Opened in 1940 by Edmond and Deborah Szekely, with a “bring your own tent” and “eat only vegetables diet” as the concept, 73 years later Rancho La Puerta has become a world-renowned health resort. Not exactly the kind of spa vacation you’d imagine, although all the spa treatments you’d enjoy having are certainly available, “the Ranch” as it’s referred to by the over 75% returning guests (some who’ve been over 30 times), has to be experienced to truly be understood.
Located in Tecate, Baja Mexico, the resort’s guest list is about 90% women. The lucky handful of men have their own health club with cable TV available. The resort caters to those who love eating local, organic, fresh food, drinking fresh-squeezed juices, 6am hikes, spinning, yoga, pilates, and dance classes, getting massages, and talking…lots and lots of talking.
Rancho La Puerta sits on 3,000 acres of the most beautiful landscaped property imaginable. Guests spend their days walking from their “casitas” to the dining hall, main lodge, multiple gyms, pools, and health centers along brick paths flanked by sage and rosemary bushes, that open to small fields of sunflowers. Hammocks dot the property, hung elegantly from tall Oak and Eucalyptus trees. Surprises surround every turn, from fountains, to Casteneda sculptures, to the skittering of bunnies and lizards.
The resort offers a whole body/mind holiday for guests. It’s a week of classes in everything from art, exercise, meditation, education, and cooking, to rehabilitative and restorative themed activities. With world-class presenters–authors, chefs, artists, fitness specialists, and life-coaches, it’s a time guests say they can getaway from their daily lives. They can de-stress and reflect on changes they’d like to employ going forward.
When the Szekely’s came here, they were thought to be pretty “out there” by locals–a kind of sect of non-meat eating freaks who wanted to live out in the middle of nowhere and live in what they believed was a healthier way. Today, the Ranch has some pretty cutting-edge philosophies about living a healthy lifestyle. From the mostly vegetarian menu, to classes in Craniosacral therapy and the Feldenkrais method.
Guests can design an activity program in the week they’re here that’s as active or relaxed as they choose. Classes begin at 6:15 am and end with presentations at 8pm.
Many of the women were introduced to the resort as teenagers by their mother’s and today, they return with their own daughters, husbands, grandmothers, sisters and lifelong friends. They say it’s a magical place. “Every year I come here, and I’ve been coming here for the last four years every year, I take away something new to use in my everyday life,” says Susan a teacher from Houston.
“I’m in finance. I live a very busy life, I have a three hour commute roundtrip daily. I first came here with my mother in the 70’s and now I come alone or with my daughters. If I didn’t come here every year, I don’t know how I’d be able to handle the high demands of my job,” says Pricilla of New York City.
Sitting at the base of the mystical Mt. Kuchumaa, the resort is located only 45 miles southeast of San Diego. The name of the spa comes from the two grand oak trees that meet at the center of the property, forming a door-like archway.
Prices average about $3,600 per person for for the seven night all-inclusive stay, but I doubt you’ll talk to any guest who complains about the price. In fact the only complaint this editor heard was about the thin coffee (true that), and the lack of wine. Both issues now addressed with the recent addition of a wine/espresso bar open Sun-Sat 1pm-9pm.
Although, some of the guests were less that enthusiastic about the new changes, most were happy to have the option of having a nice glass of wine. The wines are all labels organic to the Valle-the wine-making region in Baja that produces over 80% of all the wines in Mexico.
The price tag of the resort may be a bit steep for some, but the general vibe of the resort is low key. Many guests, and the ages range from young to old, with the average woman around 40 to 50, come from pretty high-powered jobs, but make-up and high-fashion is at a minimum.
Founder Deborah Szekely is still hands-on, though her daughter now runs the day to day of the Ranch, at age 91, Deborah still speaks to guests on Monday nights…no better advertisement for a healthy lifestyle than looking to her as a wonderful example of great living.
“I have no doubts I will return to Rancho La Puerta some day. It gets in your blood and you have to come back,” says guest docent and long-time Ranch goer Bonnie.