It’s been over a year since we—and just about everybody else on planet earth, have had to put all of our travel plans—or any plans that go beyond the front door of the house for that matter, on hold for an unknown amount of time. Tomorrow morning that stops—at least for this particular snorkel safari, as Belize’s borders are now open and Aggressor Liveaboards’s vessels are up and running! Tomorrow afternoon fourteen snorkeling enthusiasts and I will board the Belize Aggressor III for a full week of snorkeling around the third-largest barrier reef in the world, the Belize Barrier Reef. At least for me, the anticipation of all the awesome things we will see and encounter is palpable. Not only that, but SeaLife—the popular underwater camera manufacturer—has lent Snorkel Venture five of their newly released underwater cameras and two smartphone underwater enclosures for the guests to test and try out as they snorkel! Huge thanks to SeaLife and Dive Photo Guide for collaborating with us on this very generous endeavor.
The purpose of this blog is not to gloat or make you feel like you are missing out on an epic snorkeling adventure. Ok, maybe a little bit, but only just enough to keep you motivated for your own snorkel safari with us. What I had hoped to do with this article was to give you all a bit of insight into what it’s like to travel internationally during this pandemic to post-pandemic transition period. I will do a follow-up to this blog with the details about how the trip goes, and how operators like the Belize Aggressor III are safely accommodating the guests onboard during this time.
When I set out for my 40+ hour journey from Bali Indonesia to Belize City in the midst of a global pandemic, the last thing I expected was for it to be one of the most comfortable trips of my life. I didn’t just have an entire row of seats for me to lie down in, I had an entire section of the plane as the entire Boing 747 airline had only 39 passengers on board. Along with that, flight check-in lines are nearly empty and airports, in general, are just much so much more pleasant to be in as they are only half full. That being said, there are a couple of things you have to keep in mind as countries, airlines, and snorkeling operators all require some extra hoops to jump through before you are allowed into their country or on board their vessel.
Covid Tests: Even though vaccines are successfully rolling out—particularly in the United States— most countries and snorkeling operators still require everyone to show proof that they have tested negative for COVID-19. It’s really important to know which COVID tests are accepted, and how long each test result is valid for. The two main tests offered at testing sites are the Rapid Antigen Test and the PCR. Both involve a swab up the nose, but the Antigen test results can be ready in as quick as 20 minutes, while the PCR results may take as long as 24 hours. Along with that, most countries and snorkel operators accept PCR results for up to 72 hours, while Antigen results are only accepted up to 48 hours. So, it’s really important to keep all that in mind prior to your departure.
Vaccines: Some countries like Belize for example are now accepting people who have been fully vaccinated and have the required vaccine card. Given that travel requirements are constantly changing at this time, it’s a good idea to stay up to date with what is accepted and what is not to avoid any surprises at the airport.
Mobile Travel Apps: Many countries that have opened to tourism like Mexico and Belize, now require everyone to download and complete a sort of travel app, and then present the accompanying QR code as you check-in for your flight or when you arrive in that country. It’s not a complex thing to do or fill out, it’s just one more thing you need to remember to do prior to your departure.
Airlines: I found this to be one of the most important pieces of info traveling, at least where comfort and social distancing are concerned. When you are booking your flights, many airline booking sites will have a sort of “COVID Safety Rating” system for every airline. The airlines with a better safety rating will typically block the middle seat on each row, which is not only a leg-room bonus but also maintains a bit more distance between people onboard.
Since I left my home in Bali over a week ago, I’ve now traveled to and from the United States, Mexico, and Belize, with a long layover in Qatar. While there are a few little things to remember prior to each departure, like which COVID test is accepted for how long and what additional documents are now needed for international travel, in general, travel is the same as it was pre-pandemic—if not better as there are just fewer people traveling.
As I sit in the Radisson hotel waiting for my giant pre-trip breakfast with the Belize Aggressor III parked out front with its crew preparing the boat for us snorkelers, I have nothing but optimism for the trip, both in terms of onboard safety with regards to COVID-19, and the in-water snorkeling experience. I’ve already met a few of our snorkeling guests around the hotel and the sentiment seems to be the same, particularly when I told them they have a bunch of new cameras to play with!