Hot rocks, Mayan therapy and deep tissue relief
I haven’t been much of a spa gal. Late to the party, I’m determined to catch up with the many experiences and benefits that working spa time can bring to a busy life and especially while traveling.
Vacations offer a perfect opportunity to indulge while there’s more discretionary time away from work. You may also receive the greatest health benefits when you’re away from the pressures of a bustling schedule. Your body may be more open to healing and release.
Here’s three spa experiences that have made me a believer in the benefits of a spa treatments.
The Privilage Lux Hotel – Isla Mujeres
After mornings snorkeling and swimming close to Whale Sharks in the waters close to Isla Mujeres, I returned to our lodging tired and happy, facing nothing more than an afternoon of leisure. Nothing was planned for hours except joining our loose knit tribe in the lobby to scout out dinner in the village streets. It didn’t take much convincing when my partner suggested that we see if there were openings for massage in the hotel spa.
I was fortunate to book a session in the small bungalow that stood near the reflecting pool on the hotel grounds. It was open to the elements and sleekly styled in teak. I signed in at a desk that faced a bank of bamboo and was led to a small, fragrant room.
Even though my masseuse didn’t speak much English, she was a master in the language of muscles and sinew. She soon found the exact places where I chronically hold tension in my upper back. Expert fingers worked my spine and within moments I was floating in a blissful space between sleep and wakefulness. I enjoy deep tissue work, knowing it has the greatest benefit for my twisted muscles, so she leaned in with relish. With a slight hand gesture I was able to tell her when to lighten up and delighted sighs relayed my pleasure as the oil, aromatherapy and quiet music lulled me to the end of our session. It was the anecdote to an ailment I hadn’t realized had been hampering my spirit.
The Fiesta Americana, Coral Garden Beach Resort – Cancun
A research trip brought me to the elegant, towering Coral Beach Resort. Over several days my small group sampled the cuisine of the region at a handful of restaurants and hotels in the area. The work was pleasant and our schedule light enough for a morning retreat in the spa.
One of the resorts’ highlights, the spa fills the fourth floor with many rooms and features. I was led from the gift shop/ registration area, quietly lit and full of beautiful jewelry and sculptures made of natural stone, up a wide stairway to the changing rooms. Instructed to wear swim suits throughout, it truly made the experience simpler than managing towel wraps and robes.
I was led through a series of steam rooms and saunas, given cold-pressed coconut oil and aromatherapy, instructed on how and when to use cold sprays and was ultimately led to a large room with a variety of Jacuzzi and pools of varying temperatures. It was a meditative experience as there was nothing to consider or ponder; the sound of water and the simple pleasure of being soon stilled my churning mind.
In the last segment I was instructed to walk through a cool, winding trough where the water rose to my knees. A soft layer of river stones massaged the soles of my feet with every step and finally I was led to a spacious room where a series of spouts and fountains were arranged in an Olympic-sized, rib-high pool. It was the first coed spa experience. Hushed tones rose from a murmuring group of men and women who wandered between the different water features. It was a time of coming out from the meditative experience and visit, or to simply enjoy the wide open space textured with wood and stone, softly lit by enormous windows floating above the rest of the city. I felt like royalty to the end when we rested, drinking flavored waters before returning to our lockers and the real world.
Once our work in Cancun concluded I had a morning to myself. A year ago a friend had gone to a spa in Hong Kong where her feet and shins were massaged after a tub of small fish nibbled away dead skin. I was delighted to discover the same service was available in the Coral Beach Resort and booked a session in the salon for a treatment.
To say that sitting with your feet in warm bubbling water while a horde of tiny fish swirl between toes and gently tug at heels is anything but odd would be deceiving. It tickled! This was no meditative experience – you can only be alert with your feet in fish bowls of hungry minnows. They seem happy with the work, are raised locally and managed by size, guaranteeing your safety. It was an experience I’d repeat and left my feet soft and clean. It felt like I was floating later while doing a little souvenir shopping before leaving for the airport.
Mayan Rituals in the shadows of Chichen Itza – The Hacienda Chichen
One of the loveliest hotel experiences I’ve had was at the Hotel Chichen Itza, an eco-resort and spa. After driving through the jungle heat and past a small commercial district, we turned into the entry road for the inn. A giant tree towered over the circular drive, embracing all who entered in its tall shade. The open lobby above a wide, stone portal and antiques from the site’s decades as a center of architectural discovery framed the walls in between pictures of families and workers.
We were there to explore the Mayan UNESCO Heritage site ruins just a few hundred steps outside the compound. In our modest but comfortable room we discovered a brochure touting a Mayan spa experience and booked a couple’s massage. At the appointed time we entered a low building and were led into a room filled with herbs and flowers, stones and incense. A bowl of water sat on a pedestal with a layer of semi-precious stones on the bottom. Over that bowl our hands were ritualistically rinsed and dipped. The stones were placed in our palms and gently we were asked to select one as a talisman. I still carry that amethyst in my coin purse many months later.
There was gentle pan pipe music and a series of oils were massaged into feet, hands and head. Circular kneading movements worked weary muscles as we lay on parallel massage tables and drifted into a transcendent state. Too soon a soft whisper suggested that I wake and sit up. Mayan massage is an ancient art and we were fortunate to have the local medicine man’s daughter presiding over ours. You don’t have to be in Mayan lands to enjoy this style of massage as the art has been gaining popularity across the world.
If you go:
Privilage Lux Hotel, Isla Mujeres – Set across the street from the beach and within walking distance of the Isla public ferry, this Euro style boutique hotel has several restaurants (sushi included!), aside from the pools and swim up bar there are lovely balconies with ocean views and lots of shopping options near by.
Hotel Chichen Itza – Eco-resort that prides itself for being run by the Mayan people (owned by a European at the time of this writing,) the hotel is a quiet retreat with fewer than 100 rooms and bungalows. There’s a pool, dining in the small restaurant or on the veranda and a petite bar. Aside from the Spa treatments, the best feature is being able to walk into the grounds of Chichen Itza within five minutes and avoiding long lines at the central entrance. There’s a Mayan sweat lodge available for groups of 15 or more.
Fiesta Americana, Coral Beach Resort Cancun – One of the original, large resorts in Cancun, the Coral Beach Resort has several world class restaurant options (see Culinary Delights post), a series of pools, powdery beaches and proximity to a private boat over to Isla Mujeres. Shopping and nightlife are within a few minutes walk from the lobby.
Disclosure: The experiences and opinions are my own and only the Coral Beach Resort visit was complimentary.