Canadians are allowed to travel again, and it was an incredible week down in the Dominican Republic; a first for both Woody and I. So what is it like to travel during a worldwide pandemic? I'm happy to give you the rundown of the things we learned on our vacation and the regulations now put in place due to the Coronavirus pandemic, as well as all the incredible experiences we had while trying our best to keep everyone happy and healthy.
First things first: Before you book - Do your Research. When searching for a vacation destination down south, we considered many different locations, but a lot of the countries we would have liked to visit (Jamaica, Mexico, Cuba etc.) have very low vaccination rates. If we are going to take a risk to travel right now, we wanted to make sure we could make the most informed decision and travel to a country that is taking the pandemic seriously. I also suggest you research COVID-19 protocol on any resort or hotel you are staying at; For Example: Do travellers from all countries have to be fully vaccinated to visit the country you will be entering? What health restrictions are in place on the resort or in the hotel you are at? Will you be required to wear a mask in most places you visit? How sanitary is it? There's no two ways about it- If you travel right now, you are risking contracting COVID-19, from the recirculated air on the air-plane, to the crowds at airports and resorts, to a lack of sanitization in other areas of the world, you need to be diligent you are doing everything you can to protect yourself on your trip. If you are elderly or if you have underlying health issues, I would not recommend travelling internationally in these times, especially considering the rules were very “loose”, so to speak. These are all things we definitely took into consideration, and ended up booking an all inclusive resort in Punta Cana called 'Ocean El Faro'.
The Resort: Ocean El Faro has everything we were looking for in an all-inclusive. It was built in 2019 so the rooms, the decor, and the resort itself is very updated and modern. It has a beautiful white sand beach, many bars and A La Carte's, a lazy river, a lighthouse on the beach for incredible views, great food, fun entertainment, and even a bowling alley! We were thrilled to walk into our suite to find it was clean and sanitary, with plenty of bevvies in the fridge and a hell of a view from the rooftop patio. Something to be noted though; in our experience, COVID was an after-thought to nearly everyone staying at our resort. Masks were worn rarely, social distancing was non-existent, and it was very clear people staying here were trying to get away from 'pandemic life'. I've included many photos of the resort and our room below:
What To Expect When Travelling During This Time:
- PCR Testing: In order for Canadians to board a plane, you need to be able to show proof of vaccination. In order to enter certain counties, you may also need to provide a negative COVID-19 test. To return to Canada, Canadian citizens are required to take a molecular PCR test that is negative within 72 hours of enterting the country, and this was a little tricky and definitely the biggest stressor for us while down south. Luckily, our resort had PCR testing on site, so we were able to book, pay for, and get tested for COVID directly at the hotel, although this process was HIGHLY disorganised and a massive time-suck. You’ll also have to shell out between $80.00 USD to $300.00 USD per person for these tests. Results were received via email, and I’d be happy to answer any other questions you have about this process.
- Lower your Expectations: If you have ever visited an all-inclusive resort before, you know all the bells and whistles it comes with; BIG buffets, nightclubs, casinos, restaurants, entertainment etc. However, due to the times we are in, many of these aspects have been altered or simply shut down due to the pandemic, so you may not have access to the amenities the resort “usually” offers. Most resorts are also suffering from being short-staffed since you need to be fully vaccinated to be employed at the all-inclusives in the DR, so service was slow and many staff members are green because they are in training and just trying to keep up with tourists needs. We definitely had to be mindful of the times we are living in, and by not expecting the sun, the moon, and the stars from our resort, we weren't overly disappointed. Our resort only offered half of the a la carte’s at a time, and only took 50% capacity so booking these was a struggle. The Casino, and the Disco were completely shut down, as was the Theatre; but they did have nightly shows outside of the theatre area for entertainment in the evenings. Line-ups to check-in, for PCR testing, and even sometimes for drinks at the bar were long. With that said:
- Get Insurance! Travel right now comes with a lot of risks, so make sure you have travel health insurance, as well as trip cancellation insurance at the very minimum.
- Have Patience: Wait times were extended during this trip due to COVID-19 protocols at airports, resorts, and even on excursions.
- Be Prepared for Translation / Communication Issues: In the Dominican, they speak Spanish primarily, and sometimes they will not understand you in English. We had Google Translate at our fingertips just in case we has a communication breakdown and couldn’t convey our message to staff.
- Mentally Prepare Yourself for Nature: The wildlife and the insects are VERY different from what we are used to seeing in Canada, so prepare to meet a few cockroaches, spiders/tarantuls, crabs, geckos, lizards, exotic fish, jellyfish etc. while you’re there (see the photo below of the giant tarantula just outside of our resort that was as big as my head. We named him Stuart. lol)
- Be Careful What You Eat: If you’ve ever travelled down south, you’ve likely experienced or know someone who has experienced some “stomach” issues… Unfortunately Woody got hit with food poisoning while on the result (bad bacon, we suspect) and was out of commission for a solid 36 hours. I recommend getting a prescription of Ciprofloxacin from your doctor before you leave; tell your health care professional that you are travelling down south, and they should be able to provide this for you. This has saved my hiney (quite literally) several times. Bring some probiotics with you as well, in case you have to take the meds, you can replenish the good bacteria in your gut while you're there. I also HIGHLY suggest bringing the following: Imodium, Pepto Bismol, GasX, Pain Killers (Motrin is my go-to), Electrolytes Powders, Allergy Pills, and even pills for Flu-like symptoms. You just never know what could happen when you travel (I’ve learned the hard way, many times).
What To Bring:
Aside from your essentials like a bathing suit, deodorant, a hat, sandals, sunglasses, runners, etc. These are a few things people often forget, but can make your trip a breeze:
- Sunscreen & Aloe! I can’t stress this enough; Bring your own sunscreen (and lots of it) to the resort, because it will cost you an arm and a leg down south! The sunscreen on our resort was $35.00 USD. TOTAL cash cow for them. We ran out of it after 3 days, so I suggest grabbing 2 cans of spray-on SPF 50 or higher before you leave. I also suggest bringing Aloe Vera just in case you get a bad sunburn (guilty).
- A Microfiber Towel: This comes in handy in more ways than you would expect, and they fold up to a small packable size so you can take it with you on your carry-on or your day bag. I’ve used my microfiber towel as a blanket/pillow on the plane, to lay on at the beach, to clean up messes etc. I don’t travel anywhere without it!
- Your Own Insulated Mug: This is the one thing we forgot, but won’t make the mistake of forgetting again- bring an insulated mug and have the bartenders fill it up for you at the bar; it will keep your drinks cold all day and you’ll have to make less trips to the bar! (Big Bubba’s for the win!)
- Shampoo & Conditioner: As someone with long hair, I always find the shampoo and conditioners at resorts just don’t cut it, ESPECIALLY when you get salt water in your hair, or it's been in the wind all day and then you try to brush it out! I always bring a spray leave-in-conditioner when I travel so I actually still HAVE hair when I return home. lol
- Locks For Your Luggage: There is usually a digital safe located in your room, but it’s always a good idea to lock up your luggage when you are away from your room for long periods of time. Theft is high at many resorts, and there is nothing staff can do for you. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
- A Small Purse/Fanny Pack, A Beach Bag, and a secure wallet or zippy for your cash.
- U.S. Dollars: This is the main currency that is accepted in most Caribbean locations down south.
- This one is for the ladies: A Menstrual Cup. 12 Hours of leak-free protection. Need I say more?
- Saona Island (Sah-oh-na Island): We took a day-trip to Saona Island, which is just off the southern coast of the main island, and it is truly a tropical paradise. We hopped on a bus, and then onto a catamaran for a booze-filled music cruise to the island, with a few swim stops in crystal clear water on the way. When we got there, we ate the local cuisine, walked up and down the beautiful white sand beach (it doesn't get much whiter than this!) and spent a lot of time swimming the big crystal blue bathtub water of the Caribbean Sea (watch out for starfish under your feet!). I highly recommend this excursion, we booked directly through Sunwing on the plane in Canadian Dollars (it's cheaper this way), and bring a great camera for all the pictures you can't help but take of this tropical paradise.
- Fun Park: On this excursion we hopped on a Safari-style bus which took us to a location where we drove dune buggies (prepare to get covered in mud), rode on horseback, ate the local cuisine, visited a coffee and cacao plantation, made a stop at Macao Beach (surfs up!), and finally zip-lined through the mountains. If you want an adrenaline rush and want to see what the locals get up to for fun, this excursion is definitely the way to do it. (Also booked directly through Sunwing).
And Last but CERTAINLY not Least -- Enjoy & Relax! You are on vacation, after all :). It's no secret the pandemic has put an immense amount of stress on many of us, but finally boarding a plane, relaxing on a beach under a palm tree, dancing on catamarans and experiencing new cultures has filled up our dry cups. Cheers to that!