You don’t have to look hard to find motivation for a trip to Puerto Rico. For starters, it’s easy to get to from the mainland and you don’t need a passport. Secondly, while people generally take to the warm weather, nice beaches and the delicious pork dishes, what tends to get forgotten is the lush side of the island, where you’ll find spas, high-end hotels and fine-dining experiences. Mix that with the other charms Puerto Rico possesses, and you have yourself a lovely vacation for the taking.
Condado Vanderbilt Hotel
This lavish property recently went through a $200 million renovation that revitalized the original Spanish Revival architecture and added two suite towers. It shows, too. From the moment you step into the vast entryway — a sweeping staircase winds down to meet you and you notice the Atlantic Ocean’s crystal-clear waters outside of the floor-to-ceiling windows in the lounge — you’re in awe. The rooms prove clean and crisp, too. And no matter where you stay, you either have a look at the ocean or the calm lagoon on the other side. Relax on a plush velvet couch in the large, art-filled lounge and order a cocktail and small bite; it’s the perfect place for “me” time or mingling with friends. The exercise-minded traveler will find joy knowing that both pools are heated, so take advantage of an early-morning plunge.
Located inside the Condado Vanderbilt, this elegant eatery showcases the perfect balance between the island’s national cuisine and modern culinary trends. Executive chef Juan José Cuevas knows his way around a kitchen, something you’ll find evident just by ordering the salmon with mussels, crushed herbs and local beans or fresh snapper crudo with caviar and clams. Choose to dine à la carte or go for the four-course prix fixe (three courses at lunch) for a solid sampling of the restaurant’s fare. The wine list also shines as it highlights mainly French vinos with a fair number of bottles from other countries just to keep things balanced.
Plaza del Mercado
We’re all about Puerto Rico’s good food, but what could be better than an open-air market that turns into a nightclub after hours? Come sunset Thursdays through Sunday, this lazy local market transforms into a spirited block party complete with food stalls, live music and dancing. Go for dinner nearby at the quaint Jose Enrique, a hidden restaurant a block away from the plaza (also known as La Placita) that often has a long list of locals and tourists trying to get a table. Put your name down and then head back to the plaza for a drink, and enjoy the music while you await your intimate, but no-less-exciting meal.
Waldorf Astoria Spa
Though you can relax at the beach, it’s not a bad idea to visit the Waldorf Astoria Spa in El Conquistador Resort. After all, this 26,000-square-foot space is equipped with just about everything you need for a luxurious afternoon. Stay locally minded with the pineapple body polish, citrus sea salt rub or coconut sugar scrub, three treatments sure to leave you glowing without ever stepping outside into the sun. The rainforest organic facial also taps into the natural resources of Puerto Rico; the mixture of hand-blended herbs, produce and hot spring waters regenerates your skin. The hot stone therapy massage uses rocks from the rainforest while the special four-handed body work takes you to another level of bliss.
Caja de Muertos
You can’t go to a Caribbean island without basking in the marine life. After all, some of the most stunning sites are found underwater. For the best images in Puerto Rico, head off the coast of Ponce to the uninhabited island of Caja de Muertos, also known as Coffin Island due to its unique shape. To get there, contact Island Venture, a company that takes you to the area aboard a boat packed with fresh water and plenty of food. The outfitters provide snorkeling gear for those who want a closer encounter with the mahi-mahi and wahoo. If you prefer a more grounded visit, simply stop by the small on-site museum, join a coastal hike and take in the natural beauty of the island.