I am immediately wrapped in a blanket of sunshine when I land at the airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It's a hidden gem for U.S. tourists — no need for a passport, the U.S. dollar is accepted here and it's home to many English-speaking residents — and I'm all for soaking it in.
The sunshine follows me around like a shadow as I arrive at my home for the weekend: the recently renovated Condado Vanderbilt Hotel. Built in 1919, it was one of the first hotels in the area and many original details remain such as the sweeping arched marble staircase in the entry hall. Yet there are amazing new features such as the Spa at Condado Vanderbilt, where I signed up to experience Puerto Rico's first Turkish steam bath, known as a hammam, even before landing.
I beeline for the spa, just feet away from the ocean and the hotel's gorgeous infinity pool, which leans out over the sandy beach. The picturesque scene is almost too difficult to pass by, but I make my way inside where I am immediately whisked through the marble doorway and into the birch-lined steam room and sauna before meeting my masseuse.
Once inside the hammam, I stand in awe of its blue Moorish tiles, twinkling ceiling lights that mimic the placement of stars in the sky and a marble slab in the middle of the room where I'll receive my treatment.
For the next 80 minutes warm water and cascades of bubbles are methodically poured over my body — the cleansing part of the hammam ritual. A deep massage of my limbs and back follows. For the grand finale, I enjoy a private rainforest shower with a scented mint mist, relaxing music and a colorful in-shower light show.
Though I'm totally relaxed, there's too much to do in Puerto Rico to take a day off. My husband and I take the 50-minute ride at sunset to the nearby city of Farjardo where we rent a kayak for a paddle through a fairy tale-like thicket of looming mangrove trees to Laguna Grande, one of Puerto Rico's three bioluminescent bays.
It isn't all smooth sailing. For two hours we slam into those beautiful trees, veer offtrack and kayak in circles. It takes us 30 minutes to figure out a good rhythm, eventually counting the strokes aloud to keep up with the pace of the more experienced paddlers. But just as we get the hang of it, we are handsomely rewarded with 360-degree views of the night sky and a bright bay of dinoflagellates, the legions of tiny marine plankton that create the underwater glow.
Later that night, I tuck myself into bed with a view of the moon lighting up the totally empty beach. While I can't imagine that it'll be a secret for much longer, I plan to visit again and enjoy the nearby seclusion of our own little private island.
Sure you're familiar with local spots such as the Detroit-Superior Bridge, but gain a new perspective on 16 Cleveland landmarks with River Cruiser Kayaking's Industrial Tour. The 2 1/2 hour affair along the Cuyahoga River, which comes with a brief lesson and equipment rental, paddles guests past and under iconic places while regaling them with Rust Belt trivia. $55, 5907 Canal Road, Valley View,440-539-6611, rivercruiserkayaking.com