By Linda M. Rovello
My guy’s idea of a great getaway is tennis all day and poker all night. Yeah, good, but my idea of “great” means doing something we haven’t done before like white water rafting, roaming the souks of Marrakesh, or camping out with the dog.
So, recently when he wanted to scout locations for a tennis facility for his all-guy tennis and golf tourney week, I said I’d go but we had to do stuff we hadn’t done before.
We headed for the little town of Rio Grande on the northeastern tip in Puerto Rico which we were told is a tennis and golfer’s haven.
Located a few miles from the El Yunque National Rain Forest, Rio Grande is only about a 30-minute drive from the port city of Old San Juan, but feels like a whole other universe.
While Old San Juan bustles with tourists from the cruise ships shopping in the duty-free shops and outlets, Rio Grande is where the sophisticated locals who like to eat well, gamble, and indulge.
It’s here you’ll find chic, European-type resorts, as well as the weekend homes of the wealthy who are there for golf, tennis, water sports, rainforest trekking, and kayaking in the primordial Laguna Grande.
Tourists and locals alike gravitate to the The Westin Rio Mar Beach Golf Resort & Spa, a Las Vegas-sized resort with 600 rooms and 800 apartment villas located on the beach, a few miles from the Rainforest, for the sports, casino and its several restaurants.
Spread over 540 acres, including government preserved wetlands, the resort has two golf courses, 13 tennis courts, a kid’s club, a world-class spa, and a casino which hosts daily Texas Hold-Em tournaments.
If you’re bringing the kids, or are traveling with a large group of friends, the privately owned villas can be rented for about what you’d pay for a few hotel rooms.
OK, he found his tennis facility, and Texas Hold’Em, and now it was my turn.
I picked a two and a half hour kayak trip at night into the Laguna Grande, (think Jurassic Park)—one of nature’s most magnificent sights. The lagoon is filled with billions of one-celled organisms called dinoflagellates, which light up under the water. We kayaked in the pitch black and somehow lived to tell about it.
Sore muscles pulled us to the Mandara Spa the next morning, which offers treatments you won’t find in the U.S. proper like the Ionithermie Cellulite Reduction system.
While the treatment itself is no day at the beach, you definitely will look better on the beach afterwards. Ionithermie consists of lying on a pad of clay onto which electric probes are placed which deliver current into those nasty thigh lumps. The current contracts the muscles, doing for you what you should be doing for yourself at the gym. Hey—it’s easier than paddling into a lagoon filled with iguanas and giant, hanging vines that can take you down in the dark.
Since it’s always fun to feast at the local joints, in Rio Grande the best are Richie’s Café, a casual, outdoor restaurant/bar, the Las Vegas restaurant which has actual walls and local fare, and Antojito’s Puertorriquenos, the favorite of every cab driver. The locals don’t stay up late in Rio Grande, so eat before eight or don’t eat at all.
Down the road a piece in the town of Luquillo, there are maybe thirty side-by-side seafood-shacks and restaurants like the Bamboo Lounge at Hacienda Carabali, Victor’s Place, and Sandy’s Seafood.
Since you can’t go to PR without going into Old San Juan to eat at least once, be sure to order the mufungo at Barrachina (where the Pina Colada was invented), and the delicious arroz con calamari at La Mallorquina. If you’re around late in the night, the Caribe Hilton bar usually has live salsa music, and serves great local rum drinks that will have you dancing with strangers in no time flat.
Finally, don’t risk a rotten vacation. Be sure to ask your hotel if they offer Hurricane Insurance before you book a room. While the weather in Puerto Rico is like any island paradise, even paradise gets walloped now and again. Your wallet shouldn’t have to.
If what you've got in mind is a long weekend, American Airlines has a late afternoon Friday flight with a late afternoon Sunday return from San Juan. Business Class is often filled with NYC and PR celebs and the service is impeccable. Late Friday afternoon economy flights from $288 plus tax, and Business from $997 plus tax.
The Westin Rio Mar Beach Golf Resort and Spa
Unlimited Gold Package starting at $479, taxes included: Room with balcony, unlimited golf on either of two courses, breakfast buffet.
Romance Package starting at $259, taxes included: Room upgrade, bottle of champagne and chocolate covered strawberries in room, breakfast buffet for two, late check out.
Kids Free Package starting at $259, taxes included: this one’s just what it sounds like including free meals for kids under 12, private cabana rental, and second kid’s room for half price, 4th night free.
Family Vacation Package starting at $639 for three night stay: Luxury room with balcony, kids under twelve eat free, daily breakfast for two, private cabana rental, free kids club.
Escape Package starting at $209, taxes included: Luxury room with balcony, breakfast.