Mexico is making a significant impact on the wine industry, spearheaded by the winemakers in the Valle de Guadalupe area of Baja California Norte. For decades, wine grapes have been grown and harvested in this fertile region of Mexico, and in the last 10 years it has really taken off. The area has risen in stature and sophistication. Now it seems to be topping the lists of many wine connoisseurs, foodies and travelers wanting to visit someplace new. We had the recent opportunity to visit ourselves and enjoy a luxury weekend in Valle de Guadalupe.
Located just east of Ensenada and about a 90-minute car ride from the US/Mexico border, Valle de Guadalupe is easy to reach by car, shuttle or driver. We’ve visited several times from San Diego for the day or a weekend, and it is safe and easy. As the area has grown in popularity, more unique wineries, restaurants and businesses have been opened. Valle de Guadalupe now offers luxury experiences, and we experienced some of these with friends over a December weekend.
Luxury Weekend in Valle de Guadalupe
Just to be clear, Valle de Guadalupe has been no slouch in the luxury category in recent years. Even so, the area is rustic and undeveloped in a good way, perhaps like Napa Valley when it got its start. Some roads are unpaved, and various construction projects are in process as you tour the valley. This actually all comes across as charming and approachable. The whole area feels very authentically a wine growing region, with the active operations that accompany this activity.
Several hotels and accommodations have been developed that cater to visitors seeking an upscale experience. Hotels like Encuentro Guadalupe, Adobe Guadalupe, Contemplación Hotel and La Villa del Valle are all doing a great job. However, the grand dame and largest resort in the area is El Cielo Winery & Resort, and this is where we chose to stay.
El Cielo Winery & Resort for a Luxury Experience
Amid the vineyards and hills of Valle de Guadalupe, El Cielo Winery & Resort stands out. It’s the largest hotel in the area with 95 suites and villas, but it still offers a boutique hotel’s scale and vibe. The guest rooms, restaurants, grounds and amenities are all top-notch. It’s clear the owners have taken great pride in their property and thought about many details. Each casita is a separate building with three guest suites – a master suite on the ground floor and two junior suites upstairs. All have balconies overlooking the vineyards, grounds and two large ponds.
El Cielo means “heaven” or “sky” in English. This name provides a theme to all the names of wine, restaurants and operations of El Cielo Winery & Resort.
Guest Rooms at El Cielo Winery & Resort
The rooms at El Cielo are quite spacious. In fact, the entire property is spacious. Casitas are spread out over 10 acres of land, with plenty of space in between the buildings to lend peace and quiet. We visited when the property was not full, and hardly saw other guests while we were there. All the master suites have a private patio area with firepit, and there are other firepits scattered throughout for additional guest use. Furnishings are in very good condition, and everything is in perfect working order.
Inside the master suite is an enormous living room with two fold-out couches, comfy chairs and a fireplace. A dining area seats eight and a full kitchen can be stocked for those wishing to cook themselves or dine in with a chef-prepared meal. The bedroom is massive, with a sliding door out to another patio area. And the master bathroom is ginormous, with a huge soaking tub large enough for more than one person.
These master suites are more than 1,000 square-feet in size. The junior suites have king sized beds or two doubles, and are 473 square-feet plus balconies. Prices start at around $300 per night.
We were so comfortable here, it was very tempting to just stay in the room and cozy up. However, the vineyards and culinary adventures called to us. So we were off and running.
The Winery Experience at El Cielo is Exceptional
With this beautiful property and luxury hotel, one might wonder about the quality of the wine at El Cielo Winery. It’s actually quite good. We sample quite a few vintages and varietals of El Cielo wines, and were very pleased with the tastes. The terroir here encompasses a warm and dry landscape with cooling Pacific Ocean influences, since the sea is just 15 miles away. Due to this the wines in Valle de Guadalupe tend towards grapes that do well in this climate.
At El Cielo Winery, they are bottling wines that include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, Grenache and more. Whites include Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and more. Grapes are grown onsite or in a neighboring valley, depending on the varietals and their climate and soil needs.
Wines at El Cielo tend to range in price from $30 to $80 per bottle or more, depending on the vintage.
Wine Tasting at El Cielo Winery
When we visited the tasting room at El Cielo Winery, we were led into the basement. Here we had the opportunity to blend our own wine (!) under the expert tutelage of a winery executive. With a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines, we mixed them together with precise measurements. It was surprising what a difference the tastes were depending on the blending combination. My favorite was a blend of 70% Cab/30% Merlot, and I got to bottle up my creation and bring it home with me.
We also had the opportunity to taste several other glasses of El Cielo wines, all named in the sky theme. Favorites included Copernicus, Perseus, Galileo and Andromeda, but they were all delicious.
Outside the tasting room is a lavish wine garden, with picnic tables set under the shade of olive trees. Here visitors can have a bite and a sip while enjoying the scenery and fresh air. If the chance to mingle in the vineyards themselves sounds enticing, guests can hop on a variety of vehicles to tour the landscape. Motorized carts pull people around the vineyards. Or you can take a golf cart with a guide, or bicycles for a self-guided tour.
Latitud 32 at El Cielo Winery & Resort
Valle de Guadalupe is no slouch when it comes to cuisine, and there are world-renowned restaurants dotted throughout the valley. The restaurants at El Cielo Winery & Resort are also fantastic, so on our first night we dined on property at Latitud 32. As it turns out it was the perfect way for us to begin our luxury weekend in Valle de Guadalupe.
We decided to try the wine pairing menu, and when we arrived at the table it was literally decorated with an arc of wine glasses around each place setting. Wines from El Cielo were chosen to compliment each dish, and we were fortunate to taste at least six (or was it seven?) glasses.
We do not pretend to be wine connoisseurs, so let’s be clear. When it is suggested that I might taste notes of tobacco or leather or cinnamon or cherry in a wine, I fail. But I can tell you what I like. Out of all the red and white wines I tasted from El Cielo Winery, there was just one I didn’t love. And that’s just a matter of taste, I think.
Inspired Menu at Latitud 32
The menu at Latitud 32 is refined, yet rooted in the things that make this area of Mexico so special. Described as a blend of Baja and Yucatan influences, the restaurant serves an approachable menu with some delicious twists. For example, our starter of Dzic de Borrego (shredded lamb) was served cold with toasted plantain for a beautiful combination of flavors. We enjoyed the El Cielo Andromeda Chenin Blanc; A Mayan Ceviche included shrimp, octopus and fish marinated in citrus juice and habanero. Typical flavors, but when served with recado negro ( blackened spices from the Yucatan) it takes on a new flavor profile. The El Cielo Cassiopea Sauvignon Blanc was a perfect pairing for this dish.
For our mains, we sampled the Cochinita Pibil and the Tatemado Lamb among several other equally flavorful dishes. The cochinita was prepared in the traditional pibil style and was delicious served with a Xnipec chile sauce, blue corn tortillas and avocado. It was chef’s-kiss delicious served with El Cielo Winery’s Galileo Tempranillo. The Tatemado Lamb was equally well-prepared, slow-cooked for many hours to tenderness and served with mashed potato and birria broth. This was served with a glass of El Cielo Orion, a blend of Tempranillo, Grenache and Merlot.
Other Spots in Valle de Guadalupe Worth a Visit
If you even feel the need to venture beyond the vineyards and grounds of El Cielo, there are other places you may want to visit. The list is long and we’ve now been here several times. By no means are these places our only recommendations, but we did visit them on our recent luxury weekend in Valle de Guadalupe.
Bruma Winery – Bruma is a stunning architectural masterpiece, truly gorgeous in every way. We toured the winery and tasted their wines. They also have an outdoor wine garden restaurant underneath mature olive trees in the vineyards below.
Fauna Restaurant – The main restaurant at Bruma Winery is called Fauna, and although we did not eat here we’ve heard only great things. In fact it was recently names the best restaurant in all of Mexico according to Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023.
Deckman’s Restaurant – In our opinion, Deckman’s is one of the best restaurants in the valley – and in the San Diego/Baja region. We love the outdoor kitchen, grilled dishes and casual vibe. The food here is phenomenal.
IF YOU GO:
If you crave a luxury weekend in Valle de Guadalupe, here are some helpful tips.
Transportation Options – It’s easier to get here than some think. You can drive here from San Diego in about two hours. We prefer to walk across the border and meet a driver on the Tijuana side. El Cielo’s preferred service is Lomas Transport, and they were great getting us from the border to the resort and back.
Tours – We recommend for your first visit you may want a tour guide to show you around the valley. You will definitely need transportation to visit the wineries and restaurants, so why not have someone lead the way? Try Alfredo’s Winery Tours for their deep knowledge of the valley and guides fluent in English.
Best Times to Visit – As with any wine valley, the winter is less crowded because it’s chilly and the vines are bare. In spring the vines are sprouting and green, and in the early fall is harvest which is the most active time of year. The summers here can be quite warm.
Plan Ahead – Make reservations for wine tasting experiences and dining. It’s a popular place to visit for Americans and Mexicans, and things book up in advance.
Stop Worrying – It’s very safe in Valle de Guadalupe. Just like any place you visit, mind your belongings and surroundings. The vibe is very chill here, and crime is rare.
Consider Other Stops Along the Way
If you have time on the way down, stop for lunch in Porto Nuevo at La Casa de Langosta. They are famous for their Mexican lobsters, caught locally and served fried with butter and warm flour tortillas. On the way home, stop at historic Caesar’s Restaurant in Tijuana, now owned by famous chef Javier Plasencia. Serving celebrities and common folk since the 1920s, this restaurant is famous for inventing the Caesar Salad. The make it tableside for guests – it looks and tastes better than any I’ve had.
Let us know if you discover any cool spots! We will be going again soon and would love to hear about your favorite experiences.