Safe & Responsible Pandemic Travels: Aruba
I struggled a lot internally about whether or not to make a post about traveling during the pandemic. I have personally been affected by travel shaming (and admittedly, I have done some myself). But after a lot of thinking, I'm sharing my story because I don't want to continue to support travel shaming. Instead, I want to encourage safe & responsible traveling! That means during your part before, during, and after traveling to ensure that you don't contribute to the spread of COVID-19 (whether directly or indirectly). That also means doing your best to support the local economy — especially if you are traveling to a destination whose local economy needs tourism to thrive. Remember, just because you're on vacation, that doesn't mean everyone else is. People actually live in the places you're visiting; and while they will appreciate your boost to their economy, they will not appreciate a boost in COVID numbers because of you.
I visited Aruba in September 2020 (when they had <3,000 cases country-wide), so all accounts will mention regulations as of that visit. Please note the COVID-19 precautions/restrictions can change everyday and you should do ample research on the most up-to-date rules by visiting Aruba Entry Requirements.
This is a long post, so feel free to jump around to the info that you're most interested in:
First things first: GET TESTED!
At the time of my trip to Aruba, visitors had the option to test before arrival or upon arrival ($75 and mandatory quarantine while awaiting results). I opted for the first option, and the test had to be taken within 72 hours of my flight's departure time. This was a bit challenging for me because test results in my area (Atlanta, GA) were coming back in around 2-5 days. I didn't want to pay for a rapid test either, so instead I took 5 different tests. They were all nasal swabs, so it wasn't the most comfortable experience - AT ALL! But, hey gotta do what you gotta do.
One of my tests wasn't accepted for processing (because apparently it spilled during transit or whatever 🙄). Two of the results didn't come back UNTIL DECEMBER!!! (Not sure if something was up with my LapCorp account or what, but up until around Christmas I was convinced that those results were never coming back). One came back 24 hours after testing, and the other came back 48 hours after testing. That last one wasn't even digital test results; it was a phone call and I would have had to go pay to get the results on paper smh.
Thankfully, all the test results came back negative 🙌. My family thought I was crazy for getting that many tests, but just imagine if I only took one and it was one of the three tests that I didn't get results back from in time. I was able to upload a pdf from the first result I received, and then I submitted the online ED card process. From here, I received my "green check" which was necessary to both check-in for my flight and board the actual flight.
I know the test mandate has deterred some travelers from choosing Aruba, however it was one of the reasons I actually felt semi-safe while traveling. At the very least, people coming from abroad would 'most-likely' not be spreading COVID. I know that they could possibly contract the virus after their initial test, but it still gave me a level of comfort that places like Mexico (Cancun, Tulum, I'm talking about you!) couldn't provide.
Next: MASK ON!
This may be controversial, but it's my blog so I can say what I want: if you don't want to wear a mask, you do not need to be traveling - periodt. I flew Spirit (judge ya mama) and they actually enforced the mask requirement the entire 4 hour flight from Ft. Lauderdale (as well as my flight from ATL-FLL). It was only about 50 people on our flight to Aruba (and even less on the flight back to the states), which meant I got my own row each way! We each brought 3 cloth masks, and a couple disposable ones as well - I definitely recommend bringing some of both. Masks were also required at any restaurant and/or store on the island (and all employees were wearing them, as well). I truly appreciated that. This was one of those things that made me feel more comfortable traveling internationally during a pandemic.
Next: Local Precautions/Restrictions
Almost all of the restaurants we visited (and we only ate outdoors), required hand sanitizer at entry. Many of them also did temp checks upon arrival, and took your info for potential contact tracing. This is one of those things where I tell people I actually felt more safe there than I do in my current town. The rental car location we used only allowed one person in the store at a time and actually sanitized the car right before we got in (so we knew it was actually sanitized). Most of the locals we interacted with had masks on and did their best to stay away from people (even on the city bus) - and all the activities we did mentioned their sanitization methods on arrival. I really felt safer in Aruba than in my local Walmart. Seeing the Arubans take COVID seriously was definitely a great part of this trip.
We decided to stay in an Airbnb - for mostly price, but safety too. Because our Airbnb was a private apartment, we didn't ever have to worry about being in a lobby/elevator with guests outside of our party. Our host even arranged a safe, private pickup from the airport for us. Plus, we were still able to get excursion pickups near hotels because of how close it was to everything. I did notice many hotels in Palm Beach did a mandatory temp check upon entering the lobby, and required hand sanitization upon entry. But, ultimately our Airbnb was definitely the best choice for us! We were able to put money directly into a local families pockets, which isn’t necessarily what happens when you choose a hotel, so the Airbnb helped us be both safe and responsible. Note: we made sure to wash our hands every time we came into the Airbnb - and made sure we kept our "outside" clothes away from our sheets/bed (especially since there was no everyday cleaning service).
We were able to do a number of different excursions while we were in Aruba. Here's the breakdown of how things went and what my covid-safety ratings are:
Hooiberg Hike - This was definitely the least covid-safe activity we did. It was a hike up 550+ stairs in the Aruba heat, so it was already beyond hard to climb in a mask. Then, add this: there were soooo many people there. We climbed near the time of the sunset (around 5pm) and there were a lot of locals using this as their afternoon cardio. This was really the only place on the island we saw that many people close together without masks. The experience was fun and the views of the island from the top were beautiful! Pre-covid I would def suggest it - but during the pandemic it might be better to hold off on this. 2/10 recommend.
Jet Ski's - We finessed a bomb deal on the jet skis (be sure to check out my other blog post to see how). The deal included a private boat transfer to and from Eagle Beach, and 45 minutes of free water jet skiing. We didn't see the jet ski or life-jackets be sanitized, but they assured us they were. We also had to apply hand-sanitizer before touching anything. The guide had to get a bit close to show us how to use the jet-skis (since it was both of our first times), but he had on a mask. It was mad fun, but could have been a little more covid-safe. 8/10 recommend.
Donkey Sanctuary - This was a really cool part of the trip because we actually got to feed donkeys! We learned about the climate/environment of Aruba, and some history on how the Donkey Sanctuary came about. The workers outside were not wearing masks, but did keep their distance. For about 60% of our visit, we were the only ones at the sanctuary - and then a tour group of about 15-18 came. They were all wearing masks (and correctly, too!). We still kept our distance from them, though - and as big as the space was, this was not challenging. 8/10 recommend.
Brunch Cruise (open bar + snorkeling) - Now this was great time! Our cruise was almost canceled because not enough people signed up for it, but thankfully it wasn't. There were only four people on the yacht (which usually holds up to 70) so it was basically like a private tour. This meant super easy social distancing and weird looks from passerby's haha. The food included (breakfast and lunch) was served in individual boxes so nothing was shared. Snorkel equipment was sanitized before we got it - and we had to sanitize it ourselves as well. Don't get me wrong, I was still concerned about putting the piece in my mouth... but I said a quick prayer and did it anyways. With the cruise being private, we got great advice on how to snorkel correctly and where the see the most fish/underwater creatures. The bar had mimosas and hard liquor, and cups were disposable and not reused. We definitely got lucky by it only being four people, but the covid restrictions would have only allowed 20 max passengers, which still would have been ample space to social distance. 9/10 recommend.
Arikok National Park - This park is huge and there is so much to see! I loved that the park rangers and ticket attendants all had masks on too (even though they were outside). We were in a car (don't be like us, definitely get a jeep if you're planning on visiting), and drove from stop to stop. This allowed us to ensure we stayed away from other parties. 9/10 recommend.
San Nicolas Murals - We woke up early and visited these around 7am so this may skew my rating a bit. But there were literally no people out this early (the visitor center wasn't even open yet haha). Walking around the streets of San Nicolas was super easy to navigate and we got some really cute photos! I'm not sure how many people are wondering around during the middle of the day, but safe to say the morning is surely one of the best times to visit. 10/10 recommend.
Tubing - This activity was just the two of us being pulled by a boat while sitting (and almost flying out lol) in a tube. The tube and the life jackets were sanitized before we got on them (yes, we watched). Also, we had to use hand sanitizer before getting on. We didn't get close to anyone really (except for maybe passing our phone to the co-captain of the boat for photos). 11/10 recommend.
The two most important things that you should worry about after traveling is: quarantine and test. Even if you take all the precautions (masks, social distancing, hand-washing, etc), there is no way to guarantee you won't contract the virus. Therefore, it is YOUR responsibility to ensure that you don't contribute to the spread of COVID-19. Getting tested the day after you come back from traveling isn't enough. You should quarantine for at least 3-5 days days, get tested, and quarantine until you receive your results. This is because if you have contracted the virus while traveling, you may test negative at first. Traveling responsibly includes staying home until you can confirm that you don't have the virus. Use the time to go through photos and reminisce, I'm sure you'll have a bunch of them!
Aruba was taking the pandemic more seriously than the US, in my opinion. I felt safe pretty much everywhere I went (with the exception of one or two places). The weather was beautiful and we experienced a lot of new adventures and tried a bunch of new food/drinks. It was my bestie's 25th birthday, and I'm glad we chose Aruba to celebrate safely and responsibly. If you are not ready to be a covid-conscious traveler, STAY HOME! If you aren’t willing to adjust your plans for your safety, and the safety of others (ESPECIALLY locals of the place you‘re visiting), STAY HOME! Only travel if you're ready and willing to do your part!
Stay tuned for a blog post about some of the local restaurants we dined at during our trip to Aruba!
Ciao for now,