Coronavirus Pandemic: Life in Latin America

In Spring 2020 the world shrank as a new coronavirus, Covid-19, made its insidious march across the world. Flights were grounded and borders shut down. In England, from Monday 23 March when our lockdown began, our horizons only stretched as far as where we could walk, run or cycle during our daily exercise.

Rainbows of hope sprang up as we went into lockdown in March

Global neighbours

As the coronavirus pandemic took hold we reached out, becoming more connected to our global neighbours, despite lockdowns and the absence of travel. With schools shut in most countries parents just like us suddenly found themselves acting as their children’s teachers, many of us with no training and even less patience! Through social media and chatty emails we shared the difficulties we were facing. I felt more connected to friends in LA, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand, than I had for years.

In the UK we were shown news from across the world, with a clear focus on the European experience. We saw opera singers entertaining neighbours from their balconies in Italy and soldiers patrolling the streets in Spain. As the virus spread across the globe we saw that different countries dealt with the reality of the coronavirus pandemic very differently.

Happy travelling times, finishing up our two-week Interrail trip in the summer of 2019

We watched with interest as the virus entered Latin America. Before coronavirus, pandemic, lockdown and social distancing became regular words in our vocabulary our family had been planning a six-month sabbatical. We were due to leave on 5 July 2020 and travel from Canada to Chile. By April 2020 it was clear to us that we wouldn’t be able to depart on our original date. We were full of uncertainty and put all of our plans on hold. Meanwhile we actively sought out news on the ground from Latin America as we knew many countries in Central and South America were dealing with the crisis in different ways, to each other and to us. From the UK, without strong connections to any of those countries, we found it hard to find any detail of the current situation.

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Life in Latin America

To fill this gap I reached out to the travel community on Instagram, actively seeking accounts of people who lived and worked in Latin America. I’ve found it enlightening to view their lives on Insta’s squares and it inspired me to write and ask a few of the people behind these accounts to write about their experiences of the coronavirus pandemic. I am very grateful to all of them for sharing their stories here. Do check out their blogs, Instagram accounts and You Tube videos. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Erin from Sol Salute has contributed her thoughts on the Argentinian response to the coronavirus pandemic

The Argentine government’s reaction to the pandemic began with swift and decisive decisions followed by uncertainty and lingering on into arbitrary confusion.  

In March of 2020, the country went into a strict lockdown. Everything shut down and everyone respected the new norms. It was interesting to see the resilience of the Argentinian people, who are no strangers to crisis. Businesses quickly pivoted. Restaurants created new take-away experiences, even with 12-course assemble it yourself at home menus from the country’s top chefs. Clothing companies quickly created designer masks.  

But personal resilience aside, of course, the economy has suffered immensely. The tourism industry has been devastated so it’s no surprise that the strict lockdown has wavered into a patchwork of loosening rules. In December, with the start of the summer season, the government has loosened the reigns. International borders remain closed indefinitely but domestic travel has resumed. Covid tests are required when you return (and are even administered at the airport with results sent via WhatsApp within hours). 

Things are taken slowly, with the government updated regulations on a bi-weekly basis. Will travel stay open? Will things lock back down again? There is no telling and the uncertainty is difficult. 

Cathy from Traveling with Kids Costa Rica has written about her and her family’s experience during the coronavirus pandemic

Back in March 2020, the Coronavirus Global news hit Costa Rica pretty hard like it did to the rest of the world. It came so sudden without any notice. Like everyone here living and vacationing in Costa Rica, we were all pretty much shocked, confused and this news left everyone utterly helpless especially when Costa Rica made its announcement to shut all its borders including land, sea and air to the whole world back on 17 March 2020.

Starting mid-March 2020, the Costa Rican government started a ‘Stay at Home’ campaign protecting its citizens and residence. Everyone was asked to stay at home. All sorts of other restrictions were placed around the country. For months we were only allowed to drive from 5am-7pm every day. Restrictions were evaluated every 2 weeks. Social gatherings, house parties were all prohibited. Beaches, restaurants and clubs were all temporarily closed for at least 3 months. Schools had to be continued online for the whole year which greatly affected kids as they were not allowed to socialize with their friends for months. Costa Rica became a ghost town, especially in most touristic places and a lot of businesses were forced to shut down to avoid any more losses. Some of the small business have never recovered from these economic losses.

Since we worked in the tourism industry, we were very much affected by all these sudden changes. As for our side of story, we own a charter business here in the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica and had lost all our international fishing bookings from March to November and some people up to this date are still cancelling their travels plans. We were able to adapt to these new changes in the end, thought of ways and means to get local business instead which greatly helped us survived financially. On 1 November 2020, Costa Rica was forced to open its borders to the whole world. A bold move to help the ongoing economic crisis here in Costa Rica. Up to this date, there are still a lot of people being affected by Covid-19 here in Costa Rica, but as we all try to move on with business and our lives, we are hoping 2021 will give us better hopes for the future.

Clare from Our Life Unknown gives her perspective on life in Ecuador during the pandemic

Ecuador has been one of the hardest hit countries in Latin America from the COVID-19 pandemic. This is due to sub-standard healthcare systems, lack of adequate resources and supplies, and socio-economic factors.

The pandemic impact is evident in Ecuador with business closures, minimal tourist traffic since the pandemic began, and lack of work for lower income households, especially in the rural areas.

Living in Ecuador during this time has further illuminated the innate struggles of developing nations to cope with a widespread health crisis. In Ecuador, where almost 25% of the population live below the poverty line (defined as earning less than $5.50 per day), many people did not obey the initial restrictions. With no welfare, relief funding, or unemployment to assist them, without work there is no food.

We have seen communities rallying around each other to help those who need it most, and also witnessed acts of volunteerism from locals and foreigners in the form of food drives and community donations.

There has been an uptick in Covid cases recently and we’ve yet to see the full impact of the holidays. Most ICU beds are full or near capacity, but vaccine distribution is on the horizon. In January, a limited quantity of vaccines arrived for first line responders. In March two to three million more doses are expected. Mass distribution is tentatively planned for September or October.

Masks and social distancing are mandated at all public places. Most large public areas (grocery stores, banks, malls) do temperature checks, and offer hand sanitizer. Public events remain suspended and shops, restaurants, and bars have capacity limits imposed. Schools remain virtual and a return date has not been determined yet. Beaches are now open, as well as most of the national landmarks and tourist areas.

Currently there are no restrictions on air travel. Flights are operational both in and out of Ecuador. Buses and vehicle transportation are operating normally throughout the country.  During times of the health emergency there were driving restrictions and curfew imposed, however those have since been lifted. Land and sea borders remain closed for foreign travelers.

Thankfully, our day to day has not been greatly impacted. We work from home and live close to conveniences like grocery stores and shopping centers. When the pandemic first swept through in March, there were heavy regulations put in place and we were, for the most part, isolated in our home.

In September we were able to fly home to visit our family in the USA which, looking back on that time now, has proven to be even more of a blessing.

Currently, since many of the restrictions have been lifted, our life has gradually been returning to normal. We have been traveling more, spending time with friends, and getting back into our normal routine.

This past year has given us plenty of time to think and evaluate the life we have created, and further reinforced our desire to live abroad and spend our time doing what we love.

If you want to know more about Clare and Kevin’s life in Ecuador take a look at their You Tube channel.

Michelle and Jason (Expats Ecuador) offer their thoughts on living in Ecuador during the coronavirus pandemic

Ecuador is one of the only countries that has allowed its borders to remain largely open during the coronavirus pandemic. We’re very grateful for Jason being allowed back into Ecuador after he was stuck quarantining in Australia for four and a half months. However, this double-edged sword means that Ecuador is at continued risk of new Covid mutations entering the country.

Ecuador has struggled to adapt to the constantly changing conditions during the pandemic. As citizens, it has been hard to keep up with the changes as they aren’t always well publicized, nor are they applied consistently. The government has introduced a system restricting who can drive according to number plate, but the rules have been applied inconsistently making planning difficult for residents.

Ecuador does not have a strong, financially stable government so is not able to provide the same support that governments from other countries can. Combined with the large proportion of the population that lives hand to mouth, you’ve got a recipe where many people feel they have no choice but to work and accept the potentially devastating consequences of coronavirus.

Our family is lucky because we have two income earners that were working remotely before Covid. We are firmly in the minority and have tried to share our good fortune with others in our immediate circle. The biggest positive to come out of the coronavirus pandemic has been the strengthening of our community ties. Our immediate neighborhood has been fantastic by genuinely supporting each other emotionally and financially.

Michelle works in tourism for a Galapagos-based tour provider. With no customers since March 2020, and no clear indication of when their tours can resume, the company has been forced to scale back their employees. Most other companies reliant on tourism in the Galapagos have done the same. As most of the Galapagos population relies on tourism, the combined effect has been devastating.

School life has taken a lot of adjusting. Kids aren’t allowed to physically go to school but attend virtual lessons. Ecuador doesn’t have a strong technology base so forcing teachers across the country to operate virtually has been difficult. When it was clear that our school could not provide a level of education we were comfortable with, we decided it would be best to home school.

Overall, we feel safe in Ecuador so long as we take full responsibility for our welfare. We live with the knowledge that the Ecuadorian government has limited means to protect us and we plan accordingly.

Inti Raymi (image credit: Ariana Svenson & Apus Peru)
Sarah, from Adventure Travel specialists Apus Peru, has written about Peru’s response to the pandemic from the perspective of a tourism company

Just 10 days after Peru recorded its first case of Covid-19, at 9pm on a Sunday night, then-President Martín Vizcarra announced a complete and total lockdown. The borders closed, travellers were stranded, and soon, everything would be closed except for pharmacies, banks and supermarkets.

We lived under these extreme conditions for the better part of 3 months, but they largely worked to “flatten the curve”. Restrictions were gradually relaxed starting in July, with most things operating again by the end of the year, albeit at a reduced capacity and with strict health and safety measures in place.

Tourism was arguably the hardest-hit industry. To paraphrase one of the government Ministers, the tourism industry is the hardest one to restart because there is no raw material they can supply to get us working again. Our “raw material” is tourists.

Some 80% of Cusco’s population works in tourism, formally or informally. At Apus Peru Adventure Travel Specialists, we had to cancel a year’s worth of departures – right before high season got underway.

One of the weirdest parts was watching our normally bustling city go completely quiet. June is normally a festive month, with colourful processions of costumed dancers nearly every day. It all leads up to the most important festival of the year here, Inti Raymi. This year, the streets and the plaza were silent. No parades, no dances, no celebrations.

We all have high hopes that the second half of 2021 brings a small resurgence of travel, and a version of normalcy, though it looks like we’re in for another quiet June.

Published by grandadventurestory

I’m Debbie. Together with 'MrP' and our 7 and 9 year old boys every day trip and holiday we take is an adventure of sorts. We’re planning a family sabbatical, our Grand Adventure, but in the meantime we love exploring closer to home

12 thoughts on “Coronavirus Pandemic: Life in Latin America

  1. This absolutely amazing Debbie and so interesting to read about your experience and everyone who contributed in this article. Wish you all the very best for 2021 and fingers crossed 🤞 things gets better every day. Thank you for sharing Debbie. 😍

  2. What an interesting collab! It’s so interesting how different areas of the world have been dealing with this situation. I see things from back at home in the US and the stark contrast to how things are being dealt with here in Romania, it’s cool to see how life is in LATAM as well. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I got stuck in Peru’s Sacred Valley when the borders closed. I was able to fly out on November 13th after almost 8 months in one of the world’s most strictest lock-downs. Seriously, it was one of the most life changing experiences that ever happened to me. It was interesting to see how fellow expats in the Latin America were affected. Thanks for sharing yours and everyone’s story.

  4. Fascinating article – very interesting to hear about the real world experiences of people around the world facing this. My husband’s family in Cuba has had quite the time with it, especially as the country also decided to implement monetary reform right in the middle of the pandemic. Hopefully things look up for us all soon 🙂 thanks again for sharing!

  5. Great collab post! We had to cancel our long term travel last year as well and have been following a couple of travellers on social media that were able to / have decided to continue despite the situation. It´s always interesting to hear how things are from their point of view, I enjoyed reading this!

  6. It’s great to hear how people in other countries are dealing with this pandemic. In Malaysia, borders have been closed since March last year, and we are currently under total lockdown where nobody is allowed to travel beyond a 10km radius from their homes.

  7. Fascinating read. It’s interesting that we don’t get this type of coverage on news. It’s so much more relatable when you hear people’s stories than when people are reported as statistical units. Loved reading this.

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