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.
1. Portugal - The Azores
We’ve written a lot about the Azores and how much we absolutely love this Portuguese archipelago located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s truly one of the most naturally beautiful places in the world, with a charming culture and kind, welcoming people.
There are an endless number of outdoor activities in the Azores, from hiking and kayaking Volcanic lakes, to deep sea fishing, to mountain biking through rainforests, and dipping in natural hot springs under a waterfall. To date the Azores have had 1,192 total COVID cases with only 18 deaths. In addition to a robust national health care system the Portuguese Government has implemented thorough health and safety protocols.
Check out our Designed Trip to the Azores or contact us about a Custom Travel Plan to Portugal
2. Chile & Argentina - Patagonia
There are few places in the world more remote than Patagonia, located at the southernmost tip of South America. A region that stretches between parts of both Argentina and Chile, Patagonia offers an abundance of breathtaking natural landscapes and awe inspiring sights, such as Torres del Paine National Park (Chile), Tierra del Fuego National Park (Argentina), and Los Glaciares National Park (Argentina).
While both Chile and Argentina have seen their fair share of Covid cases, both have implemented significant health and safety measures to tackle the virus. While the number of tourists who visit places Patagonia has grown over the years, this region is still relatively less-traveled than many other destinations. Torres del Paine had approximately 250,000 visitors in 2017 - a tiny number when compared to somewhere like Yosemite National Park, which received 4.5 million visitors in 2019.
Contact us about a Custom Travel Plan to Patagonia!
3. Sri Lanka
A small island nation set just off the southern tip of India, Sri Lanka is a geographically diverse country, full of stunning scenery, amazing wildlife, wonderful culture and centuries of complex history. With a growing tourism infrastructure and super affordable transportation and hotel rates, it’s a great destination for all types of travel budgets. (We were there this time last year and often find ourselves dreaming of terraced tea fields, open-air trains, remote white sand beaches, coconut dal, and wild elephants).
Having banned international travel starting in spring of 2020, Sri Lanka remained relatively untouched by Covid for the first part of last year. A surge in cases beginning in early October has persisted through January, however, the official total number of cases is still just over 60,000.
Contact us about a Custom Travel Plan to Sri Lanka, and keep an eye out for a brand new Designed Trip, coming soon!
4. Vietnam - Ninh Binh
Vietnam is hands-down one of our favorite places in the world. It’s unbeatable combination of delicious cuisine, charming people and culture, and beautiful landscapes make for diverse and unique travel experiences. The Ninh Binh Province, located in northern Vietnam, is the perfect destination for 2021. A region full of historic Buddhist temples, wondrous caves, and plenty of hiking, it’s best known for steep karst mountains that tower over beautiful green river valleys.
In the early days of the pandemic, Vietnam closed its borders to international travel and tourism, taking an incredibly serious approach to stopping the spread of Covid within the country. To this point there have been less than 1,600 total cases, with new daily cases remaining in the single digits in recent weeks. Having experience managing SARS in 2003, Vietnam’s Covid response has been widely hailed as a success, leading to its position as the top performing Asian economy of 2020. When it does reopen its borders to international travel, we’ll be some of the first ones to visit.
Check out our Designed Trip to Vietnam or contact us about a Custom Travel Plan!
The breathtaking natural landscapes of Iceland might just be the perfect post-Covid travel experience. A sparsely populated country (there are just over 350,000 inhabitants) is a great place to explore independently, whether for only a few days or multiple weeks. The Ring Road, which circles the entire island, makes for an ideal road trip passing glacial fjords, jaw-dropping waterfalls, black sand beaches, and quaint villages.
Through stringent health and safety measures, Iceland has managed to remain relatively unscathed by COVID, with just over 6,000 total cases and only 29 Covid-related deaths to date. As soon as international travel to the Schengen Zone is permitted, we think Iceland will be an ideal adventure destination.
Contact us about a Custom Travel Plan to Iceland!
6. Greece - Rhodes & Symi
This past September, as the number of COVID cases remained low across most of Europe, we were fortunate enough to spend an incredible week on the islands of Rhodes and Symi, part of the Dodecanese in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Aside from the wonderful archaeological sites, beautiful ancient towns, and long, intriguing history, the Dodecanese islands are surrounded by some of the most amazing water we’ve ever seen. The warm, salty azure sea gently laps onto Symi’s deep bays and hidden coves, and Rhodes’ stunning pebble beaches. It’s truly a magical place.
If there weren’t enough reasons to visit Greece in 2021, the country’s relatively low case numbers and overall success in managing the pandemic make it an even more appealing destination. New infections have decreased significantly since Greece’s only real ‘surge’ in November and the country’s vaccination campaign has been underway since late December.
Check out our Designed Trip to Greece or contact us about a Custom Travel Plan to the Dodecanese!
A mountainous country bordered by Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, and China, Laos has been part of the Southeast Asia backpacker circuit for decades now. Yet it’s remained significantly less touristy than most of its neighboring countries, with only about 4 million international visitors annually (compared to Thailand’s nearly 40 million). Known for its stunning natural landscapes, Buddhist culture (with temples and monasteries dotting the country), and French colonial architecture in the capital of Vientiane, it’s really a must-visit destination in SE Asia.
Along with much of the region, Laos has largely avoided Covid, with total cases in just double-digits since the beginning of the pandemic. Over 108,000 Covid tests have been performed since January of last year, with only 45 positive results so far.
Contact us about a Custom Travel Plan to Laos!
Sandwiched between Croatia, Austria, Italy and Hungary, Slovenia is more than just the home of Luka and Melania. This mostly land-locked nation is just about as quaint as European countries get. The capital, Ljubljana, has a charming historic center with a mix of baroque and 20th-century architecture that straddles the calm Ljubljanica River. The rest of this little country is full of beautiful mountains, serene lakes, and unique castles. We spent nearly a week here in December 2019 with Ryan’s parents and can’t wait to go back.
Slovenia was almost untouched by Covid until the fall, but has managed to flatten the curve significantly since then. Cases have come down significantly in the last two months and its vaccination campaign is beginning to ramp up.
Contact us about a Custom Travel Plan to Slovenia!
When international travel returns later this year, we think there will be no better places to explore than these countries, which have made significant efforts to manage COVID and offer unbeatable natural landscapes. Getting outside, taking in beautiful scenery, and discovering new cultures with the peace of mind that the virus is in check (and that we’re all vaccinated… hopefully!) is exactly what we’re looking forward to in 2021. What about you?
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