Rancho La Puerta: a balance of body/mind/spirit

  • Written by Deborah Stone

Artwork abounds at the Ranch with bronze sculptures dotting the lush landscape. Photo by Deborah Stone
There’s a reason why people return again and again to Rancho La Puerta. It’s because they get what they need from this place, whether it’s the chance to reward themselves with some long-awaited R&R, find the space for personal introspection or seize the opportunity to recharge their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

The Ranch has stood the test of time and veteran alumni, many with dozens of stays under their belts, are testament of its enduring appeal and ability to provide something for everyone.

Located on the Baja Peninsula, in Tecate, Mexico, just 40 miles southeast of San Diego, the Ranch is recognized as the first and oldest fitness destination spa in North America.

Founded in 1940 by owner Deborah Szekely and her now-deceased husband, Edmond Szekely, the Ranch was created “to make healthy people healthier,” and it was based upon the principle that both the body and the mind must be exercised in order for this goal to be accomplished.

What has long attracted guests to the Ranch is its ease and warmth, along with a low-key, casual atmosphere, which makes everyone feel immediately comfortable. Perhaps the tone was set many years ago when the founders had the idea to help people get out of their daily ruts and invited guests to bring $17.50 and their own tent for a stay at a new type of health camp.

From these humble beginnings, the Ranch grew and gradually evolved into a top-rated modern spa, which has continued to garner worldwide recognition and awards for its innovative design, extensive menu of fitness classes, delicious organic cuisine and environmental-friendly practices.

What strikes most guests when they arrive at the Ranch is its setting. The place sits in the midst of the high desert on 150 lushly landscaped acres, with lovely mountain vistas. Meandering brick walkways take you through a flower-filled, Eden-like oasis with intoxicating scents and dazzling colors. There are olive groves, ponds and fountains and placed discreetly around the grounds are beautiful bronze sculptures and other outdoor art installations.

Pockets of serenity, in the form of small meditative gardens and contemplative bowers, are tucked among the rooms, gyms, pools and villas that spread out over the expansive property. And towering above it all is Mt. Kuchumaa, emitting a spiritual force and mystical energy that native tribes viewed as essential to well-being.

A south-of-the-border charm prevails throughout the Ranch and dominates its décor, from stucco walls and wood-beamed ceilings, to Tecate tile floors and colorful displays of Mexican folk art. This theme can also be found within elements of the cuisine, which is primarily vegetarian and features an abundance of organic fruits and vegetables. Meals at the Ranch are served buffet style for breakfast and lunch; whereas, dinners are a sit-down affair with wait staff in attendance. The food is tasty and inventive, with plenty of choices to appeal to even the pickiest of eaters. I ate like a horse while I was at the Ranch because I was hungry from all the exercise I was getting each day. And I never worried about what I was eating because I knew it was healthy and packed a nutritious punch. I took note of all the ways veggies could be used and prepared and realized that there is more edible plant life than I knew existed.

During my stay at the Ranch, I would begin each day at dawn by lacing up my hiking boots and joining a guided group hike around the surrounding wilderness reserve area.

The Ranch is well-known for its hiking program and offers options for all skill levels, ranging from rigorous five-mile mountain climbs to moderate two-mile walks over rolling hills.

Desiring a challenge, I often chose the kick-butt hikes, which not only gave me an excellent early morning work-out, but also a real sense of accomplishment. And the breathtaking views from the various vistas served as daily inspiration.

Guests at the Ranch are fortunate to have over 70 different indoor and outdoor, multi-leveled, instructor-led classes from which to choose. Some are active and others lean towards being contemplative and spiritually-focused. I aimed at achieving a balance of both.

And as I had felt stuck in a fitness rut before coming, I also sought to try some new and different activities, such as African and hip-hop dance, to spice up my regimen.

One afternoon, I headed to the pool for an Aqua Plus class, while another time, I checked out the Ranch’s labyrinth, a replica of the famous floor labyrinth laid in Chartres Cathedral in the early 13th century. Unlike mazes, which confuse participants with various deceptive elements, labyrinths are made of paths which you walk continuously and meditatively toward the center, then back out again.

They are a powerful metaphor for life’s journey and they are often used to help lead individuals towards inner serenity and self-knowledge.

As I walked the classic11-circuit design, I tried to concentrate on letting go of all the details of my life and to open myself to the experience. It was a wonderful opportunity to quiet my often too-busy mind.

There’s a non-competitive atmosphere at the Ranch, which promotes camaraderie and support among guests. No one acts like a diva and there are no fitness warriors who are out to show they are the fastest, the strongest or the most flexible athletes.

Well-trained and certified instructors provide encouragement and positive feedback, while helping participants improve their skills. They are upbeat, knowledgeable and truly interested in sharing their expertise with others. But they will caution you not to overdo it during your stay. The temptation is to try to do everything, which is impossible, and those who attempt this feat usually end up painfully sore and unable to enjoy their experience.

I found that it was important to intersperse bouts of activity with periods of rest. And when it was time to relax, I often headed to a lounge chair by the pool or to one of the many hammocks strewn around the property. Of course, I was also a frequent visitor to the several heath sanctuaries on the property, where I received an array of rejuvenating treatments.

The Ranch’s menu of spa services is extensive and many of the products used in the treatments contain herbal ingredients that come from the Ranch’s organic farm, Tres Estrellas.

Located just a few miles north of the Ranch, Tres Estrellas comprises five acres and produces most of the fresh vegetables for the Ranch’s kitchen.

Guests can sign up for a breakfast hike to the farm, which includes a tour of the gardens. It’s definitely one of the most popular activities and a must-do experience, in my opinion.

The combination of an early morning invigorating walk, followed by a sumptuous breakfast served al fresco, is truly a sensory delight.

Tres Estrellas is also the site of the Ranch’s new cooking school and culinary center, La Cocina Que Canta (The Kitchen That Sings). Opportunities for life-changing learning abound at this spa. In addition to all the daytime activities, there are nightly lectures by renowned guest speakers, musical performances and workshops in aromatherapy, prayer arrow affirmations, star gazing, jewelry-making, watercolor painting and more. Rancho La Puerta is a special haven that provides individuals with the luxury of time and space to find a balance between body, mind and spirit. I, too, can now proudly add my name to the vast number of devotees of this unique destination spa

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