico, you may be subject to temperature checks and other health screenings.
Base yourself in one of Cancun’s resplendent resorts, or head south and enjoy boutique options in Playa del Carmen, Tulum or Mayakoba (such as Playaakun, or Banyan Tree). The Mayan ruins of Chitzen Itza and Tulum are top of bucket lists for a good reason, and near Tulum, I highly recommend exploring the sublime Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve.
Show your kids how fortunate they are and help teach at a school, sort donated clothes and food, renovate classrooms, or entertain the elderly at a Seniors Home. This can all be arranged for you.
Summertime can be pretty hot and wet in the Yucatan, but it is also when you can encounter whale sharks on a boat trip – another bucket list experience.
You don’t need to quarantine if you satisfy the following requirements:
1) body temperature below 99.5°F;
2) No persistent cough, difficulty breathing, or other flu-like symptoms;
3) A negative PCR-based COVID-19 test conducted within 96 hours of arrival.
Kenya boasts iconic parks for spotting wildlife, such as the Masai Mara, Amboseli (complete with views of Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro in neighboring Tanzania), as well as lesser-known reserves such as Tsavo, Samburu, and Selankay. In Tsavo, you can even experience a private helicopter flight to encounter the ‘Super Tuskers’ – elephants with tusks so big that they drag on the ground – in return for a donation to conserve and protect them from poachers.
However, Kenya is not only about the wildlife: it has wonderful beaches too (in my opinion, Diani has the best beaches, and a trip to Lamu is like stepping back in time) and Nairobi is an exciting capital city (stay at Giraffe Manor if you like giraffes as your breakfast companions!).
Return home feeling like you are a Masai after being so immersed in the culture by helping build a classroom, teaching in a school, or installing fuel-efficient stoves. You will feel great at having made a tangible difference.
Summertime is when Kenya hosts the wildebeest migration coming up from Tanzania’s Serengeti – one of the world’s great spectacles, and this year is probably your best chance to witness this without as many other tourists as usual.
You must present a negative PCR test taken within seven days before travel, however, some airlines require the test to be taken within 72 hours in order to board the flight.
The Victoria Falls are a huge draw, and whilst they are not flowing at their strongest in the summer, they are always impressive.
Safari is world-class in Zambia, and the relatively low tourist numbers make Zambia’s parks such as South Luangwa and Kafue ideal for social distancing. If you are interested in a walking safari, Zambia offers the best ones.
For a luxury volunteer vacation, stay near Victoria Falls to easily access the village where you can build a sturdy home for a widow and her children which will withstand the rainy season. Luxury options are plentiful here, and my top picks are Tongabezi Lodge, and the Royal Livingstone for views of the Falls.
Americans need only a negative PCR test taken within seven days before your flights to enter Namibia.
Namibia is ideal for social distancing as it has one of the lowest population densities on earth. What’s more, its epic sand dunes and canyons, the treacherous Skeleton Coast, and desert-adapted elephants and rhinos roaming this sparse landscape add up to a compelling experience, and the summer is the best time to be in Namibia.
A negative COVID-19 test certificate is all you need to enter Rwanda.
Rwanda manages to pack in mountains, lakes, and forests within its borders, as well as impressive wildlife spotting in Akagera National Park (I recommend that you stay at eco-luxe Magashi Camp).
For the overwhelming majority of travelers to Rwanda, the Mountain Gorillas are a highlight (it was one of the most extraordinary hours of my life and I can’t wait to see them again), and keep in mind that Rwanda is also a good place to spot chimpanzees in the wild (stay at One & Only Nyungwe House).
Bond closer with your kids as you help build a home for former street kids in Kigali, Rwanda’s lively capital. Expert local builders will oversee your efforts, and handle all the tricky parts, so you work within your skill level.
The Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic no longer requires Covid tests, so entry is easy. And get this: the Ministry of Tourism offers free Covid testing for Americans within 72 hours of departure!
Beyond the beautiful beaches, the colonial part of Santo Domingo is well worth exploring, and thrillseekers can descend the 27 waterfalls of Damajagua, and white-water raft on the only raftable river in the Caribbean.
Inspire your kids to be world changers by helping create a basketball court to provide a healthy exercise venue for the locals, or prepare and serve healthy food to young Dominicans in need of decent nourishment.
Americans can get into the Maldives upon presenting a negative PCR test.
Located in the Indian Ocean, these mesmerizing islands are a bit of an effort to reach from the US, but you won’t regret it if you get there.
With arguably the world’s best resorts, beaches, and watersports, you may not want to do anything else, but to bond even closer with your kids, you can replant coral and restore this vital marine ecosystem.
Iceland has just started allowing fully vaccinated Americans to enter without testing. Iceland will also welcome you if you can show proof they were infected with COVID-19 and recovered.
Each day in Iceland unveils another wonder, with incredible waterfalls, volcanoes, glaciers, and beaches, as well as thrilling 4WD adventures.
Certain travel advisors can also enable you to track the Arctic Fox in its natural environs, in return for a donation to their conservation – this is bound to be a highlight of what will no doubt be an extraordinary trip.
Travel safe and well!
NB: entry requirements due to Covid are frequently changing so the status of the destination you are interested in may have changed by the time you read this.
Stay safe and be the change!