The ABCs of fun-inspired fitness at Rancho La Puerta


Like the swallows to Capistrano, I returned to Rancho La Puerta in Baja California this year for my 30th visit. Since turning 31, I have looked to this spa retreat for more than what most spa destinations promise health seekers. The Ranch enjoys 341 sunny days a year, and, at an altitude of 1,700 feet, promises an invigorating climate. A week at the ranch is like being at a camp for grownups. However, a big difference is the cuisine-no hot dogs or roasted marshmallows here! The heart and soul of the Ranch is, in fact, the cooking, which makes use of all natural, no sugar and low cholesterol organic-based ingredients.

An Organic Vegetable Breakfast hike is offered weekly, where an organic farm breakfast is served buffet style in the farmhouse. Ingredients off-limits in the main dining room can crop up here-egg frittata and chocolate carrot cake, for example-but you have to work it off on the trek back to the Ranch. This four-mile, two- and a-half hour hike revs up guests for other activities such as cardio boxing, salsa, Afro-Latin dance, ballet workouts and, most memorably, a stretch and flexibility class.

Some experts say fitness activates creativity. When that happens, people head for the Artist-in-Residence program, which takes places in the Flores Lounge, surrounded by verdant gardens and sculpture. Another opportunity for artists is a class with Don Parker at the Art Studio, located in a quiet corner of the ranch. Parker is the catalyst for ranch guests who fancy a round of designing jewelry and mobiles with driftwood, wire, and beads all shapes and colors.

Rancho la Puerta has been whipping guests into shape for more than 60 years now, and part of its team’s expertise extends to squaring away details even prior to arrival. I was able to pre-schedule my spa services, which on the Piñata Plan included five treatments: two classic massages, an herbal wrap, and manicure and pedicure (even the men boast about their handsome feet here).

Arrivals are on Saturday and guests rarely leave the sprawling property during their weeklong sojourns, so there is a captive audience for the evening events, which range from a series on personal writing (Digby Diehl, author of “Million Dollar Mermaid,” presented three workshops) to an astounding high energy dance class with Yuichi Sugiyama, a Hollywood performer who recreates Broadway at the ranch.

Yet, with this flurry of activity and fact-finding there is one speaker who symbolizes the philosophy of the ranch more than anyone else, and that is owner, co- founder and entrepreneur extraordinaire Deborah Szekely. Having turned 80 in 2002, she has seen the ranch blossom from an avant-garde, though slightly misunderstood, fresh air and fitness camp in the 1940s to one of the world’s most respected spa destinations. But only recently has the world caught up with Szekely and her homegrown formula for creative aging. After having listened to her sage advice since 1974, it was symbolic that the wisdom she imparted to ranch guests during an evening program confirmed all that I have been practicing since my first visit here. She recommended to all that an important yet oft forgotten ingredient in taking care of oneself is to have fun. It’s obvious her recipe for longevity is taken to heart at the ranch.

The ranch is located about three miles south of the border and complimentary bus service from and to the San Diego Airport (where ranch guests can park their car) operates on arrival and departure days.

Rates start at $1,970 per person, double occupancy plus Mexican IVA tax, plus cost of a tourist card, which is approximately $22. Rate includes accommodations, dining plan and unlimited choice of more than 60 fitness classes, activities and evening programs.

Contact information:

Rancho La Puerta, 800.443.7565;

Pamela Price is co-author of “100 Best Spas of the World” published by the Globe Pequot Press( She can be reached at