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Rancho La Puerta, Eco Spa Resort Since 1940

The world’s very first destination spa in Tecate, on the Mexico/California border, was lovingly created and designed by two people who firmly believed in habitat conservation, organic farming and sustainable living.

Today, the family-run Rancho La Puerta has developed into one of the best examples of an Eco Spa in North America.

Humble Beginnings

Almost 70 years ago Edmond and Deborah Szekely had great plans to start a retreat for those desperate to escape the everyday rigors of modern life. So, they moved to the sparsely populated village of Tecate, rented a little hut that sat in the middle of a vineyard, which once housed meal for livestock, and started an organic veggie patch out front. The vineyard was called Rancho La Puerta.

Their idea was simple, to provide a haven for those seeking a tranquil place to help rebalance mind and body without causing any harm to the natural habitat around them.


They had already spread the word about the new retreat so quickly bought a goat from a neighbour and started making and selling goat’s cheese which they could offer to newcomers.

Guests had to bring their own tent, there was no running water, no electricity, no gym, no pool but they did have access to acres of land, neighbouring Mount Kuchumaa for hill walking and a river nearby for swimming.

It’s changed a bit since then.

The 21st Century Spa

Your own tent is no longer a prerequisite for entry; the Rancho now boasts over 80 casitas, all uniquely designed with comfort and relaxation in mind, a grand main house and lush landscaped gardens designed by the founder’s daughter, Sarah Livia (Szekely) Brightwood.

The casitas are arranged in clusters, with some being more private than others, each with its own Mexican influenced rustic charm.

All guests are allocated to a specific casita for the week which range from the Ranchera style, suitable for single travellers (but still with double or king size bed) to the larger Villa style which can accommodate up to four people.

Facilities and Activities

Rancho La Puerta has all the usual trimmings of a spa; pools, spa treatments centres, salons and quiet spaces. There are single-sex health centres for both men and women or a mixed one offering the same amenities and you can book treatments before you arrive or leave it in the hands of the gods and see what you feel like when you get there.

It’s not all about chilling out though, these guys like to keep you on your toes and lead a number of exercises and activities like yoga, Pilates and hiking. When it all gets too much, seek out one of the many hammocks around the grounds and take in the view.

For the artisans, there are arts and crafts classes, writing workshops and Broadway dance classes, or get involved in the old-fashioned bingo night, a highlight of the week.

Culinary School and Organic Farm

If food is more your passion, book onto one of the hands-on cooking classes at La Cocina Que Canta, the culinary arts school, to learn a blend of Mexican/Mediterranean cooking and to ensure you don’t get too skinny with all the other healthy things you’re submitting your body to. Oh, and the food is exclusively vegetarian so carnivores may be disappointed.

Veggie lovers and green fingers have the opportunity to visit Rancho Tres Estrellas, the six acre organic farm that evolved from that first little vegetable patch. The farm is now run by Sarah Livia Brightwood and is a leading resource in agricultural education for the people of Tecate. Guests no longer get involved in the day-to-day running of the land though you can help prepare the soil or plant new seeds – leave your mark on this environmental success story.

What’s Not Included

If you’re thinking of booking a great escape at this fab Eco Spa, there’s a reason – you’ve been busy, need some head-space, want some you-time so you’ll be pleased to know there are no televisions and only half the casitas have phones.

Well, it is a retreat after all.

– Prices start from $2,795 – $3,390 for the week and include all meals, guided hikes and walks, use of facilities, evening programs and classes (apart from new cooking school).