For many, 2020 was a write-off for international travel, as coronavirus-induced lockdowns, border closures, restricted flights and uncertainty around whether residents could return home with ease ruled-out plans to visit exotic destinations.
However, with the rollout of vaccinations and many countries getting a handle on the pandemic, 2021 may offer blue skies on the horizon for international travel.
From isolated escapes, adventure holidays and sun-soaked destinations, these are the countries that have opened borders, are COVID-safe – and are easy to travel to.
Soak up the sun in the Seychelles
With less than 1,000 cases reported to date by the Seychelles Nation’s news site, the country, floating near the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean, had an early handle on the pandemic, shutting its borders early.
It began allowing some international tourists in last year, including those from the UAE, and is also rolling out a mass-vaccination program.
Between a four-and five hour flight from most GCC countries, the archipelago - renowned for its white sandy shoreline, pristine azure ocean and lush green hills - offers travelers an abundance of laid-back leisure.
And added bonus: the tourist-dependent nation is helping jump start its tourism industry by getting rid of any quarantine requirements for incoming visitors who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 – up to now, visitors had to self-isolate at their hotel for ten days. Visitors will need to submit an “authentic certificate from their national health authority.”
By March, the country will further relax its rules as it expects to have about three quarters of its adult population vaccinated by then. Once that happens, the country will grant entry to all – regardless of vaccination status – just as long as they can show a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours of travel.
Discover the pyramids in Egypt
With quarantine a big decision-factor in booking holidays, relieved travelers find there are no such rules at present to visit the country of the pyramids. All international travelers to Egypt are required to present a negative PCR test within 72 hours prior to departure.
While Egypt is still reporting hundreds of new cases every day, the country has launched a huge vaccination drive this week and there is plenty of things to do whilst avoiding crowds.
Attractions include the Pyramids in Giza (which are likely to be less packed with tourists than usual), a plethora of museums, some of the best diving in the world at the famed Red Sea, some of North Africa’s best hiking trails, and spectacular beaches. Cairo’s highly-anticipated Grand Egyptian Museum - more than a decade in the making – is also slated to open this summer.
Unwind in the Maldives
While this holiday comes with a bigger price tag than most, the archipelago is just a four-hour flight from many GCC countries and reporting just a handful of coronavirus cases each day – mainly on the mainland of Male.
Passengers traveling to the Maldives as tourists must have a confirmed hotel reservation for their stay and must present a negative PCR test result within 96 hours of travel.
Upon arrival, inbound travelers will be granted a 3-day tourist visa and be exempted from having to self-isolate.
For those who still prefer to social distance – this isn’t a worry here as most island resorts in the Maldives were built with privacy in mind.
Travelers will be spoilt for choice as many of the islands have received approval by the tourism ministry to reopen; each one offering views over the turquoise horizon palm trees, luxury and year-round sunshine.
Watch the wildlife in Kenya
Kenya resumed international flights from August 1, 2020, with no mandatory quarantine in place for certain countries including the GCC.
Within 96 hours of departure you must have conducted a PCR test.
The country so far has reported fewer than 100,000 cases of coronavirus, but for those still concerned about the virus, there are plenty of places to visit in the remote wilderness of the East Africa country; which encompasses savannah, lakelands, the dramatic Great Rift Valley, coral reefs and mountain highlands.
Famous for its safaris, including Nairobi National Park and Samburu National Park, where visitors can expect to see zebras, rhinoceros, lions, cheetahs, leopards, buffalos, hippos, and more.
Go diving in Tanzania
Currently reporting no new cases, Tanzania is open for international tourists and, while you must present a negative PCR test, doesn’t require any self-isolation or quarantine.
While there is plenty to do in this East Africa country, one of Tanzania’s biggest selling points are its aquarium-like conditions making it one of the most premier dive destinations in the world - especially at spots such as Pemba and Zanzibar - where you can spot an array of underground life, including whale sharks.
Chill on a Caribbean island
Slightly further afield, travelers wanting to really get away from it all can head to the Caribbean; a place famed for its beaches, nature trails, diving, mountainous peaks and idyllic picture-postcard views.
Most islands such as Antigua, the Bahamas and Barbados have now reopened to international tourism, with protocols in place to protect visitors and residents against COVID-19.
While there is no quarantine, there will be monitoring (such as temperature checks) for 14 days after arrival and a negative PCR test is required. Face masks are required in public but not at beaches or pools.