Review of Rancho La Puerta

destination spas in California
The mountains at Rancho La Puerta are great for hiking.

Rancho La Puerta

Rancho La Puerta is the original destination spa and still one of the very best. Started in the 1940s by Edmond and Deborah Szekely, Rancho La Puerta is four miles across the border from California. Rancho La Puerta has lots of things going for it, great food and classes, hiking in beautiful mountains, outstanding guest speakers and a friendly atmosphere. It's just an hour from San Diego. And it's an excellent value compared to destination spas in the U.S. That's why so many regulars, who call it "The Ranch," come back ten, thirteen, twenty-five times.


The emphasis here is more about gaining health than losing weight, and taking pleasure in good food is part of that. Meals at Rancho La Puerta are festive and fun, like wonderful dinner parties. It has its own six-acre organic farm, which means the ingredients are outstanding. And with only 120-150 guests most weeks, the kitchen can go to some trouble in the preparation and presentation.

The emphasis on healthy food also shows up in the gorgeous culinary center called "La Cocina Que Canta," located two miles from "The Ranch." If you want to try some of their recipes, there is an excellent cookbook called "Cooking With The Seasons At Rancho La Puerta: Recipes From The World-Famous Spa."

One of the most popular hikes is an early morning walk to have a special extra-hearty breakfast at La Cocina, complete with Mexican hot chocolate, then tour the organic gardens. Don't miss this! It's so much fun to watch the gardener pull up beets and carrots.

And be sure to sign up for a cooking demonstration or hands-on cooking classes at La Cocina, often taught by guest chefs. While I was there Mary Karlin taught us how to make grilled herb flatbreads, hummus, smoky olive tapenade, tagine of spice-rubbed fish, and grilled fruits with lemon zabaglione. They were excellent dishes and easier to make than you might think.

Hiking, Dance Classes, and the Arts

Fortunately, there are lots of activities so you can eat plenty of food and not gain weight. Morning hikes up the sacred mountains behind Rancho La Puerta were invigorating. Most of them came back by breakfast, but some people went on extended hikes that lasted half a day. If you are back earlier, you can go to a stretch or yoga class after breakfast.

The dance classes are fantastic, especially the MTV class where Demetreous had you running around like he was the choreographer and we were the "posse" in a Britney Spears " video. (He was also Britney!!) Who knew exercising could be fun and funny?

After lunch, enjoy lectures from their fascinating nutritionist on topics like "Protein: How Much Is Enough?" or fiction-writing classes taught by novelist Ellen Sussman, who edited "Bad Girls: 26 Writers Misbehave."

In the evening there are guest speakers like Pepper Schwartz, PhD., who explains why having sex (alone or with someone else) is so important for your overall health. Pepper is the author of Prime: Adventures and Advice on Sex, Love, and the Sensual Years.

Other ways to spend your time include a jewelry-making class in the art studio, a postural therapy class, or just spend more time in your room. The Junior Villa has stunning mountain views, beautiful Mexican folk art, and a real fireplace.


You spend a lot of time walking at Rancho La Puerta, because the main campus is spread out over many acres, and it's easy to get lost on the winding, hilly, heavily-planted paths. There are also three different spas, one for men and two for women, plus the beauty salon, and sometimes it can be confusing about where each treatment is. All of the therapists are Mexican and some have very little English, while some are quite fluent.

Services include "Healing Therapy Massage," which is 100% Trigger Point Therapy. This is not for everyone, but if you want to tackle chronic pain, it's a good treatment.

Coming Back to The Ranch

The Energy Balance Massage, which combined a good body massage with energy work. The 90-minute treatment was primarily massage, but she included the application of a "special lotion" on my neck and hair (witch hazel?), then pressed a bundle of cool, fresh herbs into my neck and head, which felt wonderful, then swept them over my body to "cleanse my aura." This leaves you feeling relaxed and energized.

One of the best things about Rancho La Puerta is the people you meet. Some people even make reservations for the same time next year so they can see their new friends. This can be an inspiring, even life-changing visit.

  • Type of Spa: Destination spa
  • Location: Tecate, Baja California, Mexico. One hour southeast of San Diego.
  • Rates: Includes meals, fitness classes, lectures. Spa services and cooking classes extra.
  • Phone: US toll-free 800-443-7565, Worldwide 858-764-5500