What destinations are open, and what should you expect when you get there?
In this month’s edition of Ask a Travel Expert, travel writer Terry Ward addresses how to make trip plans around COVID restrictions and if you can swim with whale sharks during the pandemic.
Q: What added safety precautions can I expect to find dive shops taking with rental gear and on boats during the pandemic?
A: Prepare for it to vary. I’ve been diving in Florida and Portugal since the pandemic started and have seen different practices—from divers and crew masked up on dive boats until the moment they get ready to slip on their scuba masks and enter the water to people not wearing face coverings at all once they’re outside in the fresh air. Most dive shops are taking extra sanitizing and cleaning measures with their rental gear. I’ve seen rental regulators wrapped in plastic before use and have also been asked to buy a $10 plastic mouthpiece for a rental regulator to avoid reuse. In general, expect dive boats to be operating at lower capacities to encourage social distancing.
Measures will vary at locations around the world, so it’s wise to call or email the dive operator you’re heading out with ahead of time to address any concerns and get an idea for what to expect.
“Divers should be asking about the cleaning processes [of the boats and gear] and about what’s going to be expected of them—whether they’re boarding a charter boat in Florida or going to Cozumel,” says Ken Scarbrough, president of Ultimate Dive Travel. “If people aren’t wearing a mask on the boat, you’re asking for trouble,” he says. “We’re doing it to protect our fellow divers.”
Q: My winter cruise to the Caribbean was canceled. Where’s a good land-based spot for diving in the region right now?
A: Many popular scuba diving destinations in the Caribbean are back open to travelers—including Grenada, the Bahamas, Barbados and Antigua, among others—with different entry requirements when it comes to quarantining and COVID-19 testing. But for land-based diving without testing to get in, you might want to look to mainland North and Central America.
“Mexico and Costa Rica are places you can go without any testing at all right now,” says Scarbrough, adding that the bulk of his clients who are currently traveling have been opting for dive trips to Cozumel. “It’s quick and easy, and you don’t have to spend a lot of time on a plane.”
Q: With Mexico open, are whale shark excursions being offered as normal?
A: Mexico is one of the best places in the world to get in the water with whale sharks. You can snorkel with them year- round here. Whale shark season in Baja usually runs from November to May, while mid-May to mid-September are peak months for seeing them in the waters around Cancun. Divers sometimes encounter whale sharks while diving in the waters around La Paz in Baja, but organized encounters to their feeding grounds are for snorkeling only. With most boats running at half capacity these days due to COVID-19 restrictions, be sure to book in advance. Luca Tognazzi of Huatulco Dive Center has another tip on what you can see in the south of Mexico facing the Pacific : “in Huatulco it is like entering in the seahorse paradise. In 30 years of diving I never saw an underwater area with so many seahorses – all you have to do is train your eyes”.