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Traveling to Mexico, Central America for spring break? Get Zika virus, immunization advice

March 31, 2016, 8:18 am
mayan ruins right on beach at tulum 0415

The Williams family at the Mayan ruins right above the beach at Tulum, Mexico, in April of 2015.

Two of the last three years my family has traveled to the tropics for spring break, and we’ve encountered plenty of other Vail Valley residents vacationing in both Belize and on Mexico’s Mayan Riviera. This year, with the Zika virus scare, spring breakers may want to first visit the Eagle County Public Health office in Avon for pre-travel counseling and immunizations.

In Eagle County, spring break for our local schools falls in late April after the ski lifts shut down for the season in the middle of the month. That way we can all work throughout March and early April while the rest of the country is on spring break and coming to Colorado to ski. Our spring break will be even sweeter this year after abundant snow allowed Vail to extend its season.

Last April we stayed at the posh, all-inclusive Generations Riviera Maya hotel about 25 minutes south of Cancun on the northeastern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. From a culinary and service standpoint, I highly recommend the place (if you can foot the somewhat steep tab). It was my 50th birthday, so we decided to splurge on a week at the Generations property.

The rooms, pool area and multiple restaurants are all of the highest quality, and the staff engages guests with a cruise-ship-style menu of endless activities, from beach volleyball to water polo in the pool. My only serious criticism of the place is that the beach is nice but the surf is interrupted by a concrete reef meant to environmentally restore the shoreline. It prevents natural interaction with the ocean, either snorkeling or boogie boarding.

To get that experience, we rented a car for a couple of days and drove down the coast to the beautiful beachfront Mayan ruins at Tulum, about 80 miles south of Cancun, and then snorkeled amongst the turtles and boogey boarded in the surf at Akumal. The whole Mayan Riviera is beautiful and very fun, but it’s also highly developed, with a bit of a Caribbean Vegas feel.

Two years before that we stayed in condo (Tortuga Azul) owned by some Vail Valley friends on the island of Caye Caulker off the coast of Belize. It’s about 320 miles south of Cancun, but a world apart in terms of resort development. Caye Caulker is a car-free island that requires about a 45-minute ferry ride from Belize City. It also has a small airstrip if you want to arrive sooner.

I loved the laid-back atmosphere, although the island isn’t big on proper beaches but instead boasts small restaurants with piers extending out into the sea. A reef second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is about a mile off the east coast of Caye Caulker and it’s a cheap, short boat ride out to some of the most amazing snorkeling I’ve ever experienced.

We also did a manatee tour, actually spotting some of the beautiful beasties in their mangrove-tangled element, and we went cave tubing with headlamps in an underground river system on the mainland, visiting still more Mayan ruins in the jungle-choked interior. It was a wilder and more natural experience than just up the coast in Mexico, but each has its merits.

Next month will be a far cooler (temperature-wise) experience as we head to the Great Northwest for a family reunion on the Oregon coast in Newport Beach. No passports necessary. No Zika virus concerns. Just can’t forget the raincoats this time of year.

If you’re more logically to bask on a beach after a season of powder turns, again, consider a trip to the Eagle County Public Health office in Avon. Here’s the full press release on the program from Eagle County:

Eagle County Public Health is now offering pre-travel counseling and immunizations for international travelers to help guard them against illness. Consultations are available by appointment at the department’s Avon office, located at 100 W. Beaver Creek Blvd.

Public health nurses will provide individualized consultation designed to reduce a traveler’s chance of becoming ill by providing recommended immunizations, advising travelers of potential risks to their health, and educating travelers on how to keep from getting sick.

Travelers are advised to schedule appointments one to three months prior to travel and no less than two weeks prior to allow for vaccine effectiveness.  A $30 consultation fee will be charged, with low-cost vaccines available.

According to Jacquelyn Hammel, Disease Prevention and Control Nurse for Eagle County Public Health, travel preparedness is becoming increasingly important as it becomes easier to travel globally. Many popular destinations for locals currently have disease outbreaks, such as Zika virus and Dengue, or carry a higher risk of exposure to other illnesses such as travelers’ diarrhea, malaria, yellow fever, and typhoid fever. “Being informed before you travel and having a plan will help keep you healthy,” said Hammel.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 970-328-9813.

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning energy, environmental, political, entertainment, outdoor and sports writer based in the Vail Valley. His work has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, LA Weekly,, SKI Magazine, Powder and People Magazine. He also regularly contributes to The Colorado Statesman and Atlantic Media's

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