MEXICO— What to do when winter hits your country and COVID pandemic restrictions forces you to stay home? The right answer should be stay home, but thousands of U.S. and Canadian tourists flocked to Mexico’s nudist beach of Zipolite to leave something more than their dollars behind.

Zipolite, on the Pacific coast, has along with Tulum and Cancun become one of the most popular tourist destinations even though Mexico has now the third highest COVID mortality rate in the world.

During the first days of 2021, Zipolite welcomed thousands of foreign tourists looking to escape strict pandemic measures in their countries.

“We were just dealing with too much. Lockdown affected us a lot, and specially my daughter because we live in a small apartment, with no possibilities of going out somewhere. I feel we really needed to go out,” said George Barrera, a 35-year-old Texan who traveled with his family to Zipolite during the last days of January.

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Zipolite sits in the San Pedro Pochutla municipality in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.

Around 20 flights arrive at Oaxaca Xoxocotlan International Airport every day, many loaded with tourists looking for the famous nudist beaches in Zipolite.

Although the annual nudist festival got canceled to comply with Mexico’s COVID restrictions, tourists still enjoyed the lovely beaches, open restaurants, and a booming nightlife, something not common in most part of the world today.

“We came to get away from all the coronavirus noise in the US. We are tired of being home, and because of COVID this is one of the few places we can travel to right now”, said Brian Mercado, a 32-year-old tourist from California.

Jane Cusak, 40, from Toronto, Canada, said she traveled with her dog expecting some restrictions on her arrival in Zipolite, but was surprised how relaxed it was.

“I was planning for Tulum, but read online that it’s now packed of tourists so I decided Zipolite, looking to get away from the city and enjoy a tranquil beach, not too crowded. I really was amazed at how relaxed the pandemic measures are down here”, she said.

According to Lane during her whole trip from Canada to Zipolite she encountered no restrictions other than the use of a face mask, although on her way back she had to test for COVID before boarding.

“There is a testing spot at Zipolite, near the touristic area where you can go and get tested for something around 50 dollars”, she said.

Business owners welcomed tourists with a bittersweet taste. For most of them the flock of tourists over Zipolite during the holidays saved them from going broke, but at the same time they brought the possibility of a COVID breakout.

“I decided to stay open because the economy is an essential part of our lives and we can’t keep living with our business closed”, said Fernando Coronado, owner of Zipolite’s Hotel Noga.

The good news? Coronado’s hotel surpassed last year’s occupation, with more than 80 percent of the rooms sold during January. The bad news? He and his wife got infected.

“My wife got infected first, and then me, although only she tested. We came out good and to my point of view, it wouldn’t make sense to close now. We will not get infected again”, he said.

During the last days of January, Oaxaca reached an all-time high record of infections with more than 22,000 cases in a single day, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering (JHU CSSE).

But in Mexico rules are hard to follow, even for the same authorities in charge of making them.

Mexico’s deputy health minister, Hugo Lopez-Gatell, spent New Year’s Eve in Zipolite and faced heavy criticism after a photo was leaked where he was seen gathering at the beach with several people with no face masks on.

For John M. Williams, a Texan who retired in Zipolite 10 years ago, January was hell in paradise.

“I’m diabetic and I’m 68 years old. I’ve been very worried about my health since none of the tourists are using face masks. They are being very disrespectful”, he said.

Williams said he acknowledges Zipolite would not exist without tourism, “but at the same time I live here, they don’t. They can leave and I’m left nervous and anxious”.

But Coronado is hopeful Zipolite will get through.

“It might sound weird but here at Zipolite we carry a very relaxed and spiritual lifestyle and we are sure we will not get infected anymore. For some reason we don’t get sick”, he said.

The same thoughts are shared by San Pedro Pochutla’s mayor, Saymi Pineda, according to a recent Facebook publication.

“If you still doubt on how safe Zipolite is during the pandemic, let me tell you, you have nothing to worry about, our beach is such a safe place that our deputy health minister, Hugo Lopez-Gatell Ramirez enjoyed it,” stated the publication shared by Pineda.

Zipolite or “the new Tulum” as some call it, is a sunny Mexican paradise worth waiting for, to enjoy naked and maskless once things finally get better.

As Coronado puts it: “Zipolite will be here forever, the virus won’t.”

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