Rancho La Puerta: The Spa

With all the exercise and activity at the Ranch, you’ll definitely need to plan in relaxation! Plenty of perfect spots and treatments await.

I love destination spas for trying new and different treatments. While they have the usual offerings you find at home, it’s a great time to experiment. I mixed old and new during my week…

  • Therapeutic Deep Tissue Massage: My 50-minute with Luz Ester was the perfect start to my stay. She kicked my butt in a good way… her strong technique got into the tight spots working deep to release toxins and prep me for the week.
  • Energy Balance Therapy: “This massage crystalizes spiritual healing in your energy field, helping you break free of any negative energy that may be limiting your mind and spirit.” Sounded good to me. It was a fabulous 90-minute treatment! Ninety minutes is the way to go!! The massage techniques were different…working the energy channels of your body…clearing the feet, legs, sacrum, spine, skull, arms. After each side, a fragrant herbal bouquet was used to rub down that part of the body…scents of sage, rosemary, cilantro, lavender. Felt lighter and energized after.
  • WATSU: Something you must try!  “It’s a passive form of aquatic bodywork/therapy that supports and gently moves you through warm water promoting a deep state of relaxation and dramatic changes in the autonomic nervous system.” A simple way to describe it is massage & body work in the water…like you’re in the womb. One hour in the 90+ degree pool with Dave and I was jelly! This was my second time with WATSU…this one much more dramatic and effective…pool bigger, water warmer, practitioner highly skilled. Once you let yourself relax, you have floaters on your legs and Dave holding/guiding you, it’s truly a freeing treatment. Floating weightless on my back, sun on my face… it was divine! Dave said within the next 24-48 hours to expect epiphany and ah-ha moments. I was ready and had some!
  • Reflexology: Pressure point work on your feet is very nice. This is the second time I’ve done a full hour session. The sensors on your feet connect with different parts of the body and the pressure point work relieves, relaxes, cleanses. Mona said all my organs felt good…just sinus, neck and shoulder pain she worked on. And I’ll tell you, all of those were sore after!
  • Five Elements: Reading about this in the material, I had to try it! Described as “the ancient medical Chinese tradition of seeking equilibrium and interconnection between all living beings inspires our ‘Five Elements,’ and our goal is to balance and restore Qi (vital) energy of the body and mind.” You chose water, wood, fire, earth or metal based on your needs. I chose metal, said to restore the mind and body’s harmony. This was an AMAZING 90-minute treatment! I don’t know whether it was the culmination of the week, the treatment or the combination of both but it woke up all the energy in my body and mind. Incredible!

Before and after treatments or anytime throughout your stay, the Ranch’s spa facilities offer quiet and cozy places to relax. My treatments were split between the Women’s Health Center & Lounge, nice older Mexican Colonial style, and the Villas Health Center, newer facility with soft Mexican tile decor. I enjoyed a soothing hot tub and steam room with fresh herbs after each treatment.

You’ll also find lounges amongst the casita areas, hammocks in the trees and comfy lounge chairs by the pool. My two favorite spots were the Villas Health Center rooftop lounge, a quiet undiscovered spot with nice hot tub, and the Villas Pool, great spot for sitting in the sun, looking at the palm trees and Mount Kuchumaa.

Here’s their full treatment menu.

After all of this, you must be hungry…let’s eat!

Rancho La Puerta: The Activities

With the plethora of fitness classes and programming, you can be active in body and mind from sun-up to sun-down at the Ranch! Start your day with a 6am Mount Kuchumaa hike then end with a movie in the Library Lounge or one of the guest presenters/performers.

My perfect days consisted of two hours cardio, one hour yoga, one hour meditation, one to two hours classes, one to two hours spa/relaxation AND time for reading/writing. What a treat to do this for SIX straight days!

There are over 70 options per day to chose from…my goal was to try lots of new experiences!


Fitness is the focus of the Ranch. They initiated the “Fitness Week” concept…every hour each day offers three to five different classes and activities (for all different levels of experience) from 6am to 5pm, to help you achieve your 10,000 steps per day goal (about 4 miles for me).

Hikes are a big draw. I was up at 5:45am one morning for the Pilgrim Hike up the mountain. What an amazing experience! Starting off in the dark then watching the sunrise as we climbed. I met some wonderful ladies on the hike AND had my 10,000 steps in before 8am!

I started out the week with Fit Check to get a gauge of my fitness level (excellent thankfully!). Some of my other favorite fitness classes included…

  • NIA Dance: Taught by the cutest instructor Miya, this low impact dance inspired class is done without shoes, fun and a really good workout!
  • Foam Roller: Something I’ve wanted to try for a while, it focuses on balance, core AND releasing tension. Another favorite instructor, Manuel, taught this class. He’s a treat! Watch out for your ‘ouchie spots.’ 🙂
  • Cardio Muscle Blast: This will create ouchie spots. 😉 An incredible 45-minute workout of fast cardio and strength intervals. Coco, one of the awesome twin instructors, kicked our butt in this.
  • H2O Sports Conditioning: Many years ago I did physical therapy in the water and it was amazing training. Several other water workout classes are also offered.

Yoga & Inner Self

Yoga was my original draw to the Ranch so one of my goals was daily yoga and meditation. Success and felt so good! The yoga studios and Milagro Meditation Loft are perfect spots looking out to the mountain and surroundings.

  • Yoga Sculpt: Yoga with weights. Whoa!! Manuel taught one day and Connie another day, the other twin. Slightly different styles but great workouts and a fresh take on your regular yoga practice.
  • Labyrinth: This gorgeous spot in the trees at the base of the mountain is a perfect meditation spot. It was a perfect session on my last evening…a meditative walk as the sun set and chimes rang in the wind.
  • Inner Journey Through Sound: Led by Susana Moore, these were incredible chakra opening meditative sessions using Crystal Bowls.

Classes, Workshop & Entertainment

This was the main reason I chose the specific week. As I’m also writing a picture book series (KeeKee’s Big Adventures), I saw Leslie McGuirk, a picture book writer and illustrator, was leading workshops, Quest for Inspiration, the week of 17 March. Not only was it fabulous to meet her and she was a wealth of knowledge/support, her workshops were fun and interactive providing participants with methods for increasing their creativity.

Additional special workshops and presenters during my visit included Autobiography and Memoir with Lawrence Grobel, Dream On: Exploring Your Dream World with Veronica Tonay, Adventures on Wall Street with John Olson, Get Your Kicks on Route 66 with Patti Londre and 13 Ways of Goldberg by Lara Downes.

I really enjoyed Watercolor class with their artist Jennifer Brandt…painting with such great inspiration around you as we sat in the sun by her studio.

Don’t miss classes offered with the nutritionist, BINGO with Barry Thursday night and Friday night’s Fiesta!


As you can see the options are many! But you pick your own schedule and go at your own pace. Advice for getting started? Just pick your first day’s schedule and take it from there. Here is a full sample schedule from a typical week and the schedule of Guest Presenters.

If you want to make a change in your body and mind, this week is a great way to start your journey! Now on to the spa

Rancho La Puerta: The Setting

Here you are in the Mexican desert on a Ranch surrounded by lush green grasses, wild flowers, palm trees, dancing scents of rosemary, lavender, orange…a 3,000 acre delight at the base of Mount Kuchumaa… just over the U.S. / Mexico border in Tecate, Baja California, Mexico. I’d seen the website pictures, heard stories from friends but there’s nothing like experiencing it yourself.

Fly into San Diego and Rancho La Puerta picks you up via motor coach for the hour plus ride to the Ranch. Driving through rolling green mountains, you finally cross the border for Mexico. After a 15 minute drive through Tecate, a rather run-down town, on it’s outskirts, you arrive at Rancho La Puerta’s gates and enter their sanctuary…your home cocoon for the next seven days.

Unfortunately it was pouring rain when we arrived Saturday washing out a our ‘welcome tour’ of the lovely grounds and facilities. We traveled under Ranch provided umbrellas to and fro through mid-day Monday, at times the mountain even covered with ice pellets. It was warmer back in DC!! Then Monday evening the skies cleared and Tuesday through the rest of week was the glorious weather we imagined, affording every opportunity to enjoy the beautiful setting. Most of the year the climate here is quite good…the cold rain was unseasonable.

The Ranch’s setting truly sets the mood for the experience…open, nature, learning, support, motivating, relaxation. The surroundings open your senses for what is sure to be an impactful week. You feel deep in nature here under sunny blue skies, birds chirping, bunnies hopping and the “exalted high place” guarding you from a distance, Mt Kuchumaa’s name given by the Kumeyaay Indians.

The style is charming Mexican Colonial throughout including your home-away-from-home casita. I loved my spot, Flor 1! The casitas vary in size, to hold the capacity of about 150 guests, each with its own private entrance, garden, patio and most have fireplaces. At night the only sound I heard, while relaxing, reading and sipping peppermint tea in my casita, was the crackling of my fireplace. Some guests complained about the beds but I slept like a comfortable log every night breathing in the fresh herb bouquet pillow-side.

As fitness is the Ranch’s main focus, there are ample facilities for it…11 gyms, 4 pools, Pilates studios, yoga studios, running track, dance studio. On the spa / relaxation side, there are two women’s spa centers, one men’s spa center, many sun beds by the pool and hammocks in the trees.

The last piece of the Ranch’s setting is the community. There is a huge sense of community here from the well-trained, helpful, fun instructors to the people you meet at your meals and chosen activities. As founder Deborah Szekely says, “the bonding that develops – that’s the most important part of the Ranch.” I met some amazing people last week that I’m so excited to have in my life.

Now that you’re immersed in the setting…let’s get physical!

Rancho La Puerta: The Original Fitness Resort & Spa

Rancho La Puerta has been on my ‘Must GO’ list for at least eight years, since my good friend came back from her trip to the Ranch looking like a million bucks!

Up until now I could never take a full one-week solo sojourn to a spa. Then as luck would have it…I found a great deal on SpaRahRah! AND retired from my day job…so off to the Ranch I finally went. What a magical week it was.

Having visited many destination spas, I thought I knew what to expect, but Rancho La Puerta is unique and special in its own way…all rooted in its fascinating 1940 beginnings. Edmond Szekely and his wife Deborah started a summer camp that year for Edmond, a Hungarian scholar and natural-living experimenter, to share his practices and philosophies with campers. His philosophies were based on the Essenes and their Dead Sea colony, the world’s first great agriculturists and natural healers. Edmond, the Professor, said human health begins with healthy soil (no fertilizers or pesticides) and good food.

They found the perfect spot for the camp just over the Mexico border in Tecate, Baja California, Mexico. They lived in a one-room adobe hut in the middle of a vineyard called Rancho La Puerta, meaning “Ranch of the Door.” For $17.50 per week, you brought your own tent for camping to their property, there was no running water or electricity … just a great mountain, Mount Kuchumaa, for climbing, a river for swimming, organic vegetable gardens and the Professor’s teachings.

Since the beginning, spa cuisine and exercise were staples of the Ranch. In 1950, Deborah began the first guest schedules…sun bathing, exercise, rest, treatments, lectures and meals. The Professor experimented with hydrotherapy for guests…wraps, opening their first bath house. They learned that “guests most liked things that had been most lacking in their lives…adequate movement and proper nutrition.” They built on that foundation throughout the years and continue to today.

Sarah Livia, their daughter, persuaded the family to redo the ranch in 1981 when there were very few destination spas in the U.S. Today Rancho remains one of the few family-owned and operated spas in the world. Deborah is still very involved and is 90-years-young this year.

In my series on Rancho La Puerta, I’ll share with you all the elements that clearly add up to the sum of Rancho La Puerta being named Travel & Leisure‘s Best Destination Spa in their 2010 and 2011 reader’s poll…

  • The Setting: 3,000 acres of lush green land, mountains, waters and desert
  • The Spa: from basic massage to the ancient medical Chinese tradition Five Elements
  • The Activities: with the plethora of fitness and programming classes, you can be active in body and mind from sun-up to sun-down
  • The Cuisine: “low fat, high flavor” spa cuisine…I wish they could come home and cook for me
  • Local Wine…while the Ranch doesn’t serve alcohol overall, they do pour local Baja California wines on the last night.

The Ranch’s goal is to provide guests “all you need to find yourself.” Let the adventure begin!

Get Ready for Wellness Week

Next Monday 19 March through Sunday 25 March is Wellness Weekâ„¢ 2012 encouraging people to take charge of their health and enjoy great savings on spa, private training, yoga and more.

SpaFinder has partnered with wellness advocate Mariel Hemingway, also an Oscar®-nominated actress and the author of the bestselling books Finding My Balance, Healthy Living from the Inside Out and Mariel’s Kitchen. More than just spa deals, Wellness Week is about getting people to pledge to living a healthier life. You can register and find out about all the details and deals in your area at

To get people on the right track, you’re encouraged to take the Wellness Week Pledge – 7 Habits for a Healthier, Happier You. It’s simple…

The Pledge: I pledge to take charge of my health by taking these simple yet vital steps toward a happier and healthier life. By committing to achieve at least one of these activities each day of Wellness Weekâ„¢, I will make taking care of myself a priority, enabling me to do more, stay healthy and live a longer, more vibrant and meaningful life.

  • Change my BREAKFAST
  • Choose to MOVE
  • Connect with NATURE
  • Make my SLEEP a priority
  • Embrace the power of TOUCH
  • Give myself the gift of SILENCE

Get more details and take the pledge here.

There’s also a photo contest…What Does Wellness Look Like? Upload your picture for the chance to win SpaFinder Gift Certificates and Wellness Goodie Bags.

I’ll be celebrating Wellness Week at Rancho La Puerta in Mexico. Started in 1940, they were one of the original destination spas and welcome approximately 125 guests each week to enjoy their classic one-week program. I’ve been wanting to go for years and thanks to SpaFinder’s SpaRahRah!, luxury spa and wellness deals website, I got an awesome deal on my week. More to come from Mexico next week.

Get your appointments booked, take the pledge & get ready for Wellness Week 2012!