An Investment in Wellness ~ Rancho La Puerta
Whereupon Rosario lets out a polite chuckle and quietly returns to my 90-minute Healing Massage treatment. A true professional, Rosario, like many other therapists on the Spa & Wellness team at Rancho La Puerto, has been at “The Ranch” longer than many other destination spas have been in business.
Over the course of 60 years, Rancho La Puerta, just south of the U.S. border in Baja California, has evolved from a rustic ranch to a sophisticated destination spa resort. It’s a palette of wellness awaiting your arrival, with creative organic cuisine, eye-opening nature at every turn, and hundreds of activities and programs to keep you busy -- or not, the choice is up to you.
In addition to set programs, the Ranch offers specialty weeks set out almost a year in advance. During my visit, Phyllis Pilgrim, the Ranch’s fitness director, and Irene Borger, a popular writing coach, held a daily class entitled Inspiration: Yoga and Writers’ Workshop. Activities carry on into the evening with movies, lectures on the changing political landscape of Mexico, and a not-to-be-missed bingo night.
The pre-breakfast morning hikes are an invigorating start to each day. Lasting 45 to 60 minutes, they offer stunning views of mystical Mount Kuchumaa and the rugged Baja California topography. Guests are free to choose from a variety of hikes led by experienced guides. Not to be missed is a hike to the Ranch’s organic farm and home to the new cooking school La Cocina Que Canta -- “The Kitchen That Sings.” La Cocina will soon be the hub of any food lover’s vacation dreams, featuring hands-on cooking classes with just-harvested organic ingredients.
With over 150 activities and classes available, guests may venture to try new activities such as Feldenkrais or Pilates or settle into old favorites. Although the majority of guests are women, more and more men are visiting, and the Ranch also offers custom programs, including circuit training, yoga and stretching classes.
One of my favorite memories is finding myself in the middle of a stretch class with a dozen other guys each bending in and out of shape. All the while, golden sunlight streams in from outside and James Taylor’s “Mexico” plays overhead as if on queue: “Oh, down in Mexico / I never really been so I don’t really know / Oh, Mexico / I guess I’ll have to go.”
(The yoga and stretch classes were so rewarding, they inspired me to continue the practice at home.) The well-appointed Men’s Fitness Center, with sauna, steam room and private outdoor Jacuzzi, was a welcome sanctuary, and conveniently located adjacent to the computer room --– for those of us who couldn’t leave home without it.
Accommodations at the Ranch are stylish, spacious and provide everything at your fingertips. Don’t forget, the time spent in your room is minimal. If you want to catch a quick nap, snoozing poolside in a lounge chair or swaying in one of the many hammocks on the property is a much more alluring alternative.
As with many destination spas, the rooms at Rancho La Puerta are free from TVs and telephones. Guests are asked not to use cell phones except inside their rooms. (This is a wonderful rule that I soon missed upon returning home.) Alcohol is not served. Should you want to savor a glass of wine, you may enjoy this in the privacy of your room.
Food at the Ranch is an important element -- providing both fuel for your body and reward for your accomplishments. Rancho La Puerta serves mostly a pro-vegetarian diet, which is nothing short of delicious. Meals are provided three times daily, plus pre-hike morning coffee and fruit to help get you out the door and mid-afternoon smoothies and miso soup to keep you going. Chef Jesús González and his team create amazing food and lots of it.
I was a first-timer at Rancho La Puerta and reminded of this fact all week. The question came up often when meeting many of the smiling guests -- in a class, at poolside, at mealtime in the dining hall, or along the meandering pathways. “Is this your first visit to the Ranch?” It’s not really a question, but an opening for a guest to announce they’re on their third, fifth, 25th or 75th visit to the club.
For the record, 125 visits is the current benchmark. And I’m still working on number 2. Past guests are like youthful and energetic Boy Scouts and Girl Guides eagerly attaining badges for repeat visits. As I learned, one-third of the guests rebook their next visit before leaving. Many return for the same week year after year. I’m just waiting for someone to do an on-location remake of the Alan Alda/Ellen Burstyn film Same Time, Next Year.
The destination spa guest is unique -- each taking time out to relax, refocus and invest in themselves -- and to surround yourself with this positive group of people over the course of a week is a rewarding experience. Some guests come alone, while others arrive with a family member -- parent or child or, for the truly brave, a spouse.
With its tasty organic cuisine, spectacular natural setting and hundreds of activities to keep you busy -- or not -- the Ranch gives off the air of a luxury cruise, except everyone on board this ship shares a commitment to better themselves, and by doing so each creates their own wellness experience.
Things to know before you go
The ranch is surprisingly close to San Diego -- only a 90-minute complimentary charter bus ride east, across the U.S.-Mexico border. The industrious town of Tecate lies on the other side, and within a five-minute drive, Rancho La Puerta. Make sure you have all the required travel documents.
Rancho La Puerta offers a beautiful and temperate climate year round. Guests stay for one week, from Saturday to Saturday, and enjoy all-inclusive rates that include accommodations, fitness classes, gourmet organic meals, activities and special presentations. Spa treatments and personal training sessions are available at very reasonable fees.
Rancho La Puerta
~ Craig Oliver, Spas of America