Rancho Leonero - Comfortable, secluded, close to great fishing

February 11, 2005 - Western Outdoor News
By Ed Zieralsk

On the Sea of Cortez side of sun-drenched southern Baja, where the legendary peninsula juts into the tropical zones, the palm-thatched, king-sized guest rooms and "main house" of Rancho Leonero punctuate the broad green lawns of a tropical clearing of a 350-acre corner of "Old Baja," nose-to-nose with the pristine blue sea.

A fishing and sportsman's paradise, where coconut palms bend gracefully over two miles of dazzling unspoiled beaches, it's a place like no other. Set well apart from other "East Cape" hotels, this handsomely tropical, Reichner flower-studded resort stands in intimate relationship with the sea itself. Cradled by the mythical Laguna Mountains, it provides a comfortable and friendly sanctuary for those who want to truly experience the Cortez.

Rancho Leonero Resort, owned by John Ireland, is situated to the southeast of the towns of Los Barriles and Buena Vista in the East Cape. The sit-down family-style meals are spectacular and the kick-back, intimate style of the place is truly unique. Ireland is likely to greet you personally; the staff is friendly and available; and the service is first rate. Like the TV show "Cheers," it's a place "where everybody knows your name."

There is a variety of rooms to choose from at Rancho Leonero, including standard rooms with two double beds and west-facing patios, spacious deluxe rooms with double or queen beds, ocean view and courtyard patios, bungalows with large rooms, queen beds and private patios, or ocean view bungalows with large rooms, queen beds and ocean view patios. All of the rooms are air conditioned.

If you are seeking a memorable family-fun vacation in the unique atmosphere of one of the world's last great nature frontiers, or intent on setting a new game fishing record (or both), Rancho Leonero has all the facilities for full participation in your Cortez experience.

Not only do 1,000-pound black and blue marlin prowl these waters, but striped marlin, sailfish, dorado, huge yellowfin tuna, yellowtail, wahoo, grouper, snapper, roosterfish and dozens of incidentals swarm over undersea canyons and drop-offs within a mile of shore.

Surf fishing along the famous "double reef" directly in front of the ranch is spectacular. If big-game fishing is what you are after, Rancho Leonero sports a complete fleet of inexpensive pangas (Mexican skiffs), larger center console "super panbgas" and roomy sportfishers up to 40 feet, all at affordable prices, all with superlative local guides who know how to put you on the fish.

Neil Kelly, author of the definitive Baja fishing book, The Baja Catch, wrote, "This 40-mile stretch of the Cortez is the Grand Premiere class of all of Baja's waters, and few if any places in the world can approach it."

Scuba or snorkeling in the waters right in front of the ranch are like diving in an aquarium, and the astonishing Pulmo Reef nearby (the only living coral reef on the Pacific side of North America) is something no diver should miss in a lifetime.

It is no secret that travel writers love to "discover" an out-of-the-way resort where their readers can find not just a vacation, but an experience that truly takes them away from the workaday world.

For more information on Rancho Leonero Resort, contact its U.S. representatives at, 1560 N. Coast Highway, Leucadia, CA 92024 or call toll free (800) 646-2252 or (800) 334-2252 from the U.S. or Canada, and (760) 634-4336 from other countries. Fax is (760) 635-0727 and e-mail address is rancholeonero@worldnet.att.net.

About Rancho Leonero -

-- Rancho Leonero's beautiful, remote location on the Sea of Cortez is an ideal place to relax and get away from it all. Boasting almost two miles of private beachfront, the resort offers total seclusion from busy tourist areas. Guests enjoy the tropical hacienda-style elegance of native flagstone and palapa roofed cottages, and comfortable air-conditioned rooms.

-- Three meals daily are included for all guests. Friendly attentive staff will serve you in the baronial dining room or outside on the seaside patio. If you're out fishing or on an adventure, they'll pack a lunch for you. The legendary ocean front bar serves local brews and mixed cocktails in the restaurant, pool and bar areas.

-- World-class sportfishing is just steps from your doorway. The fleet of super cruisers and super pangas leaves from the dock in front of the hotel each morning. With more than 20 boats in the fleet, Rancho Leonero boasts a very high ratio of boats to rooms, so nobody is ever left on the dock. Experienced guides and captains will find blue, black and striped marlin, sailfish, dorado, yellowfin tuna, yellowtail, wahoo, grouper, snapper, amberjack, roosterfish and dozens of other species swimming in the Sea of Cortez. There are facilities to fillet and freeze your catch if you'd like to take some home, and guests are always welcome to bring fillets to the kitchen to have them prepared for dinner.

-- Great snorkeling abounds in the area. There's an attractive reef in front of the hotel. It offers spectacular viewing at a variety of depths. There's a shallow inshore reef for the novice divers and a deeper reef for the more advanced divers. In addition to the reef, the Cabo Pulmo Reserve is just a few miles away. It's the only living coral reef on the Pacific side of North America. The diving here is he experience of a lifetime. Trips to the reef for snorkeling and tank diving leave from our dock. Introductory dive courses and PADI certification are also available.

-- Sea kayaking is one of the fastest growing water sports. Guests at Rancho Leonero can choose from standard and double kayaks outfitted for fishing or just paddling. Guided kayak fishing tours are scheduled at least four times a year by Coastal Kayak Fishing's Dennis Spike to educate and excite new and advanced kayak fishermen.

-- Hike or jog the desert trails or climb the 1,000-foot summit of Corona Mesa for a spectacular panoramic view of the Sea of Cortez and the Laguna Mountains. Both weight training and exercise machines are available in our fitness room.

-- Massage therapists are available to assist in your total relaxation. Horseback riding tours as well as ATV tours can be arranged by the courteous staff. Taxi van service is available for shopping trips to La Paz and Cabo San Lucas.

A brief history of Rancho Leonero

Back in the '40s and '50s, Mexico's Baja peninsula was a rugged, remote area with few roads, and even fewer tourists. Cabo San Lucas was a sleepy fishing village, and most Americans had never even heard of the East Cape. Wealthy sportsmen and adventurers would fly down in their private aircraft, land on rough dirt airstrips carved out of the desert, and return with wild stories of the big fish they caught here.

Gil Powell was one of these hearty souls who fell in love with the area. He was a wildlife cinematographer by profession and related to actor William Powell. Around 1950 he found and purchased a 300-acre piece of paradise located on the beach just south of Buena Vista. Gil was continually going off to Africa to shoot movies - hence the locals gave him the nick-name "El Leonero," which roughly translates to "The One Who Knows Lions." During this time his ranch became known as "Rancho El Leonero," and over the years has been shortened to "Rancho Leonero."

During those Wild West days before paved roads and civilization came to Baja, Hollywood's "bad boys" would fly down in their private planes for some R&R where they could escape from the notoriety of their public lives and just hang out. The likes of John Wayne, Bing Crosby, and Errol Flynn were all frequent visitors to the ranch.

After Gil's death in 1974, Rancho Leonero languished for a number of years until John Ireland stumbled upon it in 1979. Instantly falling in love with the area, John spent the next two years trying to acquire the property, and finally succeeded in 1981.

In 1984 he started construction of the original five rooms of what was to become "The Inn at Rancho Leonero." The original ranch house became the bar and office for the current resort. In 1986 the inn open to its first guests.

From this inauspicious birth (in 1986 it had one cruiser with an oar-powered shore boat). the resort has grown to become one of the best facilities on the East Cape.

In 1989 a fleet of fast bullet cruisers was added, in 1990 the second wing of six additional rooms was completed, in 1991 the pool and the first of their super pangas was added, in 1992 the first six of their bungalows were finished, and in 2000 their new two-story complex was added.