Mexico Opens Its Doors To U.S. Tourists Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Dec 21, 2020
Originally published on December 21, 2020 8:15 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

American tourists are not allowed in most countries right now, but Mexico is an exception. And people are going despite what the CDC says, which is, of course, don't do that. Here's NPR's Carrie Kahn.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Sharlea Watkins (ph) and her friends, all in matching neon, sleeveless T-shirts, down beers at a restaurant overlooking the marina and Cabo San Lucas, one of Mexico's top three tourist destinations.

SHARLEA WATKINS: Look at it out here. It's beautiful.

KAHN: And warm, says Watkins. Back in Boise, Idaho, it's in the 30s. And the months indoors have been tough.

WATKINS: There's no restrictions. It's beautiful. We feel safe.

KAHN: Mexico doesn't require travelers to show proof of a negative COVID test, nor to quarantine upon arrival. So when two of Watkins' friends decided to tie the knot and wedding venues at home were closed because of COVID, the group went south. Steve Edwards (ph), who builds homes back in Boise, is performing the nuptials.

STEVE EDWARDS: I'm an ordained minister.

WATKINS: Ordained through the Internet.

EDWARDS: An Internet minister.

(LAUGHTER)

KAHN: He had the couple jot down their vows at the bar. Nearly 80% of jobs in Los Cabos depend on tourism. The region shut down for three months at the onset of the pandemic, causing huge losses. Nationwide, tourism took an $11 billion hit. To lure tourists back, Los Cabos officials tout tough safety protocols, like in this beautifully shot ad.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: Before you visit, get to know the rules in Los Cabos.

KAHN: One frame highlighting mask wearing shows a woman snorkeling among fish. Self-distancing is urged with a scene of a lone surfer in vast blue waters. The state's tourism secretary, Luis Humberto Araiza, says safety really does come first. Hotels and restaurants are limited to 50% capacity. Temperatures are taken before entering any stores. And masks are mandatory indoors. Officials are also helping pay for widespread testing of industry employees, making the state second only to Mexico City for COVID testing, says Araiza.

LUIS HUMBERTO ARAIZA: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: "We aren't invincible. Sure, you can get infected. But the risk here is much less than in other places," he says. And indeed, COVID cases did spike once the three-month lockdown lifted this summer. Dr. Enrique Hernandez (ph), a trauma specialist, got COVID back then and says he saw many colleagues die.

ENRIQUE HERNANDEZ: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: He says it's frustrating seeing tourists and locals alike being irresponsible and not wearing masks now. Throughout the country, and especially in Mexico City, hospitals are reaching capacity and deaths are on the rise. Late last month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned U.S. tourists not to travel to Mexico. Marta Cerita (ph) hopes travelers aren't discouraged. She was selling handicrafts recently at an outdoor holiday bazaar.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE")

SHAKIN' STEVENS: (Singing) Merry Christmas everyone

KAHN: She also owns a local steakhouse and says the three-month closure was brutal. She says it wasn't until just last week that she began to see reservations go up as more American tourists flock to the country's amazing beaches.

MARTA CERITA: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: "We almost called it quits and shut down," she says. She burned through all her savings and says she hopes the region is truly recovering.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Los Cabos, Mexico.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEQUERBOARD'S "THE SORROW BIRD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.