After a devastating year for international travel in 2020, there are promising signs for a return to exploration and adventure in 2021. Nations across the globe have begun mass vaccination campaigns with hopes of mitigating and eventually eliminating COVID-19. In the U.S especially, vaccination efforts are quickly ramping up, with plans to inoculate every American by August as the number of cases, deaths and hospitalizations continue to decrease each day.
A not-so-insignificant part of these efforts will be to create safe and healthy travel experiences for international tourists. Since late December, Delta and Alitalia have been offering “Covid-free” flights from Atlanta to Rome, allowing visitors to bypass quarantine upon arrival in Italy. With the addition of coordinated vaccine or testing programs like this, we’re very optimistic that European borders will open to American visitors by summertime.
While we hope international travel will be completely secure in the latter half of the year, there will surely be some lingering Covid concerns among travelers. After more than a year of social distancing, mask wearing, and plenty of self-isolation, we’ll all want to feel safe and comfortable as we explore new places and share new experiences abroad. That being said, our criteria for selecting the best destinations and travel experiences are, (1) Outdoor experiences and natural beauty, (2) Effective local health and safety protocols, and of course (3) Low (or no) infection rates. With these factors in mind, we’ve crafted a list of our top eight destinations for 2021.
Do you ever fall in love with a place then, when it comes to planning your next trip, struggle with the decision of returning or exploring somewhere new? This is a constant conversation in our house. We always want to explore the world and experience new cultures, but then there are those memories - sharing a bottle of red wine on warm stone steps overlooking ancient Rome; jumping off a 20-foot cliff into the clear water and swimming to the next cove to do it all over again; hiking along the narrow ridge of a volcanic crater surrounded by wild hydrangeas with the ocean on one side and a lake on the other - that we just want to go back and do all over again.
Fittingly, the end of the world feels just like the end of the world. Harsh wind sweeps across the grey sea and whitecaps race toward a grassy coastline. Further inland, snow-topped mountains, the symbol of Chilean Patagonia, stretch high into the all-encompassing cloudy sky. Rusted and battered barns are scattered across the vast countryside, where woolly sheep graze on green and gold grass.
It takes nearly 4 hours for our flight from Santiago to reach Punta Arenas, Chile’s southernmost city. From the airport, a small, white, round bus takes us into the city center. Although Punta Arenas is home to about 125,000 residents, the low lying buildings and cold deserted streets make it feel more like a small town than a city. Still, the charm is inescapable. Like a movie set of a modern day zombie apocalypse film, the whole town feels a bit deserted and wonderfully trapped in time. Cloudy days are cold and windy, sunny days are slightly less cold but just as windy, and nights are both extremely cold and extremely windy. It’s no wonder everyone stays inside.
Let’s just say the altitude made itself known. Two days after finishing our trek to Machu Pichhu and we’re both still struggling. It’s the fourth time in five days that we’re up at the crack of dawn. No, actually before dawn, at 4am, heading to the Cusco airport, ready to make the two day journey to Santiago.
It so happens that direct flights from Cusco (or Lima, for that matter) to Santiago, are prohibitively expensive. So, in an effort to stick to our tight travel budget, we first fly back to Lima, then to the border town of Tacna, in the Peruvian desert. From there, we jump in a “colectivo” (in this case a 1990’s Lincoln, driven by a grumpy old Peruvian man) and race south to the Chilean border. One exit stamp, another entry stamp, and we’ve officially arrived in our 14th country.
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