Destinations Open for Business After Natural Disasters

If you're interested in disaster tourism, these places are packed with adventures and need your dollars more than ever before

Santa Rosa still needs your tourism dollars. (Photo: Courtesy Visit California)
Santa Rosa still needs your tourism dollars.

Throughout the pandemic, we'll keep publishing news to help you navigate the state of travel today (like whether travel insurance covers the coronavirus), as well as stories about places for you to put on your bucket list once it's safe to start going more far-flung.

It’s been a hell of a last couple of years. We’ve seen devastating natural disasters domestically, with raging wildfires up and down California and flooding in the Midwest, in addition to tragedies overseas as well, from hurricanes in the Caribbean to deadly earthquakes in Indonesia and Mexico. In many of these places, hotels and historic sights are back up and running, yet visitors have been slow to return. Which is just one of the many reasons why you should go now.

Santa Rosa, California

(Photo: Courtesy Astro Motel)

The Tubbs Fire, which swept Sonoma County in October 2017, burned more than 5,600 buildings, many in the wine-country town of Santa Rosa, which is still in the process of rebuilding. Don’t let that stop you from going, though, as there’s plenty of adventure to be had and good options open for business. Sections of trails in 5,200-acre Annadel State Park—a haven for mountain bikers and trail runners—reopened in April. After your ride, stop into the Russian River Brewery, where beer lovers wait hours once a year for pints of the cult favorite Pliny the Elder. The Paradise Ridge wine-tasting room was demolished in the fire, but a new space is expected to be completed by the end of 2019.

The mid-century-style Astro Motel (from $178) housed refugees displaced by the fire and now has an on-site bike-repair shop and a bicycle sommelier for all your wine and cycling needs. Or check out Olea Hotel (from $259), which reopened in nearby Glen Ellen in August 2018 following a ten-month renovation that updated several damaged cottages.

Mexico City

(Photo: Starcevic/iStock)

The 7.1-magnitude Puebla earthquake hit Mexico City in September 2018 and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people and damage to thousands of buildings and monuments. However, reconstruction has been steady ever since, and the city is now prime for visitors. The third-highest peak in Mexico, the 17,170-foot Iztaccíhuatl volcano, is just two hours from the city—3 Summits Adventures leads guided trips there and takes care of transportation and lodging. 

The Ritz-Carlton is opening a new property in Mexico City this year, or you can check into the Condesa DF (from $175), a hip boutique hotel in an artsy corner of the country’s capital. This funky, high-elevation destination (7,382 feet above sea level) has must-see art museums, like the Museo Frida Kahlo and the Tamayo Museum. There’s also a thriving food scene, with some of the best street tacos on the planet. 

San Juan, Puerto Rico

(Photo: Courtesy Courtyard Isla Verde Beach Resort)

Hurricanes Irma and Maria nailed the Caribbean in the fall of 2017, causing far-reaching destruction and fatalities. The island of Puerto Rico is on its way back to its former self. Take a surf lesson, go snorkeling off a catamaran, or kayak at night in a bioluminescent bay, where the tiny organisms have returned brighter than before. Crews in El Yunque National Forest are still doing debris removal and repairing power lines, but select hiking trails, waterfalls, and observation areas have reopened after the hurricane.

Stay at the Courtyard Isla Verde Beach Resort (from $229) or the Caribe Hilton (from $415), which first opened in 1949 and where the original piña colada is said to have been made, reopened in May of this year after a $150 million renovation.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

(Photo: Tor Johnson/Hawaii Tourism Authority)

When the Kilauea volcano erupted in May 2018, it closed down Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and affected travelers heading to that part of the Big Island, but the park is getting back up and running now. The majestic Kilaeua Iki Trail is mostly open, and its switchbacks were recently repaired after an earthquake loosened large boulders that impeded the path. Don’t miss a stroll on the black-sand shores of Isaac Hale Beach Park, which reopened in December with a new access road (lava flow covered the former one).

The Volcano House (from $235), a unique lodge with campsites located within the park boundary, reopened in October.

Ellicott City, Maryland

(Photo: Courtesy Visit Howard County)

Imagine a town getting hit by a thousand-year flood, then, two years later, it happens again. That’s what occurred in Ellicott City, which was pounded by a heavy-duty rainstorm and subsequent flash flooding that soaked its Main Street in 2016. A similarly intense storm hit again in May 2018. The town has dealt with millions of dollars in damages and lost tourism revenue. But now it’s ready for visitors again: its welcome center reopened in August 2018. Make a day trip to 16,043-acre Patapsco Valley State Park, where you can kayak the Patapsco River, hike over a swinging bridge, or mountain-bike more than 100 miles of well-maintained trails. The park is nicknamed Moab East for a reason: mountain bikers from Washington, D.C., and Baltimore love this place.

Turf Valley Resort (from $131) experienced flooding in both storms and housed people during the crisis but is now restored.


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Filed To: MexicoHawaiiMarylandCaliforniaCaribbeanPuerto RicoNature
Lead Photo: Courtesy Visit California
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