Sweater weather is upon us and there’s a definite (although definitely unscientific) correlation between the number of sweaters you’ve worn in the past week and times you’ve Googled “beach vacation.” That is, until a stray headline reminds you about the Zika virus’s reign of terror.
Zika’s rapid spread and connection to certain birth defects have scared travelers away from entire regions of the world and dashed countless tropical dreams. Luckily, the race to find a vaccine is on (and promising), so as early as 2018 this could all be a distant memory. But you don’t have to wait until then to enjoy a warm, beachy, and Zika-free vacation—it just all depends on how cautious you want to be. Here’s where you should hide out, depending on your Zika-related travel philosophy.
Philosophy: Better Safe Than Sorry
If you’re planning your dream babymoon or pre-pregnancy vacation, even the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends you play it safe. For many people, Zika merely presents as a mild rash and fever that runs its course in four to seven days. Others don’t show symptoms and may never even know that they contracted the virus. The real danger of Zika is in the virus’s link to certain birth defects, including microcephaly, which is why the CDC recommends that pregnant women completely avoid areas with a high risk of Zika. For women planning on becoming pregnant, the CDC urges caution and recommends a waiting period of at least eight weeks after possible contact with the virus. Because Zika can be transmitted sexually, women aren’t the only ones who need to be cautious—the CDC recommends a six-month waiting period for men.
So if you have a baby on the way, don’t take any chances: Head to one of these spots where the Zika-carrying mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus) either just don’t exist or where the virus hasn’t been introduced yet.
Philosophy: Cautious but Undeterred
Maybe you’re not pregnant, and you’re not convinced that Zika lives up to its hype otherwise. Still, you don’t want to become the Typhoid Mary of Zika, knowing that the spread of Zika continues to be a serious concern. Because the virus is introduced by travelers who have become accidental carriers, many untouched countries are ramping up their screening procedures, determined to keep the virus far from their shores.
Zika is not a new virus. The virus was first isolated in Uganda in 1947. In a number of countries—particularly in Africa—Zika has been around for so long that it’s considered endemic and no longer a threat. Locals have built up immunities and incidences are isolated, so your chance, as a traveler, of coming into contact with the virus is low. Part of the reason Zika became a world health emergency in this past year was because when it was introduced to South America, the population had no immunity, and the virus was able to spread rapidly.
Of course, no matter where you’re traveling, you should take preventative measures like wearing insect repellent and using protection when engaging in sexual activities. Make it easy on yourself by heading to countries like these where the beaches are perfect, the weather is balmy, and the only threat of Zika around was imported, screened, and quarantined.
Philosophy: It’s Worth the Risk
Admit it, you’re a “have your cake and eat it too” kind of a person. You’re convinced that you can have the vacation you want and that it can be in a place that’s not technically on the CDC’s travel warning list. And really, you can. While the virus has, well, gone viral in South America, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia, there are still places within those regions that remain safe and Zika-free. But because the virus is spreading rapidly, there’s no guarantee that these spots will be Zika-free six months from now. Southeast Asia, where the virus is endemic, was a popular alternative destination in February 2016, but since then the number of reported cases has increased and the CDC has posted a special travel consideration for the area. But for now, these five spots are havens in the eye of the Zika storm.
No matter where you go, be sure to check out these Expert Tips for Minimizing Your Zika Risk
Maggie Fuller Maggie Fuller is a San Francisco–based but globally oriented writer driven to provoke multicultural worldviews as a multimedia journalist. She covers sustainability, responsible travel, and outdoor adventure.