Do a Google search for the best wellness retreats – and chances are good that Rancho La Puerta, in Tecate, Mexico will be on the list. I first learned about “the ranch” (as it is affectionately called by RLP veterans) during my “I am turning 40 and am going to a wellness retreat come hell or high water” research. And as it turns out, all the hype is for good reason. After just a few days, it was easy to see why more than half of the people that I met during my week at Rancho La Puerta were return guests.
My own Rancho La Puerta experience took on extra symbolism as I was there with my mom – fulfilling a 20-year dream of a mother-daughter wellness retreat trip. The good news for anyone like me – who wants to enjoy a mother daughter wellness retreat, but is slightly nervous about all that together time – is that the choices of activities are endless and allow for as much alone time as you’d like. Except that as appealing as all of the variety was, I admit to being nervous about too many choices. 5-7 activities every hour of the day (well ok, between 9:00 am and 4:00 pm) felt a tad overwhelming when I first started to map out my week. I knew that a key to a great week would be to not try to do something during every hour, but would I be able to resist?
Before I get into the nitty gritty of a typical day at Rancho La Puerta, I should share the context that helped me say yea or nay throughout the week. While staying flexible and being open to new experiences is a key component to any travel, I like to set goals when I take a wellness trip. Big or small, having a purpose helps me frame each day.
With that in mind, my main goal for my week at Rancho La Puerta was to come home with a solid foundation of strength training exercises that I could perform in my home gym. I wanted to hike, meditate, attend workshops with the guest lecturers and take advantage of the Rancho La Puerta spa of course, but my week would be “a success” if came home with one or two strength training routines to incorporate into my fitness routine. My secondary goal was to become more comfortable with meditation….and my third goal (yes, I am an overachiever) was to do some thinking about my professional direction. Each of my activity selections throughout the week were geared to nurture or move me towards these three goals (well ok, not EVERY activity…a girl has to have some flex time, right?)
A typical day at Rancho La Puerta
5:45 am Walk to the Main Lounge
With a 6:15 am hike each morning, I left a few extra minutes each morning to get to the Main Lounge so that I could have hot tea and check my email for anything major. (For anyone that feels like they need a bit more of a snack before the hike, many guests asked for a hard boiled egg from the kitchen the day before or a small snack and kept it in the refrigerator in the casita.)
6:15 am Mountain Hike
I am a firm believer in the fact that any day that starts with a hike is a good day, so although the mountain hikes at Rancho La Puerta start bright and early – there was never a question in my mind whether I would be there with my hiking boots laced and ready. Although the hikes all offer similar vistas over the high desert that surrounds Tecate, the imposing Mount Kuchumaa and rock formations are like a painter’s canvas for the burnt orange and bright gold hues of sunrise each morning
On any given morning there are at least two (in many cases there are three) choices for hikes ranging in distance from 2-7 miles and with varying difficulties. The hikes are designed so that guests have enough time for breakfast before the 9:00 am series of activities. (I was skeptical about this, but in the end, I never once missed breakfast.) The only caveats to this rule are the 7 mile mountain breakfast hike and the organic garden breakfast hike where the trek includes breakfast but still gets you back in time for your 9 am class. Guests are strongly discouraged from going hiking on their own later in the day (for safety reasons having to do with being close to the border and wildlife) – though I did see notice a few guests coming and going towards the mountains as the week wore on.
Breakfast is served from 7:30 to 9:00 am (Sunday-Friday) and 7:00-9:00 am on Saturday. The buffet is divided into multiple sections with offerings like eggs, black beans, quinoa, fruit, grains and even green juice. There are plenty of gluten-free options as well.
There were two meditation classes offered each day during my week at Rancho La Puerta. I went to the daily morning meditation session – and it was here that I feel like I became “a mediator.” Although I was two months into learning how to meditate, the guidance of instructors like Jay Dee Cutting III and Maya Griggs helped me learn new strategies and become more comfortable with longer sits. (It was also here that I first sat on a Zafu pillow – and proceeded to order one to add to my wellness toolbox at home.)
10:00 Yoga Fundamentals
Going from meditation to yoga each morning was the perfect way for me to focus in on the day and give my body the attention it deserved (especially since I never took any of the stretching classes offered on the schedule). My favorite yoga instructor was Maya Griggs – who even though the class was always full – walked around to help individuals make adjustments when necessary. (Maybe it was the extra energy that is said to surround Mount Kuchumaa, but I was moved to tears during my practice on the morning where Maya centered our thoughts around gratitude.)
The only day that I did not take yoga was the morning that Striptease dance class was on the schedule with Manuel Velazquez. Yes, it was a great workout – but more than that? I laughed for almost the entire hour (at myself for never in a million years moving like Manuel does). I HIGHLY recommend taking this dance class regardless of your dancing ability. From young and old, able bodied dancers to uncoordinated individuals – don’t worry… no clothes actually come off during the class.
11:00 TRX Combo
After six months of having a TRX in my home gym but not using it consistently, I was excited to take the TRX Combo class to come up with a routine that I could replicate at home. During this class, instructors set up stations (10 maybe?) around the room where we performed exercises for one minute before moving to the next activity. We repeated this high intensity circuit twice. Although you are in charge of your own pacing as far as how many repetitions you perform each time, there was a sense of camaraderie among the guests to help with motivation when muscles started to tire.
The other two strength training classes that I enjoyed were the Ranch Ropes Class (wow! It did not help that I selected the heaviest rope during the first class…but who knew a rope could inflict so much pain) and the Tabata Sculpt class which helped me learn about sequences of exercises to be paired together.
One of the best decisions I made during my week at Rancho La Puerta was to schedule personal training sessions with Jose Luis Beltran – the fitness manager – to create a personalized strength training workout that I could bring home. Over the course of several individual sessions, Jose Luis provided me with a dynamic stretching routine, circuit strength training workout and corrective exercises. The bonus? We videotaped each of the workouts and routines so I can literally workout with Jose Luis in my own home gym. (Personal training is an extra cost but was one of the best investments I made in myself this year!)
Lunch is served from 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm Sunday-Friday (and 11:30 to 3:30 pm on Saturdays). Perhaps my favorite part of lunch was being able to sit outside on one of the patios to eat under the warm sun.
1:00 Sculpting Class
The early afternoon block of time was where I tried to embrace my creative side and inner artist (even though for most of my life I have maintained that I am the world’s worst artist). Somehow I got the idea in my head to take a sculpting class – despite my lack of ability – since the instructor was the incredibly skilled Jose Ignacio Castaneda, whose family is responsible for many of the sculptures around the property. Looking back, this class was the unexpected surprise of my stay at Rancho La Puerta. Creating my very own sculpture unlocked a part of me that I never knew existed (not that I was particularly gifted in my abilities). The transformation was palpable – and the result was pure joy.
The class is slotted for 1.5 hours but since there was nothing else scheduled in the studio space that afternoon, Ignacio encouraged us to keep working on our sculptures. Guests that would like to bring their masterpiece home with them can pay to have their sculpture cast into bronze and sent to their home. Having my “her” watch over me from the corner of my desk each day – my bronzed figure reminds me of all that can be when we open ourselves to possibility.
There are activities at 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm as well. On one day I challenged myself on the Par Cour Obstacle course and on another day I giggled my way through Cardio Drum Dance where you use drumsticks on large garbage cans to create music as you workout. Crystal Bowl Sound Healing also takes place during the 3:00 pm slot and although I only took this class once, it was clearly a favorite as most of the other attendees that filled the space looked as if they had been going all week. This class is a cross between meditation and a nap (in fact, many people do fall asleep from the rhythmic sounds of the crystal bowls).
4:00 Take a walk
One thing I knew going into my trip to Rancho La Puerta was the importance of creating down time. Although it is easy to fill up every block of every day, at some point there is value in stopping to reflect and simply do nothing. I had considered taking another meditation class but I opted to go for a walk around the grounds instead. I grabbed my camera and sought out to try to document the beauty and energy that rustled through the flowers and plants. (Had the weather been a bit warmer, this would have been a great time to sit by one of the pools.)
5:30 pm Dinner
Unlike breakfast and lunch, there is a seated menu at dinner with one salad, a choice of two entrees and dessert. Any and all food restrictions are organized either before arriving at the Ranch or once you get there, which means that if you do have restrictions – you do not need to keep reminding the staff at each dinner. Wine is served during a reception early in the week and during the weekly Friday night celebration. I will be honest in that meals are not my favorite part of Rancho La Puerta. The food is good – but I was not hit on the head with any of the plates with a “you must get the recipe to make this at home” feeling like I have experienced at other wellness retreats. Having said that, Chef Denise Roa transitioned to executive chef of the entire ranch at the end of our week (previously she had been focused on the Cocina Che Canta cooking school) – so my guess is that she has since begun to per her talented spin on the plates and menus.
7:00 pm Spa
Although you do not have to schedule a spa treatment to achieve relaxation during a stay at Rancho La Puerta, I highly recommend at least one visit to the spa if possible. In my excitement, I scheduled four treatments during my week: the Ranch Herbal Wrap, Rosemary Loofah Salt Glow scrub, Japanese Restorative Facial and the Fire Five Element Fire ritual. It is hard to pick which of the treatments was my favorite – but the Five Elements treatment was unlike any other that I’ve ever experienced.
The Five Element treatments are “based on ancient healing practices to balance the five elements (wood, water, metal, fire and earth) and restore the Qi – the vital energy of body and mind in areas that have become unbalanced by mental, emotional, and physical disturbances.” I opted for the fire ritual, designed to “fuel the passion, desire and enthusiasm that transforms and drives you in the physical world.” So much more than a simple massage, my therapist worked on the nerves and muscles along my spinal column and massaged my stomach (something that I’d never had done before) leaving me feeling relaxed and energized at the same time.
8:00 pm Aging by Choice talk with Deborah Szekely
One thing that sets Rancho La Puerta apart from other wellness retreats that I have attended is the wealth of expertise that the guest speakers bring to the experience each week. Evening (and sometimes late afternoon) workshops and talks were one of my favorite activities. I had the opportunity to sit in on sessions about dreams, creativity, memoir writing, leadership and even the secrets of happy couples.
Hearing Deborah Szekely – the co-founder of Rancho La Puerta – speak was truly a gift as it is impossible to not be inspired by her outlook on life, relationships and food as fuel. She left us with so many takeaways, but my favorite was in relation to taking responsibility for our lives. It does not get much simpler than this:
“Your body will give you a kick in the pants if you start listening.”
Tips for a weeklong stay at Rancho La Puerta
Before you arrive
- For the most time at the Ranch – consider flying into San Diego on Friday night to catch the first bus from the airport to Rancho La Puerta and spending an additional night in San Diego after your week so that you can hop on the last bus of the day. (Transportation is included for Saturday arrivals and departures.)
- Pick your casita carefully. The casitas are scattered around the (large) property and although you can keep a change of clothes and bathing suit in a locker at the spa – it was nice to be able to pop back to ours for a quick change after the morning hike or in between activities (or in case I forgot something). While the villas are a bit more spacious than some of the closer in casitas (and they also have their own pool where you can have breakfast), I loved our Arboles 1 Hacienda which was just offset enough from the main campus but close enough to get to the early morning hikes in just a few minutes.
- Register for the Ranch Circle – an online platform with a wealth of resources – before you arrive. Membership and completion of the pre-assessment gives you access to a draft schedule for your week before you arrive (which I loved seeing so that I could start thinking about how to structure my days). The Ranch Circle also provides links to resources mentioned by instructors and forums for guests to stay in touch and ask questions once they are home.
Once you are at Rancho La Puerta
- Some classes and hikes (like the Organic Breakfast hike, 7 Mile Breakfast hike, Hands on Cooking Class, art classes) require sign-up, which opens on Sunday for the week. A few classes (Pilates and the Hands on Cooking class) have an additional fee. Others like the TRX, cycling and deep water training have limited space so it is a good idea to arrive a few minutes early.
- Nutritious snacks and smoothies are available throughout the morning and afternoon in the Main Lounge.
- Make sure that you allow yourself time for La Cocina Que Canta events. There are usually two evening cooking classes that include a hands-on lesson and dinner with executive chef Denise Roa, sous-chef Reyna Venegas or a visiting chef) and there is usually a Salsa y Salsa cooking demo class with one of the chefs and Manuel Velasquez that involves cooking and…you guessed it…salsa dancing.
- Take a walk on the reflexology pathway. More than just a way to increase circulation and melt muscle tension, the sensations of the different stones and varying pressure was a great way to simply “be.”
- There were many days where choosing between fitness classes, lectures and other activities was difficult with so many great choices in each time slot. I was very focused on my goals of embracing meditation and coming away with a strength training routine that I could use at home so let those activities guide my schedule.
- Schedule time for walking along the Ranch Labyrinth (take the guided session around the Labyrinth first for context and then go back for an individual exploration) and the reflexology path.
- Anytime there is a class with Manuel Velazquez – take it. (Especially if his legendary stiptease class is on the schedule). His workouts and sense of humor will have you laughing and crying at the same time (in a good way!).
- My favorite activities were the morning hikes, TRX, Meditation, Par Cour (obstacle course) and the Ranch Ropes class.
- Rancho La Puerta is not a weight loss retreat. I think of the ranch experience as more of a health vacation – a chance to invest in yourself, your body and your mind. Although some people might be able to lose weight, even with so much activity each day – neither my mom or I lost any weight. (I didn’t gain any either thank goodness). I attribute this to the fact that while the cooking is healthy spa cuisine – breakfast and lunch are buffet style which can make portioning a bit of a challenge. And at dinner? There can be a tendency to ask for a “combination” plate when you cannot decide between the two entree choices which just lends itself to a slightly bigger portion.
- Don’t miss the daily quotation and inspiration on the chalkboard in front of the track. Maybe it is the setting and ambiance, but it always felt like the words spoke to whatever I needed that day.
Looking for more tips and insights about a stay at Rancho La Puerta? Here are a few of my favorite articles…
- Read this Insider’s Guide to Rancho La Puerta
- What it’s like to attend Rancho La Puerta’s cooking school
- 22 Amazing things from Rancho La Puerta
- 10 best reasons Why Celebrities and Devotees Return to Rancho La Puerta
- Rancho La Puerta for Food Lovers
- Mind, Body, Spirit at Rancho La Puerta
Oh and by chance did you catch the big controversy when the New York Times ran a guacamole recipe that include peas? Well…I have had such a recipe. In fact, I made it (with my mom) during our hands-on-cooking class at Rancho La Puerta. The Aztec Guacamole is one of the recipes that everyone raves about from the ranch….and it is delicious.
*I visited Rancho La Puerta with my mom as a personal trip but was generously provided with a hands-on-cooking class session at La Cocina que Canta and one spa treatment. All opinions are my own (and as you could tell if you got all the way through this piece, I had a lot of them!)