As summer is approaching and travel is starting to open up in more places, you may be thinking about where to take a summer vacation. Similar to last year, exploring the outdoors is sure to be a popular option this summer since there may still be some restrictions on indoor activities.
While not all destinations will be open for American tourists in 2021, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best international locations to enjoy the outdoors that are currently open (or plan to be open) for travel this summer.
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Note: Entry requirements vary by destination. For the latest details, visit travel.state.gov
Greece was one of the first European nations to open for travelers from the U.S. and the announcement sent several travelers to book flights to the Mediterranean nation. This prompted airlines to add new routes to the capital in Athens. From Athens, there are several Greek Islands to explore and the outdoor-friendly vibe of Greek culture makes it an especially alluring destination this summer.
Best Islands in Greece
Santorini – best for couples and luxury
Mykonos – best for pools and beaches
Crete – largest island, best for food and hiking
Rhodes – best for history
Kos – best for biking
This is just a handful of the many Greek Islands you can explore this summer. It’s estimated that there are between 1,000 – 6,000 islands in Greece depending on minimum size, with around 200 inhabited islands. If you’re looking for nice weather with an old-world feel and some delicious cuisine, consider a trip to Greece this summer.
Flights to Greece
There are several ways to fly to Greece using points and miles. One of our favorites is flying on Emirates’ fifth freedom route from Newark to Athens. Round-trip saver awards start from 90,000 miles per person in Business Class. And standard rates aren’t too bad either at 62,500 miles each way. Since points can be transferred from all major credit card currencies, it may be worthwhile to position to the New York area for these flights.
Otherwise, you’ll find the most options flying Star Alliance carriers with connections in Europe. Air France/KLM will also have some decent routes to Greece via hubs in Paris or Amsterdam. Flying Oneworld airlines using points and miles will usually require a connection in London as saver award space on nonstop American Airlines flights are pretty much non-existent.
The famous pilgrimages leading to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain have long been a spiritual retreat. The paths are popular for outdoor enthusiasts wishing to hike or cycle along these historic routes. The Camino de Santiago is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its role in encouraging cultural exchange around the world. There are several starting points and routes to take ranging from the Camino Primitvo, known as the oldest route, to the Camino del Norte, which begins in Basque Country.
Spain opens its borders to vaccinated travelers on June 7, 2021. There are certain restrictions in place in different regions of the country, but the Camino de Santiago is open to enjoy this summer while taking the necessary safety precautions. Be sure to consult official government resources for the latest details when planning your trip.
Flights to Spain
The best way to get to Spain using points and miles is to fly on nonstop Iberia flights to Madrid from US gateways in New York, Boston, Miami, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Business Class flights from the Northeast start from just 50,000 miles each way during the peak summer months. And if you can wait until the fall, off-peak season flights are as low as 34,000 miles each way for Business Class. It’s slightly more from other departure points, but still a fantastic deal! Both American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer to Iberia Plus Avios to take advantage of these rates.
Other options with Oneworld carriers are possible if you hold American AAdvantage miles or by transferring points to Cathay Pacific Asia Miles for connecting flights. Most routes flying Star Alliance or SkyTeam carriers will route through a northeast U.S. hub or elsewhere in Europe. Flying into Bilbao will also get you close to the Camino de Santiago and Barcelona is another option with several international flights.
The southernmost region of continental Portugal is full of stunning beaches and coastline that attract several tourists with top resorts, some of Portugal’s best golf courses, and a growing winery industry. Faro, the capital of Algarve, is a quick 45-minute flight or 2hr 40 min. drive from Lisbon. Visiting this region will allow you to escape the larger crowds around Lisbon and experience a truly unique vacation full of outdoor activities.
A top attraction are the incredible sea caves of Benagil. You can reach them by canoe or kayak or take a boat nearby and swim the rest of the way. Portugal hasn’t yet announced an official opening date for American tourists, but it’s expected to open along with E.U. guidelines this summer.
Flights to Portugal
The best way to fly to Portugal using points and miles is to hop on a nonstop TAP Air Portugal flight to Lisbon from one of its North American gateways in Boston, New York, Washington D.C., Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, Montreal, or Toronto. Connections are available from other cities on Star Alliance partner United, and you can also connect in Lisbon with the short flight down to Faro.
If you can find saver space available, Business Class flights can be had for only 88,000 points round-trip when transferring Amex points to ANA Mileage Club. Since transfers aren’t instant, you may prefer to book through another program such as Air Canada Aeroplan or United MileagePlus (Chase transfer partner) where rates typically range between 60,000 – 77,000 miles each way for Business Class seats.
The lack of tourists to the Galapagos Islands during the pandemic has had a positive effect on the ecosystems of this archipelago in Ecuador. You’ll find species of flora and fauna that you won’t see anywhere else in the world and, due to a lower flow of tourists, you’ll have a better chance to spot blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, and the famous giant tortoise of the Galapagos.
Ecuador lifted travel restrictions in late 2020 and flights have resumed from several gateways. It’s important to note that there are special entry requirements for the Galapagos Islands, which require a negative test within 96 hours of arrival — even when traveling from within Ecuador. This can be the same test you used to enter Ecuador if it falls within that time frame. Otherwise, a second test will need to be taken within Ecuador before your flight to the Galapagos. For the most up-to-date info, go here.
Flights to Ecuador
The closest gateway to the Galapagos is Guayaquil (GYE). You’ll find nonstop flights from New York, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale on either American or JetBlue. Flights to Quito (UIO) are available from Houston on United, Atlanta on Delta, Miami on American, and Fort Lauderdale on JetBlue. Some other popular ways to travel to Ecuador are via Mexico City on Aeromexico or via Panama on Copa.
You’ll find a lot of variable pricing using points and miles when flying to Ecuador. If you hold Delta SkyMiles or JetBlue TrueBlue points, this can be a good way to use those miles, which aren’t too valuable for other further destinations across the ocean. Cash tickets may also present a decent deal for flights to Ecuador so make sure to compare all options.
Iceland had a tourism boom in 2018 when it welcomed a record-breaking 2.3 million visitors, which made its economy heavily dependent on tourism. Visitor numbers declined in 2019 when Iceland-based, low-cost airline WOW Air collapsed and the pandemic forced Iceland to ride out 2020 without any foreign tourists. Iceland opened to fully vaccinated U.S. tourists on April 6, 2021, and was one of the first European nations to do so. With widespread vaccinations and safety precautions in place, it plans to welcome tourists back this summer to enjoy Iceland’s endless daylight.
You’ll find amazing scenery and too many waterfalls to count when exploring Iceland. Driving the “Golden Circle” will bring you to some of the most popular sites such as the Strokkur Geyser and Gullfoss Falls. One of the coolest things to do in Iceland is to walk along the continental divide in Thingvellir National Park, where you can literally swim or walk across a bridge between the tectonic plates of North America and Europe. And before your flight back home, you can enjoy the natural hot springs of the Blue Lagoon, which is near the international airport in Keflavik.
Flights to Iceland
At one point during the height of Iceland’s tourism boom, all major U.S. airlines were flying to Reykjavik (KEF), and there were several cities around North America with nonstop service to this remote nation in the northern Atlantic Ocean. In 2021, there are limited options for flights, but a few U.S. airlines restarted and added new routes from hub cities as well as the country’s flag carrier, Icelandair, bringing back some of its transatlantic routes.
Delta offers service from New York, Boston, and Minneapolis, while United will fly from its hubs in Newark and Chicago. In addition to these cities, Icelandair will offer service from Toronto, Orlando, Washington D.C., Denver, Portland, and Seattle. Alaska Airlines partners with Icelandair for connections along the West Coast.
It is extremely rare to find premium cabin seats available for decent rates using points and miles so it will usually make more sense to purchase a cash ticket for flights to Iceland. However, if you wish to connect in continental Europe, there can be some options using points and miles that allow you to stopover and see multiple locations on your trip.
Looking to travel to one of these outdoor-friendly destinations? Open up the Chatflights app and have a chat with one of our award travel specialists. We'll do all the heavy lifting to help you find the best flights for your trip to one of these locations or elsewhere around the world. It's as simple as sending a text.
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