If you’re itching to get abroad for the festive season, the good news is that there are still some stellar destinations welcoming tourists to their shores. From the bleach-white beaches of the Maldives to wildlife-rich Costa Rica and a glitzy getaway in the UAE, here are 10 countries open for travel during Covid. Be sure to check your government’s advice (and legal restrictions) first, in case they’ve issued a warning against all but essential travel worldwide; it's also worth checking if you'll be subject to a quarantine on return. If you want to wait a bit longer for your festive escape, there are some great deals to be had by settling a deposit now.
Here at Rough Guides, we work with local experts in more than seventy destinations worldwide to offer a range of fabulous – and totally customizable – trip itineraries. Some of these countries have already reopened their borders, and others are offering great deals and special prices. Browse the sample itineraries below or just send in your request here; please note that some of these itineraries may be adapted due to current coronavirus restrictions – our local experts can answer all your questions. As ever, your peace of mind is paramount, so all our tailor-made trips come with a money-back guarantee to cover any financial default of tour operators. In addition, we highly recommend taking out comprehensive insurance before finalizing any travel plans.
Everything you’ve heard about The Maldives is true. You’ll find eye-watering luxury, superlative beaches and colourful underwater wildlife here in spades, backed up by year-round sunshine. Temperatures average 25–30℃ and the sea rarely dips below a balmy 25℃; December to March is the dry season in the Maldives, making the Christmas period a popular time for a trip. All global travellers are currently allowed into the country (provided they show a negative Covid-19 test) and will benefit from a free 30-day visa.
If you travel as part of a tailor-made trip with Rough Guides, you’ll benefit from price offers that run until 30 December for travel dates throughout 2020 and 2021. You’ll only need to put down a deposit to secure those special prices. Choose from enticing itineraries like Luxurious Maldives and Two Paradise Islands. The former will set you up at a stoking five-star resort, from where you’ll enjoy once-in-a-lifetime excursions such as sunset fishing and a stargazing cruise. The latter takes in yet more quintessential island experiences, from kayaking to snorkelling. Oh, and save space for a spa treatment while listening to the sounds of the Indian Ocean.
With a fascinating culture and heritage – spanning the mighty Inca, Aztec and Mayan empires – Mexico offers rich pickings for adventurous travellers. The sturdy Mesoamerican pyramids, a tantalizing cuisine, drop-dead gorgeous beaches and riotous festivals make Mexico a real bucket-list destination. It is currently open to global travellers, with a free visa for many nationalities. Inbound travellers will need to fill out a health form, but there’s currently no requirement to provide a negative coronavirus test on arrival, nor undergo any quarantine procedures. Well, what are you waiting for?
Enchanting Mexico is a great trip for first-time visitors, starting in the pulsating capital, Mexico City. After soaking up some of the big-hitting sights (from the Zocalo to the National Palace, the Pyramids of Teotihuacan to the Frida Kahlo Museum), you’ll make for some of the country’s best beaches on the Yucatan Peninsula. Don’t worry, you’ll see plenty of archeological gems here, too. Alternatively, plump for Marvelous Mexico, which also packs in some of the best sights of the Yucatan and Mexico City, but also takes you to captivating Palenque and colourful Oaxaca.
Wildlife-rich Rwanda is one of Africa’s great unsung gems. Its natural habitats – and their animal inhabitants – offer a plethora of bucket-list excursions, including gorilla trekking. Keeping the country’s gorilla population safe during coronavirus was of great importance to the Rwandan people, and new measures – including smaller group sizes – mean you can walk among these mighty mammals in greater seclusion than ever before. Rwanda remains on the green list for many travellers around the globe, meaning you won’t have to quarantine on return to your home country – though be sure to check with your government first.
If you’re planning on a trip to the area, why not combine visiting Rwanda with the neighbouring countries of Uganda and Tanzania? Crossing the border is possible, and will enable you to combine the best wildlife experiences of each nation: trekking with gorillas, visiting the sweeping herds of Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania, and even hopping over to the spice island of Zanzibar. If you’d rather go your own way, take a tailor-made approach.
Costa Rica is another jaw-dropper among the open countries for travel during Covid. Perennially popular for its close-up wildlife encounters, enchanting cloud forests, stunning shoreline and dependable weather, now is your chance to visit without the crowds. The country has reopened for global visitors, who will need to complete a health form before travel.
For the perfect trip during coronavirus, plump for our self drive Caribbean adventure – renting your own vehicle will make social distancing and staying safe a breeze. Motor along Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast and discover breeding turtles, spot dolphins and visit a jaguar rescue centre. Let your wild side out! Another tremendous trip is the Beaches and Volcanoes itinerary, which takes in the slopes of Arenal. Try ziplining, ocean kayaking and snorkelling, as well as exploring the wonders of Manuel Antonio National Park.
Panama packs a punch for a country of its size. It is flanked by the Caribbean Sea on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, forming a slender land bridge between Central and South America. Well known for its historic Canal, which catapulted the country onto the world stage in the late 19th century, Panama has plenty more to offer besides, from old mule trails left behind by the Spanish conquistadors to cloud-forested highlands, dense rainforests and rollicking festivals. Panama remains open for global travellers, with easy flight access. The dry season extends from mid-December to the end of April, when blue skies and less rainfall make for easier on-foot exploration.
If you’re a first-time visitor, we suggest the Highlights of Panama trip. From exploring the lively capital of Panama City to marvelling at the epic Canal and kicking back in Bocas del Toro, this 10-day itinerary gives the perfect overview of the country. To get a deeper insight, plump for the Cuisine and Culture of Panama; focusing on Panama City and Chitre, you’ll meet indigenous communities, sample local delicacies (and cook up some of your own!) and see traditional dancers in their swishing polleras.
For a slice of luxury and razzle-dazzle, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are just the ticket. Hole up in a swanky hotel, indulging in world-class international foodie fare, or come with the whole family for a full-blown desert adventure. With easy flight connections and some great deals to be had in the luxury hotels for which Dubai and Abu Dhabi are famed, there couldn’t be a better time to visit. Both destinations are still open for many passport holders, either with a negative Covid-19 test certificate or a test on arrival.
Our Dubai & Abu Dhabi Culture & Heritage tour takes you sightseeing in both destinations so you can cover all the big-name attractions. Two leisure days ensure there’s plenty of time to relax, too, though energetic types will have a range of activities to choose from. For a festive adventure with kids in tow, choose the Arabian Family Adventure, a full ten days of high-octane family fun. You’ll visit waterparks aplenty, ski some indoor slopes and take a catamaran cruise, but the highlight is bedding down in the desert with the Bedouin.
Cuba is like nowhere else on Earth. It’s a place that awakens the senses, where pastel-fronted houses line cobbled streets, live music wafts from balmy balconies, classic cars trundle down the sea-salt Malecón and where Communism still holds sway. With excellent weather over the festive season and plenty of fabulous beaches and cultural activities, it’s hard not to fall in love. Long famed for the quality of its health service, Cuba’s response to coronavirus has been admirable, making it possible for Havana’s airport to reopen in recent weeks. Travel is currently possible for a number of different passport holders, including those from the US (contact us to find out more).
If you’ve got fifteen days of holiday still going spare, check out Rough Guides’ Complete Cuba itinerary. Taking in the country’s vibrant capital, rich history, colourful cobbled towns, blissful beaches and captivating cities, there’s a good chance you won’t want to leave. Alternatively, Western & Central Cuba by ebike will take you to places like Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Playa Larga on two wheels, so you can travel with a green conscience.
Choose the bewitching neighbouring nations of Kenya and Tanzania for a once-in-a-lifetime safari adventure. Staying at an atmospheric lodge and going out on organized game drives is the perfect way to stay socially distanced while you’re away, given these activities are limited by number anyway. On top of superlative wildlife viewing, both countries have their fair share of gorgeous beaches and beguiling cultural sights to boot.
Explore both countries and their rich wildlife offerings on Rough Guides’ Best of Kenya and Tanzania itinerary. Keep your eyes peeled for the Big 5 in the wildernesses of the Maasai Mara, the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater: it’s nothing short of magical. If you’d rather stick to just one country, book the Bush to Beach Safari trip in Kenya. Once you’ve had your fill of snapping the big cats of the Maasai Mara, the flamingos of Lake Nakuru and the famous “red elephants” of Tsavo National Park, flop onto the fine sands of Diani Beach. Lapped by the Indian Ocean, it has been named Africa’s best beach destination every year since 2015.
With flights recently restarting from the US and no Covid test needed, Colombia is busy tempting tourists back to its shores. Not that you’ll need much persuading: with its rich culture and empty beaches, 2020’s festive season is the time to go.
Our top picks for exploring the South American gem include the Colombia Express and Discover Colombia tours. If you’re on a tight schedule, select the former, which packs the highlight sights in Bogotá, Villa de Leyva and Cartagena into a neat six-day trip. If you’ve got a bit more time on your hands (seventeen days, in fact), choose the Discover Colombia tour: it’ll scratch beneath the surface to give you a taste of real Colombia.
If you carry an EU passport, you’re in luck – most countries within the bloc are still allowing other EU and UK passport holders to enter. US passport holders, meanwhile, should set their sights on Croatia.
Travelling to a fellow EU country over the Christmas period is a great way to explore the countries on your doorstep without the crowds. Strolling secluded streets and frequenting empty cafés – all without the tourist hoards – is a surreal and magical experience. If you’re after some Christmas magic, choose somewhere like Austria, where gluhwein stands provide festive outdoor colour. Decrease any Covid risks further by taking a rental car.
Take your own motor (or hire one) and hit the open road on The Great British Road Trip. Starting in London and ending in Edinburgh, you’ll pass through Wales, Liverpool and the Lake District as you wind your way through the UK. TV fans, meanwhile, should book onto the Croatia Highlights and Game of Thrones itinerary to make the most of the country’s dramatic filming locations without the crowds.
There are many other countries that are open for travel during Covid – for example a number of Caribbean island-nations – but these are our top picks. While travel may still be restricted by your government, you can settle a deposit now for dates throughout 2021. There’s no time like the present to book the holiday of your dreams.
Helen worked as a Senior Travel Editor at Rough Guides and Insight Guides, based in the London office. Among her favourite projects to work on are inspirational guides like