COVID-19 tests, social distancing and mask-wearing: The new destination wedding in Mexico
While now isn't the time for everyone to visit Mexico or travel internationally due to the pandemic, it was important for me and my family to travel to Mexico recently for my brother’s destination wedding. That said, the wedding came just a few weeks after the U.S.'s new COVID-19 testing policy for international travel went into place, so my family took several safety precautions to allow for a smooth trip.
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For the entire month of January, I kept to myself in my New York apartment and remained as socially distant as possible -- only going to the grocery store and on short walks with my dog. The day before my flight, I got a rapid COVID-19 test from the CityMD in the East Village to ensure I was COVID-19 negative prior to the trip.
Related: Traveling soon? Here’s where you can quickly get a COVID-19 PCR test for travel
After the new COVID-19 testing policy for international travel was announced, the resort we were visiting was fairly quick to communicate its new safety measures with guests. It sent an email alerting us that we could get free rapid tests at the resort three days before departure to the U.S., as well as PCR tests available for $140. Additionally, the resort let us know that in the event we test positive, we'd be able to quarantine in our hotel room free of charge for 14 days.
Of course, traveling to Mexico with this new U.S. re-entry policy in place is still a risk, but my family and I were relieved that the resort would offer free testing. About a week before the wedding, the wedding planner sent out a Google spreadsheet for all guests to fill out with our preferred date and time to get tested.
Our stay at Xcaret
Hotel Xcaret opened in 2017 and was built to be a tribute to the Mayan culture. Its 900 suites are distributed in five buildings -- Casa Espiral, Casa Viento, Casa Aqua, Casa Fuego and Casa Tierra -- with names inspired by important symbols of the Mayan worldview.
No matter what casa you stay in, you are guaranteed a spectacular view of either the wide-open Caribbean Sea or the property’s beautiful rivers and cave network. For my first Xcaret visit back in December, I stayed in Casa Espiral with a swim-up ladder into the river. For my most recent stay, I booked a room in Casa Tierra with a beautiful view of the treetops and the Caribbean Sea. The most popular is Casa Fuego -- the exclusive and sophisticated adult-only experience with the most iconic rooftop in the Mayan Riviera.
The resort is all-inclusive with 12 restaurants, including Ha*, with chef Carlos Gaytan, the first Mexican-born chef to receive a Michelin star, as well as several others with different cuisines such as Italian-Mexican, Asian fusion, vegan, Oaxacan, an international buffet and more. (*Note: Ha is not a part of the all-inclusive experience and costs $150 per person.)
But Xcaret is best known for its nine nearby parks in Riviera Maya and Cancun, including Xcaret, Xplor, XSenses, Xei-Ha and Xavage. These parks offer a variety of experiences, from zip-lining and ATV excursions to tours of Tulum and the ancient Mayan ruins.
Related: 3 best Mayan ruins in Mexico’s Riviera Maya to visit with kids
My favorite part of the resort, though, was the Muluk Spa. Nestled in natural rock deep in the jungle, every treatment room is in a different cave. Before my massage, I enjoyed spending time overlooking the river on a swing bed and in the hydrotherapy pool.
The on-resort COVID-19 test
After arriving at the hotel, we still hadn’t received confirmation of the testing appointments we’d requested in advance. We checked with the front desk, but they didn’t have a record of any appointments. Luckily, tests were still available on a walk-in basis. I went to get my test on Friday morning, three days ahead of my Monday afternoon flight.
After waiting in a socially distanced line for about 30 minutes, I went inside a meeting room that was turned into a makeshift testing space. My temperature was taken and I was asked to fill out a form with my name, date of birth, preferred email to receive my test results and acknowledgment that I have not been in contact with anyone with COVID-19 nor experiencing any symptoms.
From there, I went into a curtained-off area and received a single nostril rapid test. About six hours later, I received my negative results via email. It ended up in my junk folder, so be sure to check all folders when awaiting your test results!
Related: Forget free breakfast: The hottest hotel amenity is a nasal swab
The journey home
The resort is about 50 minutes away from Cancun International Airport (CUN), so I left about four hours before the flight to ensure we got there with ample time -- especially with the additional COVID-19 processes. American Airlines does not allow you to check-in ahead of time due to the new COVID-19 testing policy. So, once I got to the airport -- even though I did not have any checked bags -- I headed to the check-in counter to show my passport and COVID-19 test results via my phone to the attendant.
From there, I was asked to fill out a brief paper form acknowledging that “I received a negative pre-departure test result for COVID-19.” Overall, filling out the paper form and showing the attendant my negative test results on my phone was a very simple process.
In my opinion, the worst part of the process was what followed. Before heading into the security line, you are asked to fill out one more form through the airport Wi-Fi. The form has you acknowledge what country you were visiting, for how long and that you don’t have any COVID-19 symptoms.
The issue with this step of the process is that everyone is crowded around the same area filling out this form. There are no designated areas to stand while you take care of this task, so it is a mosh pit of folks reading off the same sign for directions – all social distancing went out the window. I encourage the Cancun airport to rethink how to administer this information-gathering process.
Related: What it was like flying home now that the US requires a negative COVID-19 test
It was clear that in the two months since our last visit, Xcaret had stepped up its safety measures. Before entering any indoor area, such as a restaurant or the lobby, you were required to sanitize your hands, your feet and get your temperature taken. Staff members were dispersed throughout the entire property, holding signs to enforce mask-wearing and social distancing -- even on the beaches and at the pool.
Despite the anxiety we felt when a new COVID-19 testing policy was announced just weeks before the wedding, I was incredibly impressed by how well Xcaret adapted to serve its guests. We were very fortunate to have all 52 wedding guests test negative before the day of the wedding.