Relaxing on the Ranch

Rancho La Puerta keeps guests comfortably busy

By: Jane Black

It’s not often that I wake up voluntarily at 6 a.m. let alone when I’m on a week’s vacation at a spa. But the Breakfast Hike, a popular four-mile ramble to Rancho La Puerta’s organic vegetable garden, left at 6:15 a.m. And the end of the hike promised an elaborate breakfast of fruit, oatmeal, muffins and free-range frittatas.

I was back three hours later, just in time for the 9:30 tennis clinic, which finished just in time for a luxurious 1½-hour yoga class.

“Turn to the vineyards,” the instructor intoned as we rotated to the right and peered across a well-tended field of grape vines surrounded by wildflowers.

“Turn to the mountains,” she commanded as we turned to take in a vista of 3,885-foot Mount Kuchumaa. “Now relax and breathe.”

No problem. Despite my busy morning I’d never been more relaxed. My mother and I had arrived at Rancho La Puerta two days earlier for a week of mother-daughter bonding. Set in the mountains an hour south of San Diego, just across the border in Mexico, The Ranch as it is known to its devotees was founded in 1940 by Deborah and Edmond Szekely, owners of the famed Golden Door spa. Originally the Ranch was no more than a rustic camp with no electricity or running water. Guests brought their own tents and paid just $17.50 a week to sleep under the stars and listen to Edmond lecture about how the interdependence of mind, body and spirit leads to a healthy, vibrant life.

Over the years, The Ranch has grown to 3,000 manicured acres with 84 Mexican-style casitas. Each week, 160 guests arrive to take part in everything from tennis, yoga, weight-training or Tai Chi to a cooking, wreath-making or jewelry class. Still, The Ranch remains true to its roots: The emphasis is on active living and spiritual healing rather than simple self-indulgence.

Not that there’s a lack of spa treatments. Rancho La Puerta has two spa centers including one with a heavenly rooftop Jacuzzi, which offer the latest treatments. My mother chose the classic massage, and I opted for a hot river-stone treatment, where smooth, heated stones are swept across the body. The treatments range from $35 to $65, far less than you’d pay at a spa north of the border, so guests should book early. The most popular hours are between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., after most activities have wound down and before dinner.

Which brings us to the food. Generally, spas scare me when it hits dinnertime. I hate to pay resort prices for rabbit food, even if it’s for my own good. And I resent the idea of tiny, set portions especially when I’m doing four-plus hours of exercise daily. The Ranch solves that problem by offering high-fiber, all-you-can-eat vegetarian cuisine (though fish is served twice a week).

Breakfast and lunch are buffets and might include fresh fruit, oatmeal, low-fat muffins, assorted salads, black bean soup or pizza with vegetables and feta cheese. At dinner, there’s table service but, if you’ve worked out hard and are not satisfied with a healthy tofu stir-fry or chili rellenos, you can always request an extra portion of potatoes or steamed vegetables.

In fact, my only complaint about Rancho La Puerta is that it’s easy to become so swept up in the array of activities that guests forget why they came in the first place: To relax, rejuvenate and reattain a little perspective about your hectic life back home.

I tended to design busy mornings a hike, tennis, an aerobics, sculpting or

yoga class and left my afternoons open. Sometimes, I’d lounge in the shade in one of the dozen or so hammocks found throughout the property. More often, Mom and I took long walks through the colorful gardens, planted with rosemary, lavender, sage and fields of calendulas, narcissus and alyssum. Dotted throughout are bronze statues and picturesque antique wooden carts.

In the evenings, Mom and I often skipped activities to spend time in our room. It would have been a shame not to. Our villa, complete with a living room and a working fireplace, had French doors that opened on to a garden and sweeping vista of Mount Kuchumaa. The walls were adorned with colorful local tapestries and accented with Mexican pottery, tiles and hammered-tin mirrors.

On our last day, Mom and I attended the weekly seminar on how to take The Ranch home. Instructors reiterated their philosophy on nutrition (eat an all-natural diet low in fat, sodium and refined flour and sugar) and The Ranch’s six facets of fitness (cardiovascular, stretching, strength-building, coordination, relaxation and, last but not least, massage). I immediately promised myself I’d follow all the rules. But I knew once I got home, there was nothing that would get me up at 6 a.m.



Rancho La Puerta is located one hour from San Diego, just south of the border in Tecate, Baja California. The resort sits at an altitude of over 1,500 feet in the mountains and meadows below Mount Kuchumaa’s 3,885-foot peak. The cool mountain zone and dry climate make the resort a perfect spot for year-round fitness activities.

P.O. Box 463057
Escondido, CA 92046

Clientele: Mostly women 30-60, though mother-daughter weeks are popular. Children must be
15 or older.

Rates: Weekly prices range from $2,260 for a simple double to $3,435 for a deluxe villa in high season.

Commission: In addition to 10 percent commission, Rancho La Puerta offers 50 percent for the agent and a guest (sharing a room) and a free week for every 10 guests that visit the ranch in a calendar year.

Getting There: Guests fly to San Diego and the ranch runs shuttles every two hours for pick up. Some people, but very few, drive and park their cars on the premises.