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Beginning Sept. 1, U.S. residents living in eight East Coast states and Washington, D.C., will be welcome in Costa Rica, but they will need proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken no later than 72 hours before boarding their flight.
"The idea is to continue shedding drops of hope, not to lose heart and know there is light on the other side of this tunnel,” said Gustavo Segura, Costa Rica’s minister of tourism, at an Aug. 19 press conference, announcing the initial details of the nation’s restart plan for U.S. visitors.
Travelers living in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia will all be required to produce proof of residency, such as a state-issued ID or driver’s license. U.S. visitors to Costa Rica will also need to complete a health form and provide proof of insurance that covers accommodation in the event of quarantine and medical expenses due to COVID-19 illness.
Residents living in Colorado, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, meanwhile, will be eligible to visit Costa Rica beginning Sept. 15. Tourism officials announced additional eligible states and a change in the COVID-19 pretesting window from 48 hours to 72 in an Aug. 27 statement.
Each of the authorized U.S. states were selected because they have an epidemiological condition similar to or better than Costa Rica, according to Segura, who noted five weekly flights are scheduled to begin between the U.S. and Costa Rica in September. United and American will be among the carriers operating those flights, according to a spokesperson for the Costa Rica Tourism Board, but those five flights represent less than 5% of the commercial flight activity in place before the pandemic.
Home to 4.8 million people, Costa Rica generated more than $4 billion in tourism revenue last year, the tourism board said, and more than 600,000 people there rely on the destination’s visitor industry.
“We are taking very gradual and carefully analyzed steps in the direction of the revitalization of tourism,” Segura said.
We are taking very gradual and carefully analyzed steps in the direction of the revitalization of tourism.
Costa Rica has reported 35,305 confirmed COVID-19 cases through Aug. 27 and 376 deaths, according to research from the World Health Organization.
Stephanie Sheehy, owner of Costa Rica-based activity provider Il Viaggio Travel, said she was very happy her nation has enacted a plan to again welcome American travelers.
"We need tourism from the U.S.,” she explained. “Most of our guests and travelers come from the U.S.”
Sheehy said Il Viaggio, which offers a number of nature excursion products for visiting families, hasn’t seen any income since March 16 of this year and has been forced to reduce its staff by 75%.
"Without income, it’s really hard to pay the electricity, internet, social security and the salaries of your people,” she said. “There are a lot of people without jobs, a lot of companies have closed and there are a lot of closed hotels.”
Dennis Whitelaw, area general manager for Marriott Costa Rica, said hotels and resorts he oversees have been fielding inquiries from interested U.S. travelers since the destination announced its reopening plan earlier this month.
“We have seen an increase in bookings and expect it to continue as more flights become available from the U.S. in the coming months,” he said.
Whitelaw noted a range of cleaning and safety protocols Marriott has instituted at all its properties in Costa Rica, and he said some of the company’s resorts there have also reduced capacity.
“At Los Suenos Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort and Costa Rica Marriott Hacienda Belen, for example, there is a cap on the number of rooms being sold in order to be able to maintain the public areas to a maximum 50% of their capacity,” Whitelaw explained.
Lisa Taub, owner of True Direction Travel, a Cincinnati, Ohio-based affiliate of Tzell Travel, sells Costa Rica often and is hopeful she will book vacations to the destination for clients later this year. In the short term, however, she said she will advise clients to wait, due in part to the many changes in tourism restart policies and testing requirements she has seen in recent months from Caribbean nations.
"Their guidance and processes are going to be evolving and getting better and smoother,” Taub said of Costa Rica, noting she thinks November and December of this year might be a good time to visit. “I never want any of my clients to experience anxiety while they’re on their vacation. That’s not a vacation.”
And I think with those low COVID-19 numbers, it’s a pretty good destination for now.
April Yeung, owner of Grace Travel Adventures in Seabrook, Texas, will not be booking any of her largely Texas-based clientele on Costa Rica vacations soon either, given the state’s residents currently aren’t approved. But she said Costa Rica’s recreation options — including rainforest hiking and ziplining; whitewater rafting; and horseback riding — will appeal to travelers looking for socially-distant outdoor options, and the destination may be something she’s able to sell later on.
The Central American nation’s collection of remote accommodations might also be compelling to couples or families looking to escape crowds, according to Yeung. She described the 30-bungalow Rio Perdido Hotel, situated in the Bagaces rainforest, as a boutique option with lots of room to spread out.
"They also provide several adventure activities on property, including ziplining, hiking, mud baths in the river and a nice spa to help guests relax and rejuvenate,” Yeung explained. “Their restaurant cooks delicious food, and the local white-faced capuchin monkeys might visit guests while they dine in the open-air restaurant.”
Regina Tait, owner of the TravelCom Travel Agency in Huntington Beach, Calif., has been selling Costa Rica for 30 years and said she will not hesitate to suggest the destination to her West Coast clients once they’re eligible. Tait often encourages her travelers to split time between the nation’s beachfront Guanacaste region — at the all-inclusive Westin Reserva Conchal — and the La Fortuna district surrounding the Arenal Volcano — at the high-end Nayara Springs hotel.
“There are hot springs and lots of hiking and monkey trips,” Tait said of the volcanic region. “Arenal is so beautiful. ... It’s like a mixture of Switzerland and Kauai.”
Tait was also quick to mention another of Costa Rica’s major selling points.
"This country has some of the nicest people you’ve ever met in your life,” she said. “It’s a very, very safe country. They’re very forward thinking environmentally, so it’s beautiful and safe and clean. And I think with those low COVID-19 numbers, it’s a pretty good destination for now.”
The DetailsCosta Rica Tourism Boardvisitcostarica.com
Il Viaggio Travelilviaggiocr.com