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Your guide to picking the perfect Zika-free winter travel destination

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.

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Better Safe Than Sorry
In-line slideshow for Where to Hide Out from Zika: Better Safe than Sorry
By Maggie Fuller, AFAR Staff
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    Canary Islands
    Tenerife in the Canary Islands has become one of the most popular babymoon destinations. It is the largest and most populated of the islands and is crowned by a spectacular dormant volcano. You won’t find the Aedes aegypti mosquito on any of the Canary Islands, but you just might feel like you’ve found a little of the Caribbean in Europe.

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    Sicily’s climate may not be defined as tropical, but maybe that’s why it’s still a safe destination. The weather may be slightly milder than it would be on other, more southern islands at this time of year, but with that classic Italian charm, stretches of pristine beaches, and all the pasta you can eat? It just might be the best babymoon ever.

    Photo by gnuckx/Flickr
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    Beaches? Check. Great weather? Check. Out-of-this-world beauty? Check. Zika? Nowhere in sight. While the same mosquitoes that transmit Zika do live on Seychelles, the virus hasn’t made it to the shores of the tiny island. Seychelles has seen outbreaks of dengue and chikungunya, which are carried by the same mosquitoes, so the island was well prepared when Zika started to spread. In fact, the government has been so vigilant about keeping any possibility of the virus out, that it went so far as to postpone an anticipated concert with a Jamaican reggae and dancehall artist Beenie Man when he announced that he’d contracted the virus.

    Photo by Didier Baertschiger/Flickr
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    Known for its luxurious tastes and sky-high nightlife, the beaches and beach resorts of Dubai are also some kind of wonderful. The area’s risk of transmission is and has remained low, so you can spend your days lounging in the sand and your evenings toasting (with a mocktail if you’re on a babymoon!) to the glittering skyline without a thought to Zika. 

    Photo by Dr. Norbert Heidenbluth/Flickr
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    There was some fear over the summer that Zika would spread to Europe, but Cyprus is another one of those islands where the aedes aegypti mosquito is just not found. But what you can find in Cyprus is year-round sun, old-world charm, enchanting ruins, and more scenic beaches than you could count.

    Photo by Evgeniy Isaev/Flickr

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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.

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Cautious but Undeterred
In-line slideshow for Where to Hide Out from Zika: Cautious But Undeterred
By Maggie Fuller, AFAR Staff
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    Taiwan might be close to the front lines of the growing Zika concern in Southeast Asia, but the government is working tirelessly to keep the virus out. As of November 2017, the country has only seen 17 cases of Zika, and they were all imported by travelers. But the real reason you’re heading to Taiwan is for the incredible gastronomy and mind-blowingly beautiful beaches—trust us.

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    South Africa
    Sure, a number of countries in Africa have endemic Zika, but South Africa isn’t one of them. What you will catch in South Africa are some serious summer vibes. Kick back for a sundowner by the water in Cape Town, visit the penguins on Boulders Beach, and enjoy the good life. 

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    Keep that Mediterranean summer going as long as possible. While the threat of Zika infection has hovered around the region, governments have been vigilant about screening and keeping the area Zika-free. The only cases of Zika that Mallorca has seen have been brought in by travelers, and the island still hasn’t seen any local transmission. But with so many historic cathedrals and alluring rocky beaches to explore, you won’t have time to give the virus a single thought.

    Photo by Kyle Taylor/Flickr
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    Despite the country’s impressive size and booming tourism industry, Australia has kept Zika out of its borders. Without those pesky mosquitoes to worry about, the only question is, which beach should you head to? You really can’t go wrong, but if you want white-sand beaches, clear blue water, and Great Barrier Reef action, head to the Whitsundays in Queensland, where you can sail, snorkel, and lounge to your heart’s content.

    Photo by Stef2230/Flickr

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.

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It’s Worth the Risk
In-line slideshow for Where to Hide Out from Zika: It’s Worth the Risk
By Maggie Fuller, AFAR Staff
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    If you look at a map of Zika in South America, there are only two countries that are safe: Uruguay and Chile. Maybe it’s something about the country’s varied climate, or maybe the altitude of the Andes creates a barrier, but the Zika-carrying aedes aegypti doesn’t live in Chile. If you’re set on a South American adventure, you’re in luck because Chile has a little bit of everything, from the other-worldly landscape of the Atacama Desert to the shores of the Pacific. Viña del Mar is a popular Chilean beach destination near the country's cultural capital, Valparaíso, and there are plenty of quieter beach towns along the coast just waiting to be explored. Just don’t add Easter Island to your list—there is a travel warning posted for that island cluster.

    Photo by Carlos Varela/Flickr
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    Bermuda is the only major island in the Caribbean that remains Zika-free. Somehow, as the rest of the region was taken over by the virus, the country still hasn’t seen a single Zika-carrying mosquito. So if you insist on having that Caribbean experience without the travel warning, one of the most iconic Caribbean experiences of all—the pink sand beaches and turquoise waters of Bermuda—is calling.

    Photo by Johnny Peacock/Flickr

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    Cook Islands (New Zealand)
    Another destination that has somehow remained untouched in a hotbed of Zika activity, New Zealand’s neighboring islands, the Cook Islands, actually had their travel warning removed in early 2016. The islands saw isolated cases of Zika between 2007 and 2014, but have had none since, and don’t currently require extra caution. Best of all, the mix of the best of New Zealand’s famous rugged scenery and pearly beaches makes these quiet islands a true paradise. 

    Photo by Daniel Pietzsch/Flickr
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    It may seem mad heading straight for the source, as some of the first human infections of Zika were in Tanzania, but at this point, the virus is endemic to the area and extremely rare. Even according the the CDC, Zika is not considered a travel concern in Tanzania. And while you may immediately think “safari” when you think of Tanzania (and we wouldn’t blame you), the beaches will actually blow you away.

    Photo by Maurice Koop/Flickr
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    OK, so it’s not a beach, but if you really refuse to skip Mexico (despite the travel warning) and you still want to avoid Zika, skip the beaches and head for the hills, literally. The disease’s carrier mosquitoes don’t live above 6,500 feet above sea level. So most places in Mexico’s charming UNESCO-cited central mountainous region, including San Miguel de Allende, are safe. And you can still drink all the tequila you want.

    Photo by Waywuwei/Flickr

No matter where you go, be sure to check out these Expert Tips for Minimizing Your Zika Risk