We all could use a vacation, and there’s nothing like an international getaway to take you out of your comfort zone. If you’re put off by how long it may take to fly to and from your destination, plan to take a direct flight—which will also cut the time you spend in stuffy airports. There are flights out of George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) that’ll take you straight to Belize City or nonstop to Mexico City in under three hours. Or take a straight flight from William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) to the Caribbean island of Aruba in under five hours.
Houston’s status as one of the largest cities in the US comes with the benefit of having the fourth-largest multi-airport system in the country. Nearly 40,000 passengers traveled through IAH in May alone, and with summer just about here, you can expect that monthly tally to increase. In all, flights out of IAH connect travelers directly to some three dozen foreign countries—including more than 40 different destinations in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean—and HOU offers direct service to 10 non-US destinations around the region as well.
While the world is still grappling with COVID-19 restrictions and travel bans, below are five tempting destinations you can visit now, via a direct flight out of Houston.
Aruba (4.5 hours)
Aruba is one of the Lesser Antilles islands located in the southern Caribbean Sea, just 15 miles off the coast of Venezuela—on clear days, it’s even possible to see the mainland from the southeastern side of the island. But you’ll have no use for heading there, because there’s enough sightseeing on the island itself to fill up a monthlong vacation. The most popular—and cheapest—thing to do is experience Aruba's beaches. Spend the day doing nothing but soaking up Caribbean sun on Eagle Beach, a spacious white-sand beach with plenty of shaded areas to plop down under a tree. For such a small island, Aruba has a diverse culinary scene, incorporating influences from more than 90 nationalities and cultures. Don’t leave without trying a locals’ favorite dish: sopi di pisca, or fish soup. And don’t neglect to visit Aruba's Butterfly Farm, an unforgettable and picture-perfect experience. Travelers are no longer required to present a negative COVID-19 test result or proof of vaccination. For more updates, visit Aruba’s travel information website.
Belize City (2.5 hours)
Take a break from the bustling city life by exploring the beautiful country of Belize. From zip-lining through the jungle to relaxing on the Caribbean shoreline and from pounding on a Garifuna drum to diving deep beneath the sea, Belize is an outdoors lover’s dream. Belizean culture is a dynamic mix of influences (notably Creole, Mestizo, Garifuna, and Maya), and the food reflects that heritage. Eat ceviche or a spiced-up version of beans and rice, or snack on salbutes, tiny fried corn tortillas topped with a delicious mix of cabbage, chicken, avocado, and locally made hot sauce. Once you’re done tasting Belizean cuisine, experience the lively nightlife with dancing on the beach all night long. Fully vaccinated travelers no longer require a negative COVID-19 test, but they must show proof of vaccination for entry into Belize. For more travel updates, visit the Belize tourist information website.
Dubai (14.5 hours)
Home to the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, the modern and luxurious emirate of Dubai can make you feel like you’re stepping right into the future. Prepare to have your mind blown by Dubai’s unparalleled coastline, beautiful desert, and magnificent cityscapes. For a truly unique experience, visit the Museum of the Future, an exhibition space housing innovative tech mixed with a futuristic outlook. To get the full scope of Dubai’s landscape in all its glory, watch the sunrise from 787 feet above ground at The View at The Palm; or, for true risk-takers, get 360-degree views by taking an Edge Walk atop a 53-story tower. Spend some time at the Dubai Mall, and follow the aroma to the Coffee Museum in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood, where you can learn the importance of the bean to Arabic culture. Passengers traveling to Dubai from all countries (GCC included) must fulfill specific requirements. For more information, visit the country’s website.
Istanbul (12 hours)
Rich with ancient history, beautiful geography, and distinct culture, Istanbul has earned its status as Turkey’s go-to hub and as a dream destination for travelers. Lovers of history and architecture can soak up all of the city’s built marvels, from the towering minarets and tiled domes of the Hagia Sophia mosque to the vast subterranean beauty of the Basilica Cistern. Of course, Istanbul has much more to offer than its layers of Byzantine and Ottoman history: visitors can hop on a ferry to tour the deep blue waters of the Bosporus Strait or skip sightseeing entirely and simply relax on the bright teal beaches of the Prince Islands. Don’t forget to get all of your souvenir shopping done at the Grand Bazaar; pick out some unique spices, eclectic jewelry, a hand-woven rug, and so much more from some of its 4,000 shops. Don’t forget to nosh on some Turkish street food, like simit, a twisted circular bread otherwise known as a Turkish bagel, or halka, a fried dessert coated in sugary syrup. Although Turkey is open for tourism, visitors from overseas are required to comply with special coronavirus rules. Read more about Turkey’s COVID-19 guidelines here.
Mexico City (2.5 hours)
The Lone Star State borders the country of Mexico, putting Houston just a hop away from Mexico City. Explore the Centro Historico neighborhood, where you’ll see the ruins of Templo Mayor (an Aztec temple) and the Palacio Nacional, which houses Mexico’s Federal Treasury and National Archives. Along the walls of the palace, you’ll see murals chronicling four phases of Mexican history, from the Aztecs through the Mexican Revolution. For more sightseeing adventures, visit the Mexico City Cathedral, Palacio de Bellas Artes, and Chapultepec Park—then take a deep breath and eat some tacos. Experience the lively and artistic neighborhoods of Roma, Condesa, and Polanco, all of which have great art and nightlife. From visiting the Teotihuacán ruins or partying on a boat in the Xochimilco canals to exploring the Frida Kahlo museum in central Coyoacan, there is no shortage of things to do in and around this capital city. Don’t forget to sip tequila while being serenaded by mariachis in Plaza Garibaldi—an unforgettable Mexico City moment. A negative COVID-19 test is not required for entry. There may be health screening procedures in place at airports and other ports of entry. Visit the Mexico Embassy website for more information.
For a full list of international direct flights out of George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), visit their website. For more international destinations accessible directly from William P. Hobby Airport (HOU), visit their website.