Today: My experience traveling to Greece during the COVID19 pandemic
Last month, I traveled to the stunningly beautiful Greek islands of Santorini, Ios, and Mykonos for a long summer holiday with my family. I’ll soon upload my reviews & YouTube videos of the fabulous hotels I stayed at, and I’ll also publish some extra videos of thrilling activities as well (e.g. helicopter flight over Santorini’s caldera, kitesurfing in Mykonons, etc …). In this blogpost, I want to share my personal experience of traveling to Greece during the ongoing COVID pandemic (the good, the bad, and the downright ugly). So, if you’re planning a trip to Greece, here’s what you’ll need to know and expect.
First some information and context: I am fully vaccinated since March (Pfizer). I also remain very prudent in my daily social interactions at work and in my private life, mainly because I want to protect the health of potentially vulnerable people in my direct environment and also because I got COVID myself last January. Also, the delta variant of the virus (first identified in India) is spreading rapidly across the world, and this is also the case in Greece. Shortly before my departure last month, the number of COVID cases in Greece was growing exponentially, especially on the island of Mykonos, where the 7 day infection rate rose to a staggering 3500 infections per 100,000 inhabitants (equivalent of around 50 new cases of COVID per day on the island). Unfortunately, Greece’s coronavirus surge is getting worse by the day, and it just hit a new record this week with 4181 new cases in one day.
In this article:
- Documentation needed for travel to Greece
- My flight to Greece (with Lufthansa)
- Hotel stays within Greece
- Mini-lockdown in Mykonos
- Island hopping in Greece
1. DOCUMENTION NEEDED PRIOR TO TRAVEL TO GREECE
If you are a citizen of one of the following countries, you are allowed to travel to Greece: European Union and Schengen Area countries, USA, UK, Albania, Australia, Bahrain, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, China, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Lebanon, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Qatar, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Singapore, Montenegro, Russia, South Korea, Thailand, UAE, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Jordan, Moldova, and Brunei.
For travelers from most of these countries, quarantine in Greece can be skipped on condition of a negative COVID PCR test within 72 hours before travel, infection within the past 2-9 months, or full vaccination, completed at least 14 days earlier. Acceptable vaccines are Pfizer BioNtech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Novovax, Johnson + Johnson, Sinovac, Sputnik, Cansino and Sinopharm. This is in deviation from official EU policy, which is to only admit those who have received EU-approved vaccines.
Al travelers must complete a Passenger Locator Form (PLF) prior to departure. This includes details of where you have been and the address you plan to stay at in Greece. Each PLF includes a unique QR code which will be scanned upon arrival at the Greek border. The QR code will tell you whether you need to have an additional test done at the airport. If you do, you must self-isolate until you have the results — around 24 hours. Quarantine hotels are ready to accommodate those who test positive during this process.
2. MY FLIGHT TO GREECE (WITH LUFTHANSA)
Germany has weathered the COVID storm better than many countries in Europe, which can be contributed in part to the population’s disciplinary behavior. Germans are famous for their discipline and punctuality, and so is its flag carrier, Lufthansa. I was expecting a zero COVID tolerance policy from Lufthansa (a reassuring thought), but that turned out not to be the case.
The ground experience seemed to follow all the strict COVID protocols, reflecting the new normal in the world of travel. For example, access to the Lufthansa lounge was only possible when downloading a German app or completing a document for contact tracing. In addition, passengers had to present one of the following: a negative Corona test (max. 24h old), proof of vaccination against COVID or proof of recovery. While this might be too much hassle and fuss for some, it is deemed safe by experts and probably also one of the reasons why Germany is still doing great during the most recent surge of the pandemic (it currently has one of the lowest COVID rates in Europe, despite rising cases in almost any other nation on the continent).
However, things were different in the air. Part of it was not the responsibility of Lufthansa, as the passengers on this flight turned out to be in a non-COVID state of mind (which might be explained by Mykonos’ reputation as a party island, attracting a crowd that’s presumably not scared of the pandemic and also doesn’t follow the rules to mitigate the spread of infection). For example, my seat mate unmasked right after takeoff and took a nap, face away from the aisle as to partly hide his mask-less face from the cabin crew. Even worse, several passengers kept walking up and down the aisle, and chatted with friends or relatives in other seats, all while not putting their face masks on. To my own disappointment, the Lufthansa cabin crew did not intervene nor did they instruct passengers to wear their masks properly (I guess they were overwhelmed by so many passengers not complying with the onboard mask policy that they gave up). It was a huge contrast with my experience on the return flight to Paris with Transavia, where the cabin crew was constantly monitoring passengers to make sure they wore their face masks properly (those who didn’t comply were confronted immediately).
Some may think that my worries are baseless. However, as a doctor, I believe in science, not in anti-science propaganda. And the facts are clear: face masks can help limit the spread of COVID and vaccination will protect you against severe disease. But vaccinated people can still transmit the virus to someone who does not have the vaccine and/or whose health is compromised (or has a previous existing condition). Therefore, not wearing a face mask on a plane is an incredibly selfish act as you put the health of others (including your own loved ones) at risk, even when you are fully vaccinated.
3. MY HOTEL EXPERIENCES WITHIN GREECE
I stayed at 7 different hotels during my trip (I’ll soon upload my reviews + YouTube videos):
- 4 hotels in Mykonos: Aeonic Suites, Myconian Imperial, Kalesma, and Bill & Coo Coast Suites
- 2 hotels in Santorini: Cavo Tagoo Santorini and Andronis Arcadia
- 1 hotel in Ios: Calilo (PHENOMENAL hotel property)
Calilo – one of Greece’s top hotels – was the only resort where I felt completely safe from a COVID perspective as it was clear that both the hotel management and staff took the pandemic – and the health of their guests – seriously. Calilo had implemented several measures: tables were located at a safe distance in the restaurant, hand sanitizers were available everywhere, body temperatures were checked upon arrival, all hotel staff wore their face masks properly at all times, waiters at the breakfast buffet served guests, etc …
Things were different though at all the other hotels I stayed at, with one thing they all had in common: the staff not wearing their face masks properly (most of the time only covering their chin). I couldn’t help but wonder why Asian people are so disciplined when it comes to wearing face masks while in Europe so many refuse to (or don’t know how to) wear their face masks correctly. At the start of my holiday, I was annoyed every time I observed someone not wearing their face mask properly (especially given the skyrocketing number of COVID cases in Mykonos at the time). However, after a few days, I gave up and accepted the fact that when you travel, there’s only little you can do if other people don’t follow the proper COVID guidelines, hereby causing a potential risk to your own health. Of course, there were some reassuring thoughts: I am fully vaccinated, the good weather allowed outdoor living, and I did not visit the island’s party scene (where most of the infections seemed to take place).
Because of COVID, most hotels replaced their breakfast buffets by menus, although some hotels choose to keep their all-you-can-eat breakfast feasts. Of course, there were restrictions in place: hand sanitizer was provided and guests were required to wear masks when standing to collect food. However, there was one hotel where I felt that the breakfast buffet was lacking some COVID safety standards: Myconian Imperial (Mykonos). The breakfast was beautifully displayed (one of the best breakfast buffets in Greece) but it was overcrowded with guests, most of them walking around the buffet stations without masks. I shared my feedback with the restaurant manager, who assured me that all safety protocols were followed. Also, according to government reports, the hotel has had zero reported COVID cases, so apparently they are doing fine. Nevertheless, as a guest, I felt that the resort could have avoided this uncomfortable situation by either offering an a la carte menu instead of buffet, by introducing a reservation system for breakfast, or by enforcing a mask and glove policy.
4. MINI-LOCKDOWN IN MYKONOS
Known as the party island of the rich and famous, Mykonos is one of Greece’s most popular destinations, attracting more than a million visitors each summer, among them Hollywood stars, models and athletes. However, following a worrying local COVID outbreak at the start of my visit, authorities in Greece implemented a mini-lockdown: music on the island was banned around the clock, including in shops, cafes and beach bars. And there was a curfew between 1 am to 6 am except for those going to and from work or to hospital. Apparently, 14 days later (in the last week of my holiday), the situation improved and authorities lifted the restrictions. According to media, the surge in COVID cases in Mykonos was to blame on parties that took place in private villas and luxury yachts with no strict control by the authorities .
Currently, Mykonos remains under constant surveillance by authorities and new measures are not ruled out if entertainment continuous as before, regulations are not observed, or a new increase of infections is recorded. But Mykonos is not the only Greek island that is experiencing coronavirus outbreaks. For example, the island of Paros, also in the Cyclades group, is under increased surveillance as well, however, there is a different model of applied “restrictions”: intensive control checks in facilities where crowding phenomena are being observed.
For a weekly update of the COVID situation in Greece, click here.
5. ISLAND HOPPING
The Health Statement Form is completed by adult passengers for their ferry trip within 24 hours before each ferry trip. If your itinerary includes more than one ferry crossings, you need to fill out the form for each ferry trip, entering the relevant details. You can either print your statement or save it on your mobile device.
Your proof of negative COVID test for ferry travel within Greece can be any of the following:
- Full vaccination certificate (valid as long as 14 days have passed since full vaccination)
- Official confirmation of COVID infection issued 30 days after the first positive test (valid for 180 days after the first positive test)
- Negative result of PCR test carried out up to 72 hours before departure
- Negative result of rapid test carried out up to 48 hours before departure
- Negative result of a COVID self-test carried out up to 24 hours before departure, only valid for passengers 12-17 years old (the result is declared either in writing on the printed version of the self-test result declaration form or through the self-test result declaration platform for Greek citizens, as well as on the Health Statement Form)
So, if you are not (fully) vaccinated yet, you should reconsider your plan to island hop within Greece, as you will need to perform a new COVID test every time you plan to travel by ferry.
There are a few exceptions:
- When you travel from the islands to Greece’s mainland, a negative result of a COVID self-test carried out up to 24 hours before departure is also valid for all adults.
- When you travel by ferry in Greece between islands of different administrative regions (e.g. from Crete to Santorini), you don’t need to fill out the Health Declaration Form.
- When you travel by ferry in Greece between islands of the same administrative regions (e.g. from Santorini to Mykonos), you don’t need to fill out the Health Declaration Form, and a negative result of a COVID self-test carried out up to 24 hours before departure is also valid for all adults.
Ferry travel measures within Greece are subject to change depending on the COVID situation per region (click here for a good website that is providing up-to-date information). Make sure you arrive at the port at least 1.5 hours before departure and have all necessary documents readily available for checks.