The Rockhouse Hotel in Jamaica is the most recommended property on this list.
Photo: Lin and Jirsa Photography
As travel restrictions lift and vaccination rates rise, many people are starting to get the itch to take a proper vacation. But COVID has not disappeared, nor will it any time soon, which means most folks are looking to travel as safely as possible. Board-certified physician Dr. Stacy De-Lin, a family-medicine specialist based in New York City, reminds us that “the best way to travel safely is to get vaccinated.” Still, even those who are vaccinated might understandably want to take more precautions. Renting a private home, of course, is a great way to get away while minimizing the number of people you may see — but, as De-Lin notes, many hotels have also taken measures to be just as safe. “COVID is mainly transmitted in indoor areas with poor ventilation, and many hotels have done a great job of providing services that eliminate the need to stand in crowded spaces,” she explains. Services she says to look for include “digital-key entry as well as contactless check-in, check-out, and payment options.” If you’re checking in to a hotel, De-Lin says that other ways to minimize your exposure to COVID (or any other viruses) include “choosing a first-floor room to avoid the use of elevators” and “opting for room service, picking up local takeout, packing food with you, or choosing outdoor dining when it’s available.”
While countless hotels promise some version of these safety measures, we at the Strategist wanted to dig a little deeper to find ones that go above and beyond to make guests feel secure — and, more importantly, have fun on their vacations. So, like we do when we want to find the best gifts or products for working from home, we polled some of the most interesting (and responsible) travelers we know about hotels they went to over the last year that took precautions to make them feel safe enough to fully enjoy the experience. Our thinking is that if people felt secure at a hotel in the worst of times, that hotel probably has a solid handle on safety precautions now, even if some may have changed as COVID restrictions have loosened. Below, some 17 cool people share the 17 COVID-safe hotels they’d recommend (based on their stays) in the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean, which we’ve organized by location. Where applicable, each section begins with any hotels that came up more than once — like the cliffside Jamaican retreat we heard about from three different people — and if you know the region you want to travel to, simply click on the links in the previous sentence to jump straight to those hotels. In terms of cost, they range from a no-frills desert inn in California where rooms start at $135 per night to a swanky (several-thousand-dollar-a-night) Wyoming ranch that would most definitely be a splurge — but, on average, the hotels on this list cost between $300 and $500 a night. Again: The folks we talked to visited these hotels at different times over the last year, so if you want to confirm a specific precaution mentioned is still in place, we’d suggest contacting a hotel directly before you make any bookings.
Lawyer and content creator Thema Emanuel took a trip to this hotel in Amagansett, New York, for a mini-honeymoon in October of 2020, right after she eloped. “I recommend this place to everyone,” she says. “Compared to a chain hotel I stayed at, the staff took COVID precautions so much more seriously.” Two of those precautions, she told us, are the option for contactless check-in and check-out. It has ten rooms and five cottages available to book, and those who’d prefer to spend more time outdoors than in will find what Emanuel calls an “expansive” lawn on the property with “plenty of chairs and tables spread out.” (When she was there, Emanuel says she “almost never saw anybody else on the property.”) She adds that during her stay, each room had an Airthereal HEPA medical-grade air purifier. On top of all that, Emanuel says it was the “most dog-friendly” hotel she has ever been to. The hotel provided her pup with a bed, water bowl, welcome treat, and a towel.
Another COVID-safe option on the eastern end of Long Island is the 96-room Marram in Montauk. According to Jillian Shatken, the founder of fashion label Saylor, the hotel had “thoughtful but nicely subtle” precautions in place during her stay, including hand-sanitizer stations and signage recommending guests to wear masks in its completely open-air common spaces — another feature she says cautious travelers will appreciate. “There are also no shared hallways or indoor spaces that you need to navigate in order to get to your room,” Shatken says. “I highly recommend the hotel to anyone who wants to err on the side of caution.”
Before she even arrived on its grounds in Connecticut’s Litchfield County, interior designer Ariel Okin says she was “already so impressed” by the precautions the staff at the 35-room Auberge Mayflower Inn and Spa took to prepare for her visit. “They sent multiple emails leading up to our stay, explaining new measures they took,” she told us, adding that “the concierge personally reached out to us over email and asked if we have any particular preferences.” She says that, when she stayed there, the hotel set up lots of outdoor activities on its 58-acre grounds, including guided nature walks and picnics. The safety measures even extended to its (20,000-square-foot) spa, where Okin says staff “added state-of-the-art HEPA filters, enforced mask protocols for all spa practitioners, and even did some treatments outside.”
Asia Milia, a junior writer at the Cut, says Brooklyn’s William Vale, in Williamsburg, was her “go-to hotel” for staycations during the pandemic. “The staff made me feel extra comfortable during all my stays,” Milia says, “by being super aware and helpful about protecting both themselves and guests.” Precautions she experienced at the 183-room hotel include a texting system for guests to make requests from the front desk and contactless deliveries to all rooms. Because it’s in New York City — where expansive outdoor space is harder to come by — Milia says the hotel was extra careful about how guests shared common spaces: It required pool and gym reservations so staff could control the number of guests in each place. “If you were too close to another guest in the pool, the lifeguard would flag that you need to remain socially distant,” she told us. “So it wasn’t an uncomfortable situation where you had to ask someone to move.” On her stays, the hotel also only allowed two people in the gym at once. “My guest and I had the entire gym to ourselves and didn’t have to worry about being in anyone else’s space while we worked out,” she says.
Also upstate but slightly closer to the city is the Maker, an 11-room, three-building hotel that opened in the heart of Hudson in August 2020. Strategist contributor Elizabeth DuBois took a trip by Amtrak there in February 2021 and says that the rooms are “gorgeous and huge.” DuBois stayed in “the Artist” room, which she says has a working fireplace and a cozy reading nook. When she was there, “housekeeping was optional, but they made sure you weren’t in the room and would come when it was convenient for you,” DuBois says. “Room service also wouldn’t come into your room if that was outside your comfort level.” Its common spaces — while not open-air — are plenty spacious and include a restaurant, bar, library, and café. On her visit, DuBois says the library and café were often unoccupied, which made her feel “like I had the place to myself.” The hotel also has a pool for summer guests (though it was closed when DuBois was there) and a “beautiful, sparkling” gym next door where she says you can conveniently schedule Pilates, stretching, or personal-training sessions.
Samantha Leal, a managing editor at Well+Good, told us that she “used to travel a lot for work.” Even so, she admits that returning to the normalcy of “airports and crowds is a bit daunting.” Leal says her stay at the 790-room Loews Miami Beach Hotel helped ease her back into a travel routine, thanks to the precautions staff took to make guests feel safe when she was there. “Staff members not only wore masks diligently,” she told us, “but there was a ton of room on the beach to spread out, and I could text any requests or questions I had — from what time the pool opened to ordering room service to where to have lunch outside at a distance from others — straight to their text line.” Leal adds that the Loews would be a good choice for anyone who might need to work a bit after checking in: Via the texting service, she was told “exactly where to go so I could have Zoom calls without a mask (away from people and in AC).”
Fude founder Charli Max was initially drawn to the 52-room Kayak for its décor, pool, and attached Mediterranean restaurant. But she told us her first priority was “physical and mental clarity, so finding a place that took the necessary precautions to protect guests’ health was very important to me.” The Kayak, she says, did exactly that. Max told us the “fully masked” staff were “very vigilant” about taking guests’ temperatures each time they entered the hotel. “The restaurant had outdoor seating, and if I ordered room service, they were very thoughtful about leaving the food outside the room,” she adds. Plus, “every common space had social-distancing measures in place” during her stay.
Devin McGhee, the founder of beauty brand Deon Libra, told us that she has “a weak immune system, so I was really scared to travel during COVID.” McGhee ultimately bit the bullet and made reservations at the Perry Hotel, a 100-room property in Key West, for her fiancé’s birthday. “From the moment we walked in, you could tell the staff was on top of everything,” she says. “They all wore masks, there was hand sanitizer everywhere, and the hotel sits right on a marina, so its restaurant has plenty of outdoor seating and we were able to hang out by the water, which I appreciated.” McGhee adds that she brought her own wellness shots and teas for the trip, and the restaurant staff was “incredibly accommodating” with her personal supplies.
Nina Cheng, the founder of accessories brand Wild and Woolly, heard about McMenamins while staying at an Airbnb on a small farm outside Portland, Oregon. She says that Airbnb’s owners “are a very cool family with immaculate taste; when I asked them for their top recommendations to stay in Oregon, McMenamins led the list.” The hotel has several locations throughout the state, but Cheng opted for its 60-room property in Bend, which she says “has an incredibly cozy outdoor bar-restaurant” as well as “a gorgeous Turkish bath and a small movie theater.” When she visited, the hotel implemented a 12-person capacity in the Turkish bath — which was only open to hotel guests — and required six feet of distance between anyone using it. “They also set a 50-percent capacity in indoor spaces, including the theater,” Cheng adds, noting that the property had “lots of outdoor seating with many fire pits.”
“My favorite hotel in the world” is how Strategist contributor and novelist Ivy Pochoda describes the 29 Palms Inn, which, the way she tells it, she only grew to love more after a stay during the pandemic. The property has 23 cabins and bungalows to book, and when the second lockdown went into effect in Los Angeles, she “knew that those cabins and the desert’s fresh air would put my COVID fears to rest.” Pochoda admits “it’s not the fanciest or the most luxurious” hotel, but describes the property as “an oasis” with “towering palms swaying over a basic but totally comfortable pool and a menu that is never fussy, never pretentious, and always fresh.” During her stay, she says “the Inn’s staff went above and beyond in assuring safety for their guests.” Its restaurant was closed for dining while she was there, but still provided grab-and-go dinners with an “abundance of produce from its own Faultline Farm,” Pochoda says. “Everything was arranged to minimize contact, but in a way that did not dampen the spirit of escape and adventure that a trip to the desert summons.” Since she visited in the height of the pandemic, Pochoda notes the hotel has “reopened parts slowly, always putting the safety of its staff and guests first.”
“If beaches aren’t your thing,” Anna Z. Gray, the founder of Club Vintage and writer of the newsletter Things I Would Buy If I Didn’t Have to Pay Rent, suggests experiencing the outdoors a different way beneath “the big skies of Wyoming” at the Bush Creek Ranch. When she visited the 33-unit hotel, which includes individual cabins and regular rooms, she said “the large dining hall and cabins-as-rooms made social distancing very easy,” as did all the opportunities to “be outside in nature.” She assures you do not need to be a veteran camper or hiker to appreciate the hotel, describing it as an ideal location for folks who want to spend more time outside but “need a little help in the outdoor department.” Bush Creek Ranch offers activities from horseback riding to fly fishing to skeet shooting to hikes of various difficulty, all of which Gray says make for “a really fun, exhausting-in-a-good-way holiday.”
“Very safe” are two words that Jeniece Trizzino, the vice-president of innovation at beauty brands Scentbird, Deck of Scarlet, Goodhabit, and Confessions of a Rebel, used to describe this hotel she stayed at in Tulum, Mexico. The accommodations consist of 30 individual suites, each of which are spread apart and have their own small pool and outdoor area surrounded by a fence, making it easy to avoid contact with other guests if you want to. “We communicated with the hotel staff via WhatsApp for anything we needed, including room service, taxis, workouts, and COVID tests, which they offered every morning for just $35,” she adds. The hotel’s dining is exclusively outdoors, according to Trizzino, who says that the staff all wore masks. “It was clear the hotel took a lot of precautions to make sure all the guests were safe” when she stayed there, Trizzino concludes.
Look Optic co-founder Jonny Saven visited this 198-room hotel in San Jose del Cabo for his first trip since the Before Times. “I was very impressed with all the steps taken by the hotel to ensure a safe and thoughtful environment,” he says. “The fact that all the common areas — including restaurants, check-in, and the lobby — are basically outdoors makes a huge difference.” Other measures that kept his mind at ease during his stay included a constant supply of hand sanitizer at the elevators and twice-daily room cleanings by staff, he adds.
“An unexpected, middle-of-nowhere-feeling hotel that had a reputation with Southern California surfers in the 1960s and 1970s” is the way Elise McMahon, the founder of design studio Like Minded Objects, describes La Fonda, a 36-room property in Baja California, Mexico. While she only checked in for one night, she says the coastal hotel has an indoor-outdoor setup that allows plenty of circulation thanks to a large outdoor deck overlooking the ocean and plenty of open doors and windows to let the breeze in. “It also has a big dining hall with enough space between tables for diners,” according to McMahon, who adds there were “plenty of hand-sanitizer stations” set up when she was there.
Three of the people we spoke to for this story visited the 40-room Rockhouse Hotel in Negril over the past year, and each says they were impressed with the measures taken to make them feel safe. One of those people is Santiago Rodriguez Tarditi, a co-editor of High on Design: The New Cannabis Culture, who told us about a laundry list of mind-settling qualities: “Plenty of open space, private docks, surrounded by nature, staff is very cautious, sanitizer everywhere, and a WhatsApp concierge.” (Tarditi adds the hotel’s food offerings include “good vegan options,” too.) Strategist contributor Siraad Dirshe also went on vacation there and noted how convenient the WhatsApp concierge was during her stay. The third person who visited the Rockhouse Hotel is Strategist contributor Gabriella Fuller, who traveled there with her sister and says the hotel offered contactless, pre-arrival check-in and put seals on the rooms’ doors to alert guests they had been sanitized. Fuller adds that most “everything is outdoors — and on cliffs, which makes you feel even more distanced and safer.” When she was there, even the “lounge chairs by the sea were spaced out in pairs on their own rock outcroppings a good 15 to 20 feet from each other.” (The nicer rooms, Fuller adds, “have their own private outdoor spaces.”) Since she visited, the hotel has started working with a local clinic that sends staff to it a couple times a week to provide COVID tests to guests.
“Privacy is paramount” at this indoor-outdoor hotel, according to Gray, who calls it “a lovely and chic sanctuary that hits all of the right notes.” Its nine “beautiful and spacious” rooms are all individual bungalows with verandas, giving guests plenty of space (and distance) and allowing them to “really relax into nature,” she says. “Great for the COVID cautious because you actually don’t have to interact with strangers at all.” Those comfortable with stepping out will find a “grass-lined pool and beachfront access,” Gray adds.
Max checked into this 78-room hotel in Saint Lucia for her friend’s pandemic wedding and calls it “one of the most extraordinary places I’ve ever stayed.” Each room in the hotel is a standalone bungalow with its own private plunge pool, so “you don’t have to go through any indoor or shared spaces to get to your room, and you can do everything from it: call a taxi, get to the restaurant, or go to the beach — which is right outside your front door,” she explains. When she was there, the hotel scheduled rapid COVID tests for guests upon arrival and before departure. “Another thing I adored about Sugar Beach was that I felt completely immersed in nature the whole time,” Max says. “I felt protected by the hotel’s precautions and was able to totally lose myself in the gorgeous natural world around me.” In addition to its COVID precautions, Max says the property’s restaurants were “really accommodating” to her dietary needs.
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