Following months of lockdowns, curfews and closed borders due to the coronavirus pandemic, the sunny Caribbean is readying to welcome back tourists. As restrictions, rules and regulations give way to new health and safety protocols, several islands are reopening their borders to travel from the U.S. while others take a wait-and-see approach.
With wildcards in the deck like airlines restoring flights and the hurricane season that continues through the end of November, comebacks are gradual with social distancing, health screening and sanitizing the new normal and face masks as necessary as swimsuits and sunscreen.
“Thus far, the region has effectively minimized the spread of COVID-19, “said Frank Comito, CEO and director general, Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association. “Health and safety protocols are being put in place, mirroring the international standards which have been recommended and adding more stringent measures to help build traveler confidence; there’s every reason to believe we will be resilient once again.”
As part of its four-phased plan, the island opened for business on May 26 with face masks mandatory in public and enforced social distancing. According to the travel advisory issued by Discover Puerto Rico, the island’s destination marketing organization, new rules include screening on arrival at the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan where passengers might be asked to self-quarantine for 14 days, regardless of symptoms. A boatload of safety measures include restaurants operating with a maximum capacity of 25% and beaches open for surfing, jogging, swimming and kayaking (but no sunbathing). Golf courses are open with safety protocols in place. Many of the hotels are open as are malls and shops although trying on clothing is a no-no. Pool facilities are open at 25% capacity, within curfew hours, though spas and casinos remain closed. As a U.S. territory, no passports are needed for American citizens arriving from the U.S. mainland. For those who enjoy the path-less-taken, you’ll have to wait a little longer to visit the islands of Vieques and Culebra.
U.S. Virgin Islands
With much anticipation, the U.S. Virgin Islands reopened to leisure travelers on June 1. Safety rules are in place for hotels, resorts, restaurants, bars, taxis, and a “No Mask, No Service,” mandate is required by the government. Visitors to the trio of popular islands, St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John, are asked to travel with masks, sanitizers and wipes and will be screened upon arrival via thermal imaging.
Many of the hotels and resorts are open with the exception of Bolongo Bay Beach Resort in St. Thomas, reopening on July 1; Margaritaville Vacation Club by Wyndham – St. Thomas on July 2 and Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas on July 15. What you’ll notice are no more mini-bars or buffets and six-foot-apart seating separations in restaurants. As a U.S. territory, no passports are needed for American citizens arriving from Puerto Rico or the U.S. mainland.
It’s all hands on deck for the June 4 reopening. Included in a laundry list of protocols, visitors are required to present certified proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours of boarding a flight, face masks must be worn upon arrival, and safety measures in taxis will separate drivers and passengers. Before resorts and hotels can open, they’ll need a COVID-19 certificate from the government that shows they’ve met more than a dozen criteria for sanitization.
Leading the pack with a July 1 reopening, Jade Mountain and sister resort Anse Chastanet have added enhanced hygiene measures, distanced seating in restaurants and touch-less interactions. Other hotels to open between July and October include Windjammer Landing, Coconut Bay Beach Resort, Ladera Resort, Sugar Beach, A Viceroy Resort and three Sandals Resorts.
Marking its tourism comeback on June 4, the island will reopen as the first of daily American Airlines flights from Miami touches down at the V.C. Bird International Airport. Safety and health protocols announced for arriving passengers include health declaration forms, screenings and thermal checks. They may also be asked to take a rapid antigen test at their hotel. Social-distancing rules must be adhered to in public areas, and face masks must be worn island-wide with the exception of at the beach. Many hotels are open now, including Sandals Grande Antigua; others will reopen later this month, during the summer and throughout the fall.
During a digital address to the nation, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced ‘the borders will be open to international travelers on June 15. Health screenings will be conducted upon arrival, and face masks will be mandatory at the airport, in taxis and at the hotels and resorts. With stringent safety protocols in place, some hotels have announced reopening dates, including Sandals Resorts, Beaches Negril and Beaches Ocho Rios tentatively looking at a July reopening; Jamaica Inn in Ocho Rios at the end of June; Couples Negril, Couples Tower Isle, Couples Sans Souci and Couples Swept Away on July 1; Sunset at the Palms Resort in Negril on July 9; and Round Hill Hotel and Villas in Montego Bay on Sept. 1.
The Dutch island that sits below the hurricane belt is aiming to reopen sometime between June 15 and July 1. However, the government says this timeframe is tentative and may be subject change in order to “consider additional precautionary measures as needed.” In order to reopen, hotels, taxis, restaurants, casinos, stores and tour operators must earn and display an Aruba Health & Happiness Code gold certification seal, a rigorous hygiene program put forward by the Aruba Tourism Authority and the Department of Public Health. At the airport, expect to find temperature checks, and at the hotels and resorts, you’ll find Plexiglas barriers, digital keys and contactless check-in. At the popular Arikok National Park, virtual guided tours will respect social distancing rules, and fATVsare banned. Voted the Best Caribbean Resort in the 2020 USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards, Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort never closed – instead housing medical personnel and a KLM flight crew. The hotel is ready to welcome guests with contact-less check-in via a personal tablet and ionizer technology that removes bacteria in the air .
July 1 will mark the reopening of the borders to tourism under the guidelines of the “Tourism Readiness and Recovery Plan,” unveiled by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism & Aviation. At the airports, temperatures will be checked, and travelers must wear face masks in “any situation where it is necessary to enforce physical distancing guidelines, while navigating security and customs screenings, and at baggage claim.”
Face masks will be required in taxis, and beach chairs must be arranged to allow six feet of physical distancing. “We must remember that we are living in a new normal, and a lot is going to change across the tourism sector, “said Joy Jibrilu, director general, Bahamas Ministry of Tourism & Aviation. Resorts on stream to open include Meliá Nassau Beach, Atlantis Paradise Island, Baha Mar, Sandals Royal Bahamian, Bay View Suites Paradise Island, Comfort Suites Paradise Island, Ocean Club, A Four Seasons Resort and Grand Isle Resort & Spa in Great Exuma.
Sint Maarten and St. Martin
Aiming to kick-start the summer tourism season, the island is “looking at welcoming travelers back as soon as July 1,” according to Ludmila de Weever, minister tourism in a statement to USA TODAY, “the final touches on the country’s health and safety protocols are being worked on to ensure that both resident and visitor alike are safe and remain safe once international travel resumes.” Reopening on July 1, Sonesta Ocean Point and Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, Casino & Spa have discounted rates on weekday all-inclusive stays. On the French side of the dual nation island, Grand Case Beach Club in St. Martin is also targeting a July 1 reopening, pending the airport is open and protocols are in place.
Turks and Caicos Islands
Home to some of the swankiest resorts in the Caribbean and the recipient of umpteen best-beach awards, Turks and Caicos Islands will reopen to tourists on July 22. In a statement issued by the Turks and Caicos Islands Tourist Board, new protocols will be shared in the coming weeks. Private jet terminals will also open on July 22 in conjunction with the reopening of Providenciales International Airport. The Grand Turk Cruise Center remains closed until August 31.
Although no date has been confirmed, the island is eyeing a sooner-rather-than-later reopening. “The Government of Grenada is working towards June 30 as the possible date for the reopening of the country’s borders,” Patricia Maher, CEO, Grenada Tourism Authority said in a statement to USA TODAY. “A number of protocols are being implemented to ensure the health and safety of residents and visitors.” Hotels that have announced reopening dates include Calabash Luxury Boutique Hotel welcoming tourists back on Oct. 3 and Spice Island Beach Resort on Nov. 1. The summer carnival celebrations called Spicemas have been canceled.
The British territory across the sea from St. Maarten is a work in progress as it considers when to reopen the borders to international travelers. Safety protocols under consideration include online immigration processing and virtual check-in and check-out at hotels. Updates will be issued in the coming weeks once protocols have been finalized. Hotels including the Four Seasons Resort and Residences Anguilla and CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa aim to reopen in the fall.