Whether you’re an international tennis star, or just a regular traveller, it’s important to have a good idea about which countries will turn you away if you’re unvaccinated.
So for today’s COVID-19 update, we’re taking a quick look at the countries around the world that will accept recent ‘recovery from the virus’ certificates to gain entry. (And as you probably won’t want to be hanging around other people while you’re recovering, we’ve also got some tips on how you can avoid the crowds while you’re abroad.)
Just be aware that rules may change very quickly and without much warning - especially as COVID cases have been accelerating in a number of countries that previously had low case rates.
It’s always best to keep checking the Gov.uk website ahead of any travel.
The island of Mljet
Croatia will currently accept a doctor’s certificate that shows you’ve recovered from COVID in the past eight months - so long as you can also show that you’ve had the first dose of a vaccine.
You’ll also need to complete an entry form to get into the country.
Once you arrive, local social-distancing and mask-wearing rules will be in operation.
Avoiding the crowds while you’re there:
The walled towns of Croatia can be unpleasantly crowded at the best of times, although a winter visit makes things a lot easier (here’s a great guide to seeing Dubrovnik in the colder months.)
To get away from the hordes - and ensure a seat outdoors for dining - we’d focus on island-hopping.
Mljet is a particularly delightful choice for some RnR during the winter, with a sprawling nature reserve to explore and two achingly beautiful salt-water lakes at the island’s heart.
The fishing town of Siglufjörður
Iceland actually has a handy questionnaire you can complete to check the entry requirements - but in short, if you have recovered from COVID-19, you can prove it, and your certificate of recovery has not expired, you’ll be able to travel there with a negative PCR or antigen test.
Bars and nightclubs are closed, according to the Icelandic government - but as many Reykjavik bars double as cafés during the day, this one’s a bit more fluid than it appears.
Meanwhile, restaurants currently have a 10pm curfew. Social distancing and mask-wearing rules apply.
Avoiding the crowds while you’re there:
As Europe’s most sparsely-populated country, Iceland isn’t necessarily the most crowded place as it is - but to avoid the tourists around the capital and the Blue Lagoon, you’re going to want to head north.
Our recommendation is Siglufjörður, a colourful and delight-filled fishing village that sits right at the Arctic tip of Iceland (it used to only be accessible by boat, but the stunningly scenic Road 76 has made things a lot easier for visitors).
Renowned for the natural beauty of the local Trollaskagi mountains and fjords, and for its herring (try the harðfiskur) it’s the perfect place to take a breath.
#3: Portugal Talasnal, high in the Portuguese mountains
Portugal will accept a valid UK ‘recovery from COVID’ certificate for entry, within an 180-day window.
Be aware that the Visit Portugal website's rules around certificates are a little confusing. They state that ‘a valid recovery or vaccination certificate’ is required to enter bars and clubs, but that 'a vaccination certificate or EU Digital Certificate' is required to access hotels and restaurants.
If you’re unsure, it’s a good idea to check in with your accommodation ahead of travel.
Avoiding the crowds while you’re there:
To get away from it all, we’d drive inland into the Portuguese countryside. Talasnal, a tiny and enchanting guest-house village deep in the mountains, rebuilt from abandoned farmhouses, would be our secret getaway.
No cars are allowed on the winding cobbled streets of Talasnal, and the wooded valleys are home to deer and wild boar. Close your eyes, listen to the music of the hills - and you’ll be forgetting about COVID rules and restrictions faster than a UK Prime Minister.
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DID YOU KNOW?
Neat and Nifty New Year's
In 2016, JFC member Ross was travelling through Bolivia when he found himself unexpectedly caught up in protests and roadblocks that stranded him in the city of Uyuni.
Bolivian protests have a history of using blockades to cut off access to cities (month-long roadblocks and protests led to the resignation of President Evo Morales three years later). Uyuni itself has frequently been targeted by protestors due to its importance for tourism, and its valuable lithium flats.
We chatted to Ross about his experiences of being caught up in political unrest, and his advice for any travellers who find themselves in a similar situation:
I started my South American journey in Rio - it was me and four other travellers.
And then we gradually started losing people along the way, until I was just travelling with my friend Jack.
We headed south through Patagonia, then circled back northwards, taking in Argentina and Chile, and finally Bolivia! We were hoping to make it to La Paz for Christmas, but we decided to stop by Uyuni first, to see the famous salt flats.
Well, it was an eight-hour bus journey from Sucre to Uyuni. They’d oversold the seats, which wasn’t great - the bus was falling apart, people were sitting on the gangway! We had to get out at one point during the middle of the night because the bus got a puncture. All of us, freezing and shivering in the desert as we waited.
Eventually the bus started up again. And we must have been about 30 minutes out of Uyuni when suddenly the driver stopped again and told everyone, “Get off the bus, it’s not going any further.”
We didn’t really understand what was happening. Some Colombian guys who were about our age explained that the road was blocked and we couldn’t pass.
They seemed very calm about it - we thought maybe a tree had fallen in the road or something like that.
Getting through the blockades
The mood hadn’t changed in the bus; we didn’t sense any kind of worry. We could see the lights of the city ahead of us in the darkness, and we didn’t have any signal to check what was going on.
The Colombian guys said they were going to get out and walk across the desert into Uyuni. So we decided to join them.
After about 90 minutes, freezing in the dark, we came to the roadblock. It was just a few cars parked in the road, some people hanging about. Nobody paid us any attention, and it didn’t feel intimidating - honestly, we thought they must have got stuck as well!
Finally, we got into Uyuni and we found a hostel, where the owners explained to us what had happened. The Bolivian government had apparently promised cheap land and opportunities in the area, which then had never materialised, so the protesters were blockading Uyuni until their demands were met.
It had all started that same day!
Uyuni City from the air
The next morning we wandered around town and spoke to some other travellers. Everyone was trying to get out of Uyuni as quickly as possible, but there wasn’t any concrete information out there.
There were rumours that buses were stopping and waiting in the desert on the other side of the roadblocks. A few of the hostel guests were planning to walk out there (even though it was ridiculously hot in the daytime) and see for themselves.
Well, those travellers left, and then they never came back to the hostel. We weren’t sure if that was a good sign or a bad sign!
The show must go on
We thought we’d wait and see if the situation calmed down, and try and get out to the salt flats if we could in the meantime.
There were a lot of tour guides who were still keen to take us, but they kept delaying as the protests were escalating.
On our fourth day in Uyuni, we finally set off. It was three cars in a mini convoy, 3 drivers and 12 passengers.
We got to the roadblock and it was a bit underwhelming. There was only one old woman sitting by the roadside - but there were some large stones piled up in the road to prevent cars from getting through.
But what we didn’t understand was that the blockade was growing. There were more and more roadblocks, getting further and further out, spreading from Uyuni. This was just the remnant of the old blockade.
So the driver took a sharp turn off into the desert. We were rattling around, bouncing around, and I don’t think the car was built for off-roading! But we thought we were free and clear.
About a minute later, a whole bunch of kids ran out from behind the dunes and tried to block us, throwing stones, hitting the car with sticks, jumping on top of it. The driver chased them off.
That was the only time during the protests we were ever physically threatened, and of course they were only kids, even if it was a bit alarming at the time.
Up a creek without a paddle
After driving for a while, we came to a dried-up river-bed. The cars tried to cross here - and that’s where we got into deep trouble! All three cars got stuck.
Well, we got out, all 15 of us, and began to push the cars out one by one. We were in the last car.
As soon as the first car was out of the river-bed, its driver and passengers ran to it, got in and drove away, leaving the rest of us behind.
It was a lot harder, pushing the second car with only ten of us, but we kept trying.
Once the second car was free…you guessed it. They got in and drove away.
That left just me, our driver, a couple, and an older Canadian guy to get our own car free.
We ran into one of the other passengers later on and he thought it was funny. Not sure I agreed!
Seeing the salt flats
Eventually we got to the salt flats, and we saw the Bolivian train cemetery.
The flats were absolutely incredible; well worth all of our trouble. They’re the most unique place I’ve ever seen.
It’s weird, it’s eerie, it’s like you’re on another planet.
I got down on my hands and knees and licked the ground. It didn’t taste great!
We drove back through the desert in the dark, and we could see the protesters’ campfires all around us, doing our best to avoid them.
Then a car pulled out suddenly in front of us. The man got out and began to shout at our driver - he didn’t want us to get past into the city.
Eventually, our driver managed to persuade the man to let us pass in exchange for our spare tyre (apparently he wanted it to burn at his own campfire), so we helped him get it down from the roof and we were on our way.
When I got back to the hostel, more travellers had vanished, presumably having walked out into the desert to try and find the buses. We were definitely starting to feel stressed at this point.
The great escape
The next day, Jack and I woke up early and made our escape.
We spoke to a taxi driver who said he was happy to drive us out to the roadblocks and we could walk into the desert from there.
But things were heating up all the time. When we got to the roadblock, our car was instantly surrounded by five or six men who told him that we were free to walk if we wanted to - but the driver would need to abandon the taxi and head back to Uyuni on foot.
We told him we were sorry, we shook hands, and we gave him a tip. I still worry about that driver. I really hope they let him come back and pick up the car later on and it wasn’t taken from him permanently.
We kept walking past the old, abandoned roadblocks. After about 90 minutes, we made it to the blockade that was in use. There was a huge crowd there now.
None of the adults paid any attention to us as we passed. The kids were yelling and jeering a bit, but that was it!
It was swelteringly hot as Jack and I walked. We took off our T-shirts and wrapped them around our heads to protect against heatstroke. Our water supplies were running low.
Then we got lucky. Up ahead, there was a bus waiting by the roadside. We were completely out of water by this point. If it’d been a few miles further out, we’d have been in real trouble.
The bus was completely empty - we were the first people who’d made it out of Uyuni. The bus driver told us he’d wait and see if anyone else was coming.
After a few hours, there were about ten of us onboard.
The bus driver was about to take off, when we saw that there was a crowd of protesters heading in our direction - and ahead of them were some figures running with suitcases and rucksacks.
We got out of the bus, ran back to help those people get onboard, and then the driver took off for La Paz.
Looking back, I don’t hold any ill-will towards the protesters at all. Fair play to them - if you don’t feel like you’re being listened to and the tourist trade is what the government cares about, then that’s what you target.
It was the most frustrating part of my travels, but it’s also the experience that I talk about the most! And that’s what travelling is all about, really - the unexpected adventure.
Advice for others
We definitely made a lot of mistakes in Uyuni.
I think the most important tip I can give to others who are travelling when unrest breaks out is this: talk to the locals to find out what’s going on. Use Google Translate if you have to, but get your understanding of the situation from the people who know what they’re talking about.
In the hostel, there were a lot of travellers who were spreading rumours and horror stories about what was happening - just creating a kind of echo chamber of panic! It was all exaggerated.
If you don’t know how bad things are going to get, prepare for the worst. Make sure you have water, provisions, clothing. We winged it, and that was dangerous.
And of course: don’t panic, don’t get into conflicts, don’t antagonise anyone. It’s not about you, even though you might feel frustrated that you’re caught up in the middle of it.
We will never, ever, be as cool as this gentleman who rigged a go-kart to zip along the abandoned railtracks of California.
Thanks for reading!
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