…We enjoyed one last sunrise on the beach before catching one of the last flights out amid U.S. state department warnings to “leave now or stay indefinitely.”
It was a hard choice but as March drew to a close we headed to Colorado early after traveling around Costa Rica for a few weeks doing what we’ve done on close to 50 trips over almost 30 years – discovery.
For three weeks we checked off destinations for the “Costa Rica’s Best Kept Secrets 2020 Edition” – climb Volcán Platanar ☑, 4WD route 319 ☑, Pozo Verde Crater Porvenir Volcano ☑, Rio Carara ☑, & Cerro Terraba ☑…
The emphasis was on creating new itineraries to promote small, unique, rural family attractions, emphasize ecology and culture and also avoid the crowds that were becoming more common as Costa Rica’s popularity skyrocketed.
Suddenly avoiding crowds was sadly easy to accomplish.
Starting Over in Costa Rica Tourism
In a few days tourism went from a foundation of the Costa Rican economy and major source of foreign exchange to zero.
Between the second and third week in March foreigners were prohibited from entering the country, all national parks and reserves closed, and most beaches were off limits. Boutique lodges and mega resorts like the Ríu Palace shut down completely with no schedule for re-opening, transportation and tour companies “laid off” all employees and ceased operations.
Hundreds of thousands are facing months without paychecks. Much of Costa Rican tourism operated outside the international corporations as family owned and operated hotels, one man and one van transport and guide services and unique small attractions, restaurants and tours. There are dozens of private wildlife refuges and forest reserves that depended exclusively on entrance fees to protect the environment.
These entrepreneurs don’t have venture capital or large cash reserves to survive months of quarantine and their only hope is future bookings. Quarantine is the perfect time to get started planning the trip of your dreams.
Trying decide on the best time to plan or re-schedule a Costa Rica vacation?
…the magic 🎱 ball says…”Reply hazy, try again”…
Our best guess is that travel from/to most international international destinations will resume by Christmas.
- The government currently states,
April 13th, May 1st, May 15th, June 15th, July 1st as the official expiration date for the border closure. Beaches, parks, restaurants and non-essential businesses will begin to slowly reopen for locals from May through the beginning of August.
- Optimistic estimate for limited international travel… August (¿
fifty-fifty sixty-forty seventy thirtyeighty-twenty against ?) but more likely December and the start of the high season.
As July approaches there are several clues we used to guess that resumption of travel is still at least four to six months away.
- Southwest Airlines has suspended flights to Costa Rica through October 30. Other airlines have been slower to update but are cancelling as well.
- Costa Rica has extended tourist visas for travelers stuck in the country until
July 17th, August 18th. A hint that they expect them to remain stuck at least that long.
- Some hotels and lodges where we have bulk purchase discount agreements notified us that they they will not re-open until Dec. 1
- The U.S. pushed past two million cases adding more than 20,000 per day.
- In mid June the minister of health said it will be a long slow cautious road to reopening and a few days later the president re-instated internal restrictions on beaches, businesses and driving due to skyrocketing cases.
- Scientists estimate that critical medical tools are months to years away – reliable rapid testing (available 0-4 months, mass scale 4-8 months), effective treatment (available in 6 months – 3 years), safe proven vaccine (available in 1-3 years)
Early estimates that things could return to normal after a few weeks were wildly unrealistic.
Stay at home and the quarantine of travelers were emergency measures designed to prevent sharp peaks of infection that could overwhelm health systems. By themselves they do nothing to halt the pandemic or reduce the total number of cases, they simply slow the rate of spread to allow time to develop a long term response.
For a return to anything close to normalcy in international travel there will have to be some combination of
- leadership capable of forging a realistic unified strategy and safety criteria – for Costa Rica, the U.S. and the world
- widespread (hundreds of times more than current levels) rPCR virus DNA testing and antigen virus protein testing to allow intelligently designed responses and targeted isolation instead of “everyone stay home” – some call this test/trace/treat
- access to reliable rapid antibody testing to determine exposure and hundreds of millions of these tests over a year or two to determine if there is any immunity
- a vaccine
- a reliable and successful treatment regime to reduce mortality
- lots of masks – there’s growing evidence that masks are more effective than stay at home orders
- travel testing
There is promise on all of these fronts. Abbott Labs began shipping 5 minute antibody tests in the U.S. before Easter and countries like South Korea have already proven the effectiveness of massive viral DNA (rPCR) testing and targeted quarantine.
Slow progress is being made on developing real treatments while false hopes like hydroxycloroquinone are being debunked.
A safe vaccine will be developed but will probably not be widely available for at least a year.
In the absence of a miracle cure or vaccine the political aspect is critical. If the world can agree on how to determine which people can move safely then things can begin to return to normal. Unfortunately Costa Rica has little influence on international policy and the U.S. elections aren’t until November.
Costa Rica announced the closure of her borders to foreigners on March 18, 2020 and quickly got very serious about minimizing contact between people – closing all non-essential businesses, arresting surfers who ignore the beach ban, and confiscating vehicles from people driving unnecessarily.
The leadership’s rapid nationwide response effectively contained the first wave of infections but two other countries that were much less successful will ultimately determine the impact of the pandemic in Costa Rica.
Nicaragua is an Unknown
In May Nicaragua claimed “eight total cases.” By June Costa Rica’s neighbor to the north was admitting to a few hundred cases but experts suspect the low numbers are due to a lack of testing rather than miraculously low infection rates. No distancing or other precautions were taken and it’s likely the true numbers are much higher.
About half a million Nicaraguans live and work in Costa Rica and many do not have legal status so they cross the extremely porous border between checkpoints.
U.S. Must Climb Out of Last Place
Even though Costa Rica contained the virus it can’t re-open its borders to foreigners until their countries do the same. The U.S. accounts for more foreign visitors to Costa Rica than all other countries combined so is the single most important determinant of when Costa Rica can re-start international tourism.
Unfortunately, despite claims of “tremendous control” the U.S. is headed past two million cases and flirting with a second wave. Headed into June Costa Rica has just over 1,000 cases (total in the entire three months) while in the U.S. there are still about 1,000 new cases every hour.
Let that sink in.
Containment in the U.S. looks to be months away and so is restarting international tourism in Costa Rica.
The U.S. began testing much too late for Test/Trace/Treat to work and was forced into the everyone stay-at-home approach on round one of infections. Hopefully the response to round two will be more educated.
A few companies are fighting to remain open and support their employees with partial paychecks. Many are being battered by demands for full immediate refunds. With cash flow frozen and everyone scrambling to survive it only takes a few unfair demands to wipe out bank reserves and destroy a company.
Fortunately, many more are joining the call to #reschedule or #postpone using credits offered by travel planners, hotels and tours.
If you are making a choice between requesting a refund or using a credit to reschedule please consider rescheduling.