Farm-to-Table Meals, Mountain Hikes and Mind-Body Classes in a 4,000-Acre Sanctuary
Just south of the border from San Diego, legendary retreat Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico, has been helping guests unwind while finding inner peace for more than 80 years. Set on a 4,000-acre nature preserve at the foot of Mount Kuchumaa and framed by ranch and vineyard views, the property is a haven of calm and tranquility where days can be filled with as many holistic therapies, spa treatments, creative classes and mountain hikes as you desire. Way ahead of the wellness curve, loyal devotees—including several famous names—have faithfully returned to “The Ranch” for decades, checking into their favorite casita for a week dedicated entirely to self-care at one of the world’s original and best-loved health spas. Here’s an inside look at this time-honored retreat in Baja California Wellness Resort.
North America’s Earliest Destination Spa
When natural-living advocate Edmond Szekely and his wife, Deborah, purchased a remote piece of land in the Tecate Valley near the US-Mexico border in 1940, their vision was to create a rustic retreat, inviting like-minded people to embrace organic farming, healthy nutrition and physical fitness. Although guest privacy is strictly protected, it’s discreetly said some early Hollywood stars who sought refuge here included Burt Lancaster and Charlton Heston.
Revolutionary for its time, Rancho La Puerta gradually expanded its facilities and offerings over the years and evolved into a world-renowned wellness destination, famous for its lush gardens, spa treatments and holistic programs that still draw visitors from far and wide seeking solace, rejuvenation and a heartfelt connection to nature. The Ranch has also played a pivotal role in popularizing holistic wellness vacations. And the resort’s emphasis on a healthy lifestyle has helped shape the global wellness industry as we know it today. Considered North America’s original wellness destination spa, Rancho La Puerta really is the ultimate place for a top-to-toe reboot.
Welcome to Postcard “Pueblo Mágico” Tecate
Head south on Highway 94 just long enough and it will eventually lead to the culturally important Shangri-La town of Tecate on the Mexico-US border, which Mexico City added to the federal government’s list of “Pueblos Mágicos” in 2012. Built against a beautiful backdrop of mountains, its namesake valley is a region well known for its natural beauty, agriculture and opportunities for outdoor adventure. Before it became a town in the late 1800s, Tecate was home to the Kumeyaay people.
Eventually, farmers and ranchers moved in to produce oil, wine and grains for brewing. Today, it’s home to a brewery that bears the town’s name and is considered the northern gateway to Baja’s “Antigua Ruta del Vino,” or Historic Wine Route, through nearby Valle de Guadalupe. Surrounded by the Sierra de Juarez Mountains to the east and the Sierra de San Pedro Martir Mountains to the west, the picturesque and often lush Tecate Valley forms a hidden-gem backdrop to Rancho La Puerta, providing a stark contrast to the arid desert landscapes often associated with Baja California.12/30
Balance Ancestral Energy and Try Aerial Yoga
Physical exercise is integral to the Rancho La Puerta experience, and many don’t waste any time. Although breakfast is served at 7 a.m., chances are most guests will be on a hike by then—distances vary but range from the mellow 2-mile woodlands circuit to the 5.5-mile advanced Coyote Trail. A lineup of optional indoor and outdoor activities spanning cardio fitness and strength training to Ranch cycling are to follow. For those leaning more mind-body, there is yoga and tai chi. You can also opt for dance classes, including salsa.
Perhaps meditation and sound healing appeals or an art workshop to make jewelry or sketch the landscape. There might be 11 gyms, a Pilates studio, tennis and pickleball courts and four swimming pools, but nothing beats a labyrinth meditation walk or keeping an eye out for soaring red-tailed hawks and ravens while strolling in the foothills of Mount Kuchumaa. At the spa—where men’s and women’s health centers feature steam rooms, whirlpools and saunas—unwind with holistic healing therapies like acupuncture, Reiki and Watsu, or go for a more traditional facial and other massage treatments.10/27
Core Values of Sustainability and Community
Since its inception, sustainable practices and community have been integral to the pillars of Rancho La Puerta and are represented across every aspect of the property—from its green building and construction to native landscaping and water conservation.
A proud steward of the land, eco-friendly initiatives include waste reduction, recycling .energy conservation to help minimize the resort’s environmental footprint and set an example for sustainable living. And while the organic farm provides fresh produce for the dining program, it also serves as an educational guest resource.
Work by local artisans and craftsmen is available to purchase in the boutique, with an occasional cultural exchange that sees performers and musicians share their talents with guests to help promote cultural understanding and appreciation.
The Ranch regularly hosts educational workshops, lectures and events on wellness, nutrition and sustainable living for visitors and the local community, as well as organizing health and wellness outreach programs offering access to fitness classes, holistic health workshops and general wellness resources.
Rancho La Puerta in Tecate
Stay in a Charming Casita or Roomy Ranchera Solo
With a range of configurations to suit different group sizes—from cozy single-bed studios to spacious villas that can accommodate small families—Rancho La Puerta’s 87 terra cotta tile-roofed casitas are cozy and charming. Sweeping archways, wood-beamed ceilings and Mexican folk art decor create a chic, rustic aesthetic. While casita might mean “little house” in Spanish, many of them provide over 1,000 square feet of space—including private sun porches surrounded by nature—ideal for kicking back and relaxing between treatments and classes.
Located close to the dining hall and gyms, the Ranchera Solos are perfect for single travelers, whereas a range of Haciendas, which include two beds, a lounge area, plus adobe- or Spanish-tiled fireplaces, are popular with traveling friends. Groups of four might consider checking into one of the Villa Suites, most of which are located a short stroll from the Villas Pool. Couples looking to splurge during their stay will love any of the Villas Cielo, which come equipped with meditation cushions and feature lush gardens and dipping pools flanked by day beds.
Enjoy Fantastic Farm-to-Table Dining
Naturally grown “slow food” is celebrated at Rancho La Puerta, and guests can expect moderately portioned and meat-free meal plans, so it’s easy to drop a few pounds without trying. The dining hall becomes a communal hub during breakfast and lunch (served buffet-style). Sit-down dinners are served tableside with dishes from Chef Reyna’s menu, including standouts like Mexican corn chowder and Ranch tamales. All dishes are prepared with farm-fresh organic vegetables, herbs, fruits and eggs.
Guests are encouraged to pick ingredients from the 6-acre organic garden at La Cocina Que Canta (The Kitchen That Sings) and prepare nutritious meals in one of the guest chef-hosted cooking classes. If cooking isn’t your thing, hopping on a tour of the nearby Tres Estrellas Organic Farm is another great way to learn about eco-friendly farming techniques and the importance of sustainable agriculture. Poolside juice bar Tierra Alegre serves fresh-made juices, and although wine is served during the welcome reception and farewell dinner, it is available to purchase from Bazaar Del Sol—enjoy a glass on the outdoor patio with fellow guests or in the privacy of your casita.
Rancho La Puerta
Carretera Mexicali-Tijuana K.M 136.5
Rancho la Puerta, 21520 Tecate, B.C.
Keri Bridgwater is a freelance writer covering travel and lifestyle. Her work has been featured in Fodor’s Travel, Marie Claire, Matador Network and InsideHook, among other outlets and publications.