Having heard for many years about the wonderful Rancho la Puerta, located in Tecate, Baja California, it has long been a dream of mine to visit and experience for myself one of the original wellness destinations. Founded in 1940 by Edmond and Deborah Szekely it has been through many renovations and reinventions, always staying true however, to its foundation of promoting a healthy, active lifestyle. A visit of anything less than a week at Rancho la Puerta, I realized, wouldn’t provide the complete experience and would definitely be over far too soon. The friendly atmosphere is incomparable to any other retreat experience I have encountered, This seems to be a feeling echoed by the numerous repeat guests who often joke that the ranch is like summer camp for adults. I can simply say that my week there was exceptional and filled with so many new experiences that I enjoyed immensely.
Rancho La Puerta’s sprawling 3,000 acres include 32 acres of gardens, the ranch grounds, organic gardens and hiking trails. The grounds around the main facility are certainly impressive and, although I rarely saw a gardener, all the lawns are well groomed and the plants well attended to. The mix of plants and flowers gives the impression of a naturally wild meadow, yet I imagine it takes a fair bit of work to achieve. Maps of the ranch can be found at regular intervals along the winding pathways., However they are not exactly to scale and things occasionally look closer or farther than they really are. By the end of the week I had just about learned my route to all the venues I needed to get to, but the first couple of days were filled with wrong turns!
The spacious and well-appointed suites are dispersed around the property in clusters. I was hosted in the beautiful ‘Villas Sol’ section of the ranch with a spectacular and unobstructed view of Mount Kuchumaa where we hiked each morning. The room was equipped not only with the essentials of an extremely comfortable bed, roomy bathroom and dressing area, desk and terrace, but it also had an open fireplace, a mini kitchenette area for tea and snacks, a reverse osmosis drinking water tap to reduce waste from plastic bottles and the wonderful cell-phone sleeping bag. Putting my phone away for periods of time is a practice I am trying to carry through into everyday life, however difficult that may seem! The Villas Sol and Villa Luna encircle the Villas Pool, a quiet, relaxing space to refresh in the cool water or soak in the Jacuzzi during the fresh evenings. After arriving from a long journey the pool was my first stop after lunch. Here, I met several other guests, who all visit the ranch regularly – one of whom was enjoying her 21st visit!
The hikes for me were one the highlights of the ranch experience. With a variety of options each morning; you can choose the difficulty level you prefer – I started with a moderate mountain hike to Alex’s Oak Tree. Sitting atop a relatively small mountain, this oak tree was a favorite spot of the late Alex Szekely, former manager of the ranch and son of Deborah Szekely, Co-Founder of Rancho La Puerta, who passed away aged 44 in 2002. The subsequent hikes throughout the week ranged in difficulty, and I progressed to the 5.5 Mile Coyote Hike by the end of the week. While on the Professor’s Hike (a 3.5 Mile hike) I was treated to the spectacular view of ‘Skull Rock’ with a background of low cloud sitting in the canyon beyond. I wasn’t able to complete the Raven Hike or the 7-Mile River Hike during my stay, which just means there’s a good reason to return.
I could fill an entire magazine solely dedicated to the variety of activities available at Rancho La Puerta. However, with limited space, I will attempt to highlight my favorites.
Cardio Drumming: It occurred to me that this class was a great way to get males and females, young and old, to take part in a fairly standard, dare I say it… aerobics class! Add in the large barrel drums, and your grapevines and L-steps are a lot more interesting!
Feldenkrais: Using small, subtle movements, the body is adjusted and realigned as each participant is encouraged to listen to their internal feedback and make natural self-corrections. Although it’s difficult to explain, everyone who participated seemed to agree that the class was ‘really strange but really good’!
Pickleball: I was introduced to this fun and entertaining game on the first morning of my stay and, as someone who likes tennis (but spends most of the time running after the ball), this was a perfect alternative for me. A small court, a short paddle-like racket, a whiffle ball and a fairly straightforward set of rules made this game great exercise and very enjoyable.
Pilates: My stay fell on the same week that visiting instructor, Odile Zelenak, led the Pilates classes. Hailing from Northern California, Odile expertly guided all levels of participants through the Pilates classes with a range a difficulty levels suitable for all.
TRX Suspension Training: A favorite of mine, this functional, whole body workout is equivalent to fairly tough session in the gym and, as our expert instructor advised, ‘beginners class’ doesn’t mean ‘easy class’!
With such an abundance of activities available every hour at the ranch, it was really a struggle to fit any relaxation in. However, I managed to ‘schedule in’ some relaxation in the form of Crystal Bowl Sound Healing, Tai Chi and spa visits etc.
Crystal Bowl Sound Healing: This amazing experience is one that I repeated daily for the 3 afternoons it was offered. The sound of the singing bowls gently vibrates through your body and encourages such a deep relaxation that, I am certain, would not be possible just by laying down for 45 minutes – despite the early mornings and full days of activities. On the days where I took part in the Crystal Bowl Sound Healing sessions, I certainly found I had renewed energy for the evening activities.
Labyrinth: This beautiful meditative pathway provides a place for introspection and contemplation whether you are searching for an answer to a question or clearing your mind of thoughts.
Tai Chi: Our expert instructor talked about the foundation of Tai Chi, its purpose, and led us through a simple sequence that was easy to master but left us feeling like experts.
La Cocina Que Canta (The kitchen that sings)
Designed by Deborah’s daughter, Sarah-Livia Brightman, La Cocina Que Canta cooking school provides guests hands-on culinary educational experiences that enhance the stay at Rancho La Puerta. Set amidst the 6 acres of organic farmlands where the ranch cultivates its many ingredients, the kitchen celebrates the magic of cooking.
With visiting internationally-renowned expert chefs who have a passion for teaching, the ranch attracts many culinary enthusiasts who can also take home a variety of cookbooks – including the ranch’s own; Cooking With The Seasons At Rancho La Puerta.
I was lucky enough to visit at the same time as Chef Raghavan Iyer, author of numerous cookbooks and a teaching enthusiast. He guided us through the process of creating the most diverse and delicious vegan Indian cuisine I have ever tasted.
Spread across four locations (Women’s Health Centre, Men’s Health Centre, Villas Health Centre & Beauty Salon) the spa offerings at Rancho La Puerta include wraps, scrubs, facials, water treatments, gemstone therapy, grooming services and, of course, an extensive range of massages. With four main themes of, Cleanse, Relax, Energize & Restore the spa assists guests in selecting the service best for them. With some, such as the Xocolatl (Chocolate) Skin Replenishment, you are invited to mix ingredients yourself before the journey begins. My favorite experience was the Japanese Restorative Facial, where a deeply relaxing facial massage sent me into a state of pure bliss and after which my skin felt firm, lifted and intensely hydrated.
Bazaar del Sol
Tucked away in one corner of the ranch is Bazaar del Sol. A quaint little terrace-lounge-bar-boutique offers the perfect place to relax, socialize, read, work or enjoy the events such as live music or markets showcasing jewelry, arts & crafts. With a selection of wine and high speed Internet, this is often a hub of activity at the ranch!