El Leonero passed away in 1974 and his hideaway looked like it was going to go to seed. That was until John Ireland discovered what was then Rancho El Leonero
Before you visit Rancho Leonero for the first time, you call it by its actual name. “We’re going to Rancho Leonero on the East Cape,” you might say to your coworkers the Friday afternoon before your trip. However, once you’ve visited the East Cape hotel, it takes on a different name — it simply becomes “The Ranch.”
The reasons are simple: It’s just one of those places you feel at home at right from the get go. Chalk it up to the quaint feel of palapastyle rooms, palm trees galore and relatively few guests (compared to other resorts) on the sprawling 350 acres. A beautiful beach with no other hotels around also adds to The Ranch’s appeal, as does the personalized service owner John Ireland’s staff is known for.
Maybe part of the reason why Ireland’s hotel (or is it a resort?) has so much charm is because Ireland himself fell in love with The Ranch back in its earlier days.
The East Cape has a rich angling history as a getaway for Americans. Fiftyplus years ago the rich and famous (think John Wayne and Bing Crosby) would fly down to the East Cape on private airplanes to get away from it all and go fishing. One of the East Cape revelers from yesteryear was a wealthy wildlife cinematographer named Gil Powell. He, like many others past and present, fell in love with the East Cape as a whole, but more specifically, the 300acre chunk of boulderstrewn, beachside real estate that is now Rancho Leonero.
Powell bought this prime piece of land located right on a small point with an incredible Sea of Cortez view. He spent a fair bit of time on his chunk of Baja when not running off to exotic locales like Africa to shoot films.
His African exploits are actually what gave birth to the name Rancho Leonero. The locals started calling Powell El Leonero — which loosely translates to “the one that runs with lions,” in Spanish.
El Leonero passed away in 1974 and his hideaway looked like it was going to go to seed. That was until John Ireland discovered what was then Rancho El Leonero. In 1979 Ireland started going through the hoops that it often takes to conduct business in Mexico, and, eventually, he acquired the property in 1981 and started growing it into what it is today.
In ’84 construction began on the original five rooms of what would go on to be called The Inn at Rancho Leonero. By ’86 the prime piece of property was taking guests. Between then and now The Ranch has changed in many ways, from its name on up to the number of rooms. It now features 34 rooms, a number that will more than likely never change, since “old Baja” has always been the feel The Ranch has tried to convey. Ireland has no plans to add to the number of rooms, instead he started a renovation project in November of 2007 that completed last winter and has The Ranch looking better than ever.
PICK YOUR SEASON
Rancho Leonero is open yearround, unlike some other Baja hotels that shut down for the winter when north winds can make fishing tough. There are fishing possibilities 365 days a year; they just shift with the seasons, like most fisheries.
Winter and early spring are definitely the off season, due to almost equal parts north wind and cooler water temperatures. Still, fishing can be great for inshore targets like yellowtail, sierra and pargo, while offshore the chance at marlin and dorado is always a possibility. As spring kicks in, so does the fishing both inshore and offshore. The marlin fishing has been just incredible the past few springs, and Ireland says May is a great striped marlin month, although it’s still the off season in terms of anglers’ mindsets.
Come June the season — as in when the most people come down — gets rolling and it keeps going until November, when crowds thin out after the second week of the month.
This writer visited The Ranch last season right after Thanksgiving with my wife, Carin, and the two of us literally had The Ranch to ourselves aside from sharing it with Pro Golfer Nick Price during the tail end of our stay.
We booked the trip because it's the perfect quick getaway — just a quick two-hour plane flight from San Diego and just a mere 50 minute shuttle from the airport in San Jose Del Cabo.
The dorado fishing was great the day we spent on the cruiser Aqua Dulce, one of the 28- to 32-foot cruisers found on The Ranch. The dorado pounced on our feathers and hoochies trolled just a few miles off the beach to the north. Dropping back strip baits resulted in plenty of hookups on the lighter casting gear they had on the boat.
As strange as it may sound, the fishing was just a bonus. We got what we wanted — to relax and revel in the feel of "Old Baja" at The Ranch.