Oh, Mexico: The Time To Go Is Now!

Ocean First   Jul 05, 2022

Palm trees swaying in the wind, the soft sound of waves crashing on the beach, the heat of the sun soaking into your skin...sounds like a dream, right? These daydreams were happening more and more frequently, overcoming my thoughts as I drove to work, in the shower, and in my actual dreams. Like most of the world, I have been longing for some sort of escape from reality. As tourist destinations adapt and learn to host visitors safely, I knew it was time to break free from my COVID cocoon and book a beach vacation ASAP. I suspect many of you are feeling the same way after being cooped up in quarantine and are either chomping at the bit to fulfill your wanderlust or taking the more conservative route and embracing armchair travel.

In mid-July the stars aligned and I was presented with the opportunity to join some dear friends in Playa Del Carmen. I couldn’t resist the chance to feel the sand between my toes and take my first plunge since getting scuba certified. What is it like traveling internationally right now, you might ask? I honestly felt safer traveling around Mexico than I do in the US. We certainly can take a page from Mexico’s safety measures and mentality towards overcoming this pandemic.

Safety Measures

With a non-stop flight into Cancun on Southwest, I was feeling pretty confident about my travels and minimizing as much contact as possible. I felt very safe in the airport as lines were short, the proper distance was kept between travelers and everyone was wearing masks. Southwest in particular has arranged for the middle seat to be left vacant, and on my flight down there I had the entire row to myself. They are also minimizing the crew’s interactions with customers by providing minimal service, only water and snacks, while also restricting alcohol consumption.

Upon landing in Cancun, it was a matter of minutes before I noticed a considerable shift in the proficient level of safety precautions that the country is taking as a whole. Airport workers, taxi drivers, police, security officers… everyone I came into contact with was properly wearing a mask, sometimes also a face shield, and maintaining Mexico’s designated distance of 1.5 meters (5 feet) wherever possible. I hopped into a taxi with a very kind driver who wore his mask throughout our entire drive (unlike my Lyft driver in Denver that took me to the airport without a mask even in sight). I made my way down the Yucatán Peninsula's Riviera Maya to my destination in Playa del Carmen. I came to the country with zero set plans, only a desire to safely navigate the region and go diving at least once.

My first night in the Playa consisted of a welcome dip in the condo’s infinity pool and a visit to the beach for a sunset walk. As we cruised the shoreline, it was apparent that the hotels and towns are lacking tourists, which the local economy depends on. As a tourist, this was welcomed for a few reasons: first, businesses were not overcrowded, which allowed for proper social distancing and peace of mind for vacationing during a pandemic. Second, everything from accommodations to excursions was offered at a discount to help spark spending, making this trip even more affordable. Obviously the other side of this reality is that many businesses are closing down and locals have to work extra hard to keep their business alive. (Both at home and abroad, make sure you tip well!)

Our activities included an all day boat tour off Puerto Aventuras, snorkeling in Tulum and Puerto Morales, an all-inclusive catamaran tour, and diving the Dos Ojos cenotes. Before you jump to conclusions that all these activities couldn’t possibly be safe in the era of COVID, I can confidently say that I felt extremely safe throughout the entire trip. Most of the beaches are closed, so businesses are supported by requiring tourists to book formal excursions. Everywhere we went, safety measures were executed to the “T”. Temperatures were taken upon entering any business, and there were elaborate sanitation stations and touchless hand sanitizer pumps.

For example, before boarding the catamaran, our temperatures were taken, they only allowed one person per group to stand in line for registration, our bags were sprayed with a sanitizing mist, and our shoes were sprayed upon entering/exiting the boat at each stop. Max capacities were cut in half and our fishing and snorkeling boats had a max allowance of four people. The grocery stores have police officers at every entrance and exit, who take your temperature, squirt you with hand sanitizer, have a shoe cleaning station, and only allow you to shop solo.

Diving Experience & the Importance of Owning Your Own Gear

The diving portion of the trip was what I was most excited about. I completed my certification one month ago in New Mexico’s Blue Hole and was itching to put that cert to use! We faced some challenges finding a dive shop that was open and willing to rent gear to my friend that needed the full set up. I saw first hand why we (at Ocean First) always stress the importance of owning your own gear. Now more than ever is the time to invest, not just for the safety of knowing your life support in and out, but also for sanitation purposes and the challenge of not finding a shop willing to rent out gear.

Through our condo’s concierge, we were linked up with Maya Blue Dive Center to explore the wonderfully dark world of cenotes. They packed us lunch, set us up in Fourth Element 5 mm wetsuits, and provided the full dive set up for my friend. Our dive guide, Martin Ramirez, was extremely professional and highly skilled. He shared with us that he moved to the Playa purely to dive the cenotes and hasn’t dived in the ocean in over 10 years. The small fears in my mind melted away – I knew we were in good hands.

We arrived at Dos Ojos, a playground of over 350 km of underwater caverns and caves owned by 300 Mayan families. Martin explained to us that our two dives would hardly scratch the surface of this underwater world, as we’d be exploring only 1 km. We did our dive briefing and jumped into that gorgeous 77-degree freshwater. What an incredible sight to see these stalactite and stalagmite formations, it was as if we were astronauts exploring space. I was truly mind blown. Martin and the entire Maya Blue staff were extremely professional, knowledgeable, kind, and abided by proper safety measures pertaining to COVID.

We can all agree that we are living in less than ideal times right now. But we are still living! We are ocean lovers and divers that want to continue learning and exploring. The ocean has always provided happiness & comfort in times of uncertainty, and this trip allowed me to recharge my mental well-being. It was very encouraging to see the country of Mexico handling the safety measures of this pandemic so well. This trip also gave me a new outlook on my own personal safety measures in my day to day life. Our world is changing and while we must adapt our behaviors, we can still enjoy its beauty & wonder.

**Ocean First recommends that those who are choosing to travel do so with the highest respect and safety.