Rancho la Puerta

When I booked our trip to Rancho la Puerta, a spa/retreat in Baja California, Mexico a few months back, it was under the assumption that it would be the most vacation-like vacation of my life. I pictured it in my mind as a soft, full-page ad in a magazine, full of promises that I have never desired in a travel destination until recently: stress-free relaxation, time away to rebalance and reconnect with oneself, and an embarrassing heap of lavish, bourgeoisie pampering.

Typically, when I travel I want to see, eat, and do it ALL. I research profusely. I make lists and print out maps. I Google photos of the landscapes, plants, and cityscapes that are available to be seen. I dream of the photos I will take. I spend hours picking and choosing my camera gear carefully, only to change it all up at the last minute and then I wear myself thin, schlepping five cameras, lenses, rolls of film, and first aid supplies (be prepared!) up melting, tropical asphalt roads that no local would be foolish enough to ascend in the midday heat. Somehow, I always end up in the hottest locations at the most punishing times of the day. I enjoy being in and around the ocean, but I am not a relax on a blanket with a pulpy novel and a Mai Tai kind of traveler. I don’t even know what a Mai Tai is other than a vacation drink that comes with a tiny straw. [I am Googling it now].

I travel under the assumption that I may never get back to this part of the world again and I had better make it count. Thailand was the first trip that tested and then quickly destroyed my travel stamina, but it was massive sleep deprivation and allergies to several common Thai cuisine ingredients that did me in. A week laying about reading books, eating healthy, and hiking in fresh air, while also being treated to luxurious spa treatments and body pampering? Please. I half expected to stumble out of there at the week’s end on an uber-rested natural high, if not slightly bored.

But I was never bored. In fact, I could have gone another week without any of the zillions of activities on offer and have been sufficiently entertained and delighted just taking daily walks through the 3000 acres landscape. There was so much to see!

As we neared our destination, I grew eager for the sights of the desert, my excitement buoyed by the wildflower and birdwatching guides available on the ranch website. I stepped off of the bus with a list of expectations, but what I was not prepared for were the immediate, intense smells: a cup of fresh lemon verbena tea; rosemary bushes as high as my elbows; the sweetness of flowering trees caught by the breeze; salvias previously known only as pictures in books and others that I had never heard of before.

Both the landscaping on the property of Rancho la Puerta and the surrounding acres of coastal Baja California desert chaparral are full of resinous, luscious smelling herbs that move around the property with you. Over time I came to understand that the smell is so intense and alive because the plants bake in the warm desert sun, but there were still moments when I was sure that so much smell couldn’t be natural and that the ranch had installed hidden aromatherapy machines, not unlike the quaint music they hide in the bushes at Disney World to heighten your experience. Coming home to a frozen winter climate that is deprived of scent (other than the spray left behind by the neighbourhood pack of feral cats), it is those morning walks into a potpourri world that I miss most.

This was my favourite garden on the property. It had a managed wildness about it that captures the spirit of the natural, surrounding landscapes.

I have so much to show and tell of the plants, wildlife, gardens, and landscapes I enjoy at the ranch over our week there. Here’s a few to get started.

Society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea), a strong, garlic-flavoured plant with edible flowers. It is not hardy in my zone. I keep small pots alive by bringing the bulbs indoors for the winter. The vision of them growing en-mass was stunning.

Davin walking up the pathway to the door of our casita. We were located in the Sol cabins, which are closest to the mountains and offered a spectacular view from the outdoor patio. Seriously, our mouths dropped when we walked up to it on our first night.

Davin watching the sun go down with a cup of herbal tea and our casita behind him.

Turn down service on our first night included a bundle of freshly picked rosemary and lavender stems to bring about a good night’s sleep.

More images and observations to come.


Please note: Our week at this spa, including all services were hosted/sponsored by the folks at Rancho la Puerta. All opinions, images, perspectives, experiences, and text are mine.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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10 thoughts on “Rancho la Puerta

  1. I have been aching to get back to the southwest, and this just cranked up the volume. And this is such a wonderful time of year to be there. Sigh.

  2. Hi Gayla,
    Do you know any place like this in Italy?
    I’d like to find somewhere near Rome for a week at the end of february.
    Flowers won’t be the same but I need some place I won’t be seeing any palazzo old or new.
    Very nice photos, my compliments!

    • Unfortunately, I don’t. What’s interesting is that the climate & on-property landscaping had a very Mediterranean quality about it.

  3. Your photos are stunning and your writing is so evocative. I love the way you describe the smells as well as the sights. And I can understand why you would want to fill your days with walking & photography. Like Kath I don’t consider myself a desert type of person but I’m really looking forward to the images and observations to come.

  4. OMG!! “the quintessential tiki cocktail” Rum, Curaçao and lime juice…so lovely!!! (The Mai Tai was also prominently featured in the popular Elvis Presley film Blue Hawaii.) :D

  5. The photos show the lovely natural beauty of the spa. You are so fortunate to be able to spend any amount of time at a peaceful place like this. You did a great job researching and planning this trip.

  6. Oh My, That place sounds like heaven on earth! How I wish I could go NOW! Thank you for your very vivid explanation about the smells. If i close my eyes right now, I can smell the rosemary!

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