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Rancho La Puerta Reigns Supreme as the Ultimate Wellness Destination

Find out how one of the first destination spas continues to offer a transformative wellness experience.

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Rancho La Puerta features 4,000 acres that includes hiking trails, gardens, an organic farm, and more.

I’ve loved Rancho La Puerta (Tecate, Mexico) since I went there for the first time almost 18 years ago. When people ask me for destination spa recommendations, it’s always one of my top picks. I returned this fall for my third visit, and like a fine wine, it continues to get better with age.

Rancho La Puerta (RLP), dubbed The Ranch by newbies and long-time aficionados alike, has an almost cult-like following from those who have fallen in love with its simple yet wildly effective approach to wellness (I met one woman who had been there every year for the last 35 and was visiting with a group of 20-plus friends and family). It debuted in 1940 as an impromptu summer health camp started by Edmond and Deborah Szekely. Guests pitched a tent and partook in fresh vegetarian meals, exercise, and lectures about healthy, meaningful living.

More than 80 years later, though certain elements have evolved significantly, the general ethos remains the same. Instead of tents, guests stay in one of 86 charming private casita while taking advantage of the bounty of the property’s 4,000 acres. Highlights include 40 miles of hiking trails, 32 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens, and La Cocina Que Canta, an organic farm with a cooking school. Guests enjoy an extensive array of fitness classes, soothing spa services, and thought-provoking lectures, workshops, and classes from wellness experts from around the globe. Plus, the delicious, nourishing, primarily vegetarian food is served three times daily to fuel their active endeavors.

Another inspiring aspect that remains consistent at The Ranch is the Szekely family. Thriving at the age of 99, Deborah is on-site once a week to host an evening lecture. Sarah Livia Brightwood, Deborah and her late husband’s daughter, oversees the family business as president. 

Since its debut, Rancho La Puerta’s motto has been Siempre Mejor!, which means “Always Better!” It truly is an apt adage—each of my visits has been better than the last, and it remains one of my favorites.

Villas Cielo at Rancho La Puerta
Villas Cielo, or Heavenly Villas, are RLP’s premiere accommodations.

Accommodations

I have stayed in three different casitas during my visits to The Ranch, and I love how unique and charming they each are and how they truly provide a sense of place. The casitas range from roomy studios to multiple-room villas. They each feature local folk art, hand-painted tiles, wood-beamed ceilings, and private patios. 

My mom joined me on this trip, and we stayed in Luna 5, which is spacious, inviting, clean, and private—it offered plenty of room for the two of us and could have fit one more person, as there were three beds. The amenities include fabulous and fragrant La Puerta Core Essentials products and include Lavender Rosemary Shampoo and Conditioner, Lavender Sage Hand & Body Wash, and Lavender Sage Lotion. Fresh fruit, tea and coffee, and still and sparkling water are also available.

The villa is part of the new Luna Connections, which offer high-speed Wi-Fi access for guests who want to stay connected in the privacy of their own rooms. In the past, guests have been encouraged to unplug when they come to The Ranch, with access to WIFI available in a few limited locations. But in this new world of remote work, it’s a wonderful option for those who want to have a wellness experience and be able to stay plugged in. I normally woke up early and worked for a couple hours, then spent several hours participating in wellness experiences, then connected again for an hour at the end of the day. It allowed me to stay on top of work but have a wonderful wellness balance. I also like being able to Facetime easily with my kids without disturbing other guests—cell service isn’t great there, so WIFI made connecting with home and work easier.

RLP’s premiere accommodations are the Villas Cielo, or “Heavenly Villas.” They offer 2,220 square feet of indoor-and-outdoor space and include a large master suite that overlooks a living room that can be transformed into a residential gym or business office. (WIFI is also available in these villas.) Special amenities to the Villas Cielo include a bottle of wine from the local Valle de Guadalupe, a $150 spa credit, and a 90-minute service in-room or on the private terrace.

Rancho La Puerta Aquatic Classes
Aquatics classes are among the most popular fitness offerings at The Ranch.

Fitness

It had been more than a decade since my last visit to RLP, and I have to admit, this time around, thanks to two kids, 10 years, and 18 months of bad COVID eating and exercising habits, I am significantly less fit and about 20 pounds heavier than I was on my last trip. As such, my fitness experience was a little less hard-core than my previous ones. But that is the beauty of The Ranch—you craft a journey that meets you where you are. My week was an excellent kick-start back into healthier habits.

Rather than diving into the rigorous and challenging mountain hikes, which are quite popular, I started my day with more low-key ventures, like the two-mile Woodlands Hike that took us through a serene river basin among the oaks. Another favorite is the Organic Breakfast Hike, a moderate trek to the culinary center and organic farm that includes a garden breakfast and a tour of the farm led by one of my absolute Ranch favorites, 30-plus-year veteran farmer Salvador Tinajero, whose passion for the farm is simply infectious. He is a joy, and it’s a blast to follow him around the garden and learn more about it while sampling the organic fruits, herbs, and veggies right off the vine.

While I did do a few more intensive classes like Cycling, TRX, and Circuit Training each day, I also joined my mom in the Activity Pool for various aquatics classes, something I’ve never done on my previous visits. I learned that while I may not break a sweat or feel the immediate burn as much as I do in some of the more high-intensity sessions, those workouts were wonderful and made an impact. (Mom particularly loved the last day’s Pool Noodle Water Polo game.) I also enjoyed the Pilates classes, including my first time on the reformer. Some classes with limited equipment, such as TRX and Reformer, do fill up, so arrive early to guarantee a spot.

Another first for me was pickleball. Since my last visit, The Ranch has debuted gorgeous pickleball courts. I played almost every day and have joined a co-ed league with my husband since returning home. One word of caution—if you are there during a warmer time of year, like I was, it can get HOT. Some of the classes don’t start until 10 or 11 am, and by that time, those courts are toasty. My mom and I woke up early and played around 7 am a few times to enjoy a cooler pickleball experience. 

RLP 2019 cocina
Cooking classes at La Cocina que Canta allow guests to explore the organic farm and cook nourishing, delicious meals.

Food

I’m not a vegetarian, but I had no problem with the mostly vegetarian diet (fish was sometimes on the menu) during my week at The Ranch. Every meal was incredibly delicious and nourishing. The food provides protein, vitamins, minerals, and probiotics and is low in fat, sodium, and refined flour and sugar while high in fiber and complex carbohydrates. I was always satiated and never hungry, so the culinary magic worked by the team was completely effective for me. I even lost a few pounds, courtesy of the healthy foot and amped up fitness.

Breakfast and lunch are buffet style, and I always found options that appealed to my palette. Most lunches and dinners began with a salad and a delicious soup—I’m looking forward to trying my hand at some of them at home. The menu changes weekly, but some of my favorite entrees during my visit included Ranch Style Pizza, Chile Rellenos, Vegetable Lasagna, and Vegetarian Meatballs with Spaghetti Squash Pasta, just to name a few.

Mom and I also took a wonderful cooking class at La Cocina que Canta. Our instructors for the week were researcher Jean Courtney and chef Isabel Cruz. Our meal included Beet Gazpacho, Vegetable Curry with Cashews over Cauliflower Rice, Pepita Crusted Salmon, Citrus Salad, Rainbow Cabbage Slaw, and Sea Salt Coconut Pecan Brownies. It was a fun guided group experience that resulted in a spectacular meal.

The Ranch is also spectacular at accommodating food requests. For example, I hate cilantro. I’m not allergic, but I don’t simply dislike it. I HATE it (I’m one of those people who thinks it tastes like soap). Having this little picadillo in Mexico may seem like it could be an issue. But I simply let them know about this at the beginning of the week, and every time I arrived at the Dining Hall, I grabbed my personalized sign, showed it to the staff, and was swiftly served delicious, cilantro-free options. I wasn’t the only one—during my week, the culinary team worked with those with allergies to nuts, gluten, nightshade, and more. Even my cooking class made accommodations for me.

RLP 2019 core essentials 2
Several spa services incorporate The Ranch’s La Puerta Core Essentials products.

Spa

The spa menu at RLP is extensive—there truly is something for everyone. By Tuesday of my weeklong visit, my entire body was aching, so I opted for the Mountain Sage Hot Stone Massage. My therapist, Gabriela, was fantastic, and the service was just the ticket for easing my sore muscles mid-week. The most popular treatment remains the Ranch Classic Massage, but there is a wide array of options for those who want to be more adventurous with their spa-going.

A new signature service, for example, is The Embodying Wellbeing Ritual, which is inspired by ancient Mexican ceremonies and Ranch traditions. The journey begins with an outdoor stroll to a private spa tent nestled under majestic oaks in the healing shadow of Mt. Kuchumaa. Guests are welcomed with a ritual sage smudge and ceremonial conch blessing before they retreat to a sanctuary and receive bodywork based on their solar plexus pulse, a detoxifying clay abdominal mask, and a healing abdominal massage. Gentle stretches with a rebozo (scarf) are also incorporated to help release the body and bring harmony to your mind, body, and spirit.

RLP 2019 Bazar Summer
Bazaar del Sol offers stunning views, WIFI, a charming boutique filled with wares from local artisans, and organic wine.

Ranch Tips & Tricks

There aren’t really any secrets at The Ranch—everyone is welcome to partake in all there is to offer. But there are a few fun discoveries I have uncovered over the years. Among them:

  • Bazaar del Sol: New since my last visit, Bazaar del Sol is a gorgeous little escape near the Villas Sol. It offers stunning views, WIFI, a charming boutique filled with wares from local artisans, and organic wine from the from the nearby Adobe Guadalupe Vineyards. For those who prefer not to go dry for the week, you can have a glass of vino there or purchase a bottle and take it back to your room. Also, keep an eye on the schedule. While I was there, they also offered a fun sangria and guacamole happy hour on Monday night.
  • Terra Allegra Juice Bar: Another new addition since my last visit is the juice bar located next to the Activity Pool. It’s a great pit-stop for a refreshing mid-afternoon smoothie or freshly made juice.
  • Villas Pool: There are several pools on-site, but my favorite is the charming Villas Pool. It offers gorgeous views and is a lovely, private place to relax and read a book if you would like a break from an exercise-filled day.
  • Laundry: There are several laundry facilities throughout the property, so don’t feel like you need to over-pack. You can easily pop a load of laundry in between classes. There is also laundry service there if you prefer to send your laundry out.
  • Layers: The weather is beautiful, but it can get chilly at night and in the mornings, so definitely pack layers and bring a sweater to dinner if you want to eat outside.

COVID & Safety

My mom is a retired health department nurse. Prior to COVID, she was a stickler for health and sanitization protocols. Post-pandemic, these tendencies have gone into overdrive. Both she and I felt very safe, which is a huge testament to The Ranch—there is likely no one stricter about COVID than my mother, and she gave it two thumbs up. 

More than 94 percent of Ranch employees and more than 90 percent of guests have been vaccinated, according to the RLP team. For those who are not vaccinated, a negative COVID test is required for entry. Masks are required in public spaces like the Dining Hall and in workshops. In fitness classes, floor stickers indicate social distance spacing, and guests are required to spread out before taking off their masks to work out. The one exception while we were there was the very popular morning stretch class, which got quite full each day. But the windows and doors were open for all sessions, and we left our masks on during that class, so we still felt protected. In the spa, social distancing and masks are also required until treatment time. My therapist shared her vaccination status and said I could leave my mask on during treatment if I preferred (I didn’t, as I felt quite safe).

Recamara Princicpal
Ground has broken on The Residences state-of-the-art eco-homes located on the grounds of Rancho La Puerta.

The Next Generation 

While I was there, I was excited to be able to get a glimpse of The Residences, a wellness-focused village of 108-planned private homes nestled among the grounds of the acclaimed retreat that have recently broken ground and are expected to be completed by 2023. Along with access to RLP facilities, these gorgeous, state-of-the-art eco-homes will have access to some additional incredible amenities, including multi-use spaces for fitness and yoga, spaces for outdoor fitness and wellness classes, pickleball and tennis courts, a gym, a library, a pool and Jacuzzi, a juice and wine bar, fire pits and a BBQ area, and more.

The most recent news from the Residences is a partnership with Elite Alliance to offer the world’s very first wellness residence club. Homeowners now have two options to be part of The Residences at Rancho La Puerta with both full and flexible ownership opportunities.

“The Residences are our largest focus, as they usher in the next generation for The Ranch, with the ability to make this sacred place a permanent home,” says Barry Shingle, director of guest relations and programming. “We are really excited about this chapter of our legacy and the community that we will cultivate through this new offering.” 

For more about Rancho La Puerta, check out the following articles:

About The Author
julieKeller_author-1

Julie is the co-founder of Well Defined and a longtime influencer and advocate in the wellness world. Along with her work at Well Defined, she is an executive recruiter and marketing specialist for Hutchinson Consulting. She is also a consultant and content strategist for numerous wellness brands. She is the former editor-in-chief and publisher of American Spa and was named a 2019 Folio Top Woman in Media in the Industry Trailblazers category and a 2018 winner of ISPA’s Innovate Award. She is also a seasoned journalist, specializing in spa, travel, health, fitness, wellness, sustainability, and beauty. She has been published in Departures, ForbesTraveler.com, E! Online, Gayot.com, Insider’s Guide to Spas, Luxury Travel Advisor, Marin Magazine, Ocean Home, Smart Meetings, Spa Asia, and Travel Agent.