A hot air balloon safari over the Serengeti, a barge cruise along the French canals, a houseboat ride along the serene and lovely backwaters of Kerala.
Many of the places we could only dream about these past few years are suddenly available to us again. Believe it or not, travel is getting easier from one week to the next. The answer to the question, “where on earth can I go?”, after such a tumultuous period, is now, in the main, a much easier one to answer.
Countries formerly closed to international tourists and now acutely aware of the mounting losses to their economies due to the absence or paucity of visitors, are opening their doors to travellers and requirements for mask-wearing, COVID-19 testing and quarantine are easing.
After being denied to us for almost two years, some of the world’s most exciting experiences, including some of the exotic climes we cherished prior to the pandemic, are back on the bucket list.
“Australians are clearly excited to start seeing the world again,” says James Thornton, chief executive of the burgeoning Melbourne-based Intrepid Travel (intrepidtravel.com), the world’s largest small-group adventure tour operator.
“Beyond Australia, our top destinations are Italy, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Spain, Iceland and Croatia. I’ve booked to go to Italy with my family in a few months, can’t wait to experience Europe again.
“I’m also thrilled to see Morocco, recently reopened to tourism, back as one of our top selling destinations for Australians.”
But while some of the ease of travel is gradually returning, travel is not quite how it used to be. Some countries in Asia particularly now require incoming travellers to show proof of travel insurance to cover the cost of treatment for COVID-19.
Even for those with travel insurance with COVID-19 cover, this may not qualify. In Thailand, some visitors have had problems obtaining their Thailand Pass (thaiembassy.com) when they submit proof of travel insurance that does not meet Thailand’s strict rules. Cigna (cigna.com) and AXA (axa.com) are the preferred insurers and their travel insurance is not expensive.
Many countries also require incoming passengers to complete a travel form, stating their personal details, date of arrival, contact details and vaccination status. In most cases this can be completed online and there may be a time requirement. Within 72 hours prior to the commencement of travel is common. For fully vaccinated travellers, the date of your last COVID-19 vaccine can be critical. The most common requirement is for the latest dose to have been administered at least 14 days and no more than six months prior to entry.
EUROPE: TO GO OR NOT TO GO
Navigating Europe is going to be a breeze this northern summer compared with 2021. Fully vaccinated travellers can enter the UK without proof of any pre-travel COVID-19 tests or any quarantine requirements.
COVID-19 passes are no longer mandatory in any venue, although a small number may still require them. Likewise, France no longer requires fully vaccinated travellers to show proof of a negative test. For Australians, all that’s required for entry is proof of a complete vaccination schedule and completion of the Eos electronic form (passager.serveureos.org).
Across the EU, mandatory mask wearing is easing, as is the requirement to show a health pass for admission to venues. Even Austria, which had tough anti-COVID-19 requirements in place until late in 2021, is moving in the same direction.
But be aware that Europe is facing the unthinkable in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and this will impact travel to neighbouring countries such as Poland and Romania which are being flooded with refugees. The effects are bound to ripple across the Continent. By the same token, don’t wipe the much less affected western Europe from your plans.
THE STATE OF THE STATES
To enter the US (visittheusa.com.au) all air travellers above two years of age must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 24 hours before travel, or documentation proving recovery from COVID-19 in the past 90 days pre-flight.
Proof-of-vaccine requirements for entry to venues vary from state to state, however it is a requirement at many venues in the states Australians are most likely to visit such as New York and California. This requirement could end soon.
Fully-vaccinated travellers entering Canada (canada.ca) must show proof of a negative PCR test taken within three days prior to travel or a negative RAT test within one day.
WATCH THESE SPACES
While much of the world is reopening, some parts remain resolutely closed.
Japan (japan.travel) remains closed to tourists, but restrictions are easing. From March 1, the daily cap on entrants to Japan has been loosened, although business travellers and overseas students are the main beneficiaries.
Hong Kong remains closed to tourists, although the Hong Kong Tourism Board (discoverhongkong.com) is trumpeting the island’s readiness to welcome tourists. Passenger flights from Australia are not allowed to land in Hong Kong, and a reopening could be some way off.
Foreign business travellers have been allowed to enter Taiwan (eng.taiwan.net.tw) since March 7, a prelude to a more general opening to tourism that could come later in March, according to the country’s tourism bureau.
In the Pacific, Vanuatu (vanuatu.travel), according to the nation’s Ministry of Health, will not reopen to tourists until at least 90 per cent of all adults have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and two doses delivered to 70 per cent.
Okay. So we’ve given you a rundown of where’s open and what’s still not. But the surprising number of options don’t stop there. Here is an eclectic mix of 10 more of Traveller on Sunday’s still favourite and fabulous destinations that Australians can visit now.
WHY YOU SHOULD GO Spectacularly endowed with rainforests, glaciers, snow-capped mountains, fiords, raging rivers, trout streams, palmy beaches and volcanoes that spit fire and brimstone, this is a pocket-sized wonderland packed with adventures. Better still, it puts a shine on those wonders with a taste for fine food and wine and class-leading wilderness lodges.
HOW YOU CAN GO From midnight on April 12, 2022, vaccinated Australian citizens and permanent residents can enter New Zealand and self-test on arrival.
DON’T MISS The drive along the west coast of the South Island. Start at Christchurch with a ride aboard the TranzAlpine Express, pick up a hire car at Greymouth and drive south past some of the most accessible glaciers on the planet, New Zealand’s tallest mountains, wild, lonely beaches with seal colonies, glacial lakes and spongy forests webbed with moss.
ESSENTIALS covid19.govt.nz newzealand.com
Bustling Hanoi. Photo: iStock
WHY YOU SHOULD GO Exotic, energetic, culturally diverse and highly photogenic, Vietnam packs in enormous variety, including hill tribe villages carved from forests in the mountainous north, limestone islands that erupt from Ha Long Bay, jade-green rice fields, beach resorts and the lacework waterways of the Mekong Delta. Throw in bargain-priced shopping and a dazzling national cuisine and you have a destination that works hard to please.
HOW YOU CAN GO Travellers who are fully vaccinated or who have a certificate of recovery from COVID-19 are admitted with proof of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours before flight time or a negative RAT test within 24 hours. Visitors must also show proof of travel insurance with minimum coverage of $US10,000 for COVID-19 treatment. A negative RAT test is required within 24 hours after entry.
DON’T MISS The colonial architecture in Hanoi’s French quarter, its cafe culture, pagodas, tree-lined lakes museums and hard-to-resist silks, porcelain and lacquerware at unbelievable prices make the capital a trophy item for intrepid travellers undeterred by murderous traffic. Take an overnight cruise on Ha Long Bay, where the scenery might have sprung from a Chinese watercolour.
ESSENTIALS vietnam.travel; vietnamtourism.gov.vn
Jodhpur, Rajasthan. Photo: iStock
WHY YOU SHOULD GO No other country offers the diversity, the majesty, the weirdness and the soul-tugging complexity of India. Whether it’s tigers in Assam, palaces in Rajasthan, tea plantations in Darjeeling or Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh, India delivers. Over the past 20 years, the tourist infrastructure has galloped ahead and there are now decent hotels and frequent air services just about everywhere. Coming soon are non-stop Qantas flights from Melbourne to Delhi.
HOW YOU CAN GO Travellers must complete an online declaration on the Air Suvidha portal (newdelhiairport.in). Fully vaccinated Australians can upload their vaccination certificate as an alternative to showing evidence of a negative PCR test. A small random sample of passengers will undergo testing on arrival at the airport.
DON’T MISS Jodhpur is one of Rajasthan’s most likeable and manageable cities, capital of the former princely state of Marwar, crowned by the vast and impressive Mehrangarh Fort. Endowed with markets, antique shops and princely palaces, this is the perfect place to sample the rich culture and colours of India’s desert state.
ESSENTIALS incredibleindia.org; qantas.com; boi.gov.in
Torres del Paine National Park.Photo: iStock
WHY YOU SHOULD GO User-friendly, Latin-inflected and sophisticated, Chile has some of the world’s geographic wonders, from its driest desert in the north to the cloud-piercing, glacier-carved mountains of Patagonia. The food is astonishingly good and the wines will knock your socks off. Spring and autumn are prime but avoid the summer crowds.
HOW YOU CAN GO Fully vaccinated Australians can enter provided they show a negative PCR taken within 72 hours before boarding and have health insurance that covers any expenses arising from COVID-19, with a minimum coverage of $US30,000. All arrivals must undergo a mandatory COVID-19 test on arrival and remain in quarantine awaiting a negative result.
DON’T MISS The highlight of Torres del Paine National Park is a wall of 3000 metres peaks rising almost vertically from the glacier lakes and grasslands of southern Patagonia. See it from a luxury lodge or on two feet, treading through meadows sprigged with wildflowers against a backdrop of lakes rimed with glacial ice.
ESSENTIALS chile.travel; chile.gob.cl
WHY YOU SHOULD GO This feudal Berber kingdom fuses the cultures of sub-Saharan Africa with powerful Arabic Islamic influences. In an area twice the size of Victoria, Morocco packs in the snow-capped peaks of the Atlas Mountains as well as the scorched dunes of the Sahara. In its mountains are villages unconnected by road, where the population still lives in kasbahs, fortified, mud-walled houses that hold several generations of an extended family. Morocco’s decorative arts are refined and intricate and rooted in the artistic precepts of Islam.
HOW YOU CAN GO Proof of vaccination status and a negative PCR test result less than 48 hours before boarding your flight are required. Travellers must also download a Public Health Passenger Form, available from the Visit Morocco website.
DON’T MISS Afloat in a rippling sea of sand, the village of Merzouga is one of the best places to experience the hot breath of the Sahara. The dunes, which the Moroccans claim are the highest in the Sahara, are massive yet delicate and incredibly beautiful at sunrise and sunset, a Zen garden of sand. Spend the night in a luxury tented desert camp attended by dashing Berbers in embroidered blue kaftans.
ESSENTIALS visitmorocco.com; onda.ma
The Mayan ruins of of Palenque in Chiapas. Photo: iStock
WHY YOU SHOULD GO Hotter than a jalapeno chilli, and far beyond the stereotypes, Mexico has beaches to warm the heart, a vigorous Latin culture infused with native American influences, astonishing Mayan ruins and a treasury of natural wonders including tropical rainforests filled with wildlife, the second highest waterfall on earth and Copper Canyon, deeper and – some say – grander than Arizona’s Grand Canyon.
HOW YOU CAN GO There is no requirement to show proof of vaccination status or provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test for entry.
DON’T MISS On the blunt thumb of the Yucatan Peninsula near Tulum, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is almost 3000 square kilometres of forest, savanna, lagoons and coral reefs and home to hundreds of species of birds and animals. Explore it on an ecotour that also includes snorkelling and the area’s Mayan ruins.
WHY YOU SHOULD GO What’s not to like about a country where 10 pm is considered a suitable hour for pre-dinner drinks, where coffee comes in shot size with a buttery or chocolate treat on the side, where you can walk into any restaurant or boutique with our undernourished dollar in your pockets without fear – or walk in some of the wildest terrain on the planet?
HOW YOU CAN GO Full vaccinated Australians can enter Argentine with proof of a negative PCR test within 72 hours, or a RAT test within 48 hours, before trip commencement. They must also complete a Declaración Jurada electrónica (DDJJ) within 48 hours before starting their trip.
DON’T MISS The tango has been called a musical synthesis of love and passion and it finds its feet in Buenos Aires. Avoid the expensive tourist shows, ask your hotel for the nearest milonga, essentially a dance hall where the locals go to dance tango.
ESSENTIALS argentina.travel; ddjj.migraciones.gob.ar
The majestic pyramids at Giza. Photo: iStock
WHY YOU SHOULD GO From the pyramids of Giza to the medieval mosques of the capital, from hilltop monasteries to the palm oases of the Sahara, the feluccas of the Nile and the coral reefs of the Red Sea, Egypt’s cultural and natural treasures are in a class all their own.
HOW YOU CAN GO Fully vaccinated Australians whose most recent vaccination was at least 14 days previously can enter Egypt without testing or quarantine requirements.
DON’T MISS A cruise along Egypt’s Nile between Luxor and Aswan is a slow-motion journey through history, with 3000-year-old temples and pharaonic tombs as punctuation marks. Extending from the river is a green mosaic of wheat, cotton and barley fields, citrus groves and pomegranate orchards rescued from the surrounding wilderness of sand and rock.
The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Photo: iStock
WHY YOU SHOULD GO In Istanbul, ancient and modern, East and West, Christianity and Islam interweave, creating a layered city of intense character. The cultural cross-currents extend to wider Turkey, which offers Byzantine palaces, crusader castles, the cave dwellings of Cappadocia, some of the finest mosques of the Islamic world and ruins from the time of the Old Testament. The food is sensational, the coast sublime, the trekking is some of the best in the Med and you can whirl like a dervish in the discos of Bodrum.
HOW YOU CAN GO Fully vaccinated Australian travellers may enter with no pre-departure COVID-19 test or quarantine requirements. Visitors must complete a Form for Entry to Turkey within 72 hours before arrival.
DON’T MISS Shopping in Istanbul takes you into the labyrinth of the bazaars, a major fascination. As well as the venerable Grand Bazaar with its 4000 shops there’s also the Arasta Bazaar in Sultanahmet, which has a similar range of goods and a far less frantic atmosphere. Located near the Galata Bridge, the Egyptian Bazaar, also known as the Spice Market, is a treat for the nose, its stalls loaded with spices, fruit, nuts, and royal jelly from beehives along the Aegean.
ESSENTIALS goturkiye.com; covidinsurance4turkey.com; register.health.gov.tr
WHY YOU SHOULD GO Africa’s wildlife wonders are the main draw, but the country has much more to offer including the honeyed landscape around Cape Town, beaches, fabulous golf courses, incredible mountain scenery, glorious wineries and an economy that puts wings on the Aussie dollar.
HOW YOU CAN GO Travellers must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test takes within 72 hours before commencement of travel and a completed Traveller Health Questionnaire
DON’T MISS A wonderful self-drive itinerary takes you north from Cape Town along the west coast to the picture-perfect Cederberg Mountains, home to the rare Cape Mountain Zebra, then through more stunning mountainous scenery to some of the prettiest vineyards on the planet around Franschhoek. From there, explore Stellenbosch and Paarl with their magnificent Cape Dutch wineries, including the Spier Estate which has a cheetah conservation program.
ESSENTIALS southafrica.net; sacoronavirus.co.za
Hit the beaches of Bali. Photo: iStock
WHY YOU SHOULD GO To most Australian holiday makers, Indonesia means Bali, and the Island of the Gods has charisma to burn. The sound of trickling water in the rice terraces, the mossy temples, the spirit houses with their faded, flapping shreds of yellow cloth, the soaring bamboo penjors arcing above the roadsides, the women heading off to their midday prayers with a pyramid of fruit and flowers piled on their heads, the sound of a gamelan orchestra drifting through the silky night – with these notes, Bali plays a sweet tune all its own.
HOW YOU CAN GO Fully vaccinated travellers arriving in Indonesia are required to show a negative PCR test result taken within the previous 48 hours, proof of a hotel booking, travel insurance with minimum $US25,000 health cover for COVID-19. They also need to download the Electronic Health Alert Card app and the PeduliLindungi app.
DON’T MISS Spa culture has taken root in Bali. Body massage has long been part of Balinese culture, and now the traditional Balinese massage – coins scraped hard against the skin to produce a bruising effect – has been upgraded to include seaweed wraps, hot stone massages, shiatsu, lymphatic drainage, aromatic massages, Ayurvedic treatments and Vichy showers.