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Rancho San Francisco

Chapala, Mexico

Once upon a time in a fun land called Mexico, there lived a multi-talented lady named Doña Stephanie. Doña Stephanie loved animals. Not the “Aw, aren’t these puppies cute?” or “May I pet your kitty?” kind of love. She fervently cherished anything “animal” so much that she decided to build a kingdom that would be a sanctuary for multitudes of creatures to live in blissful harmony and peace. She wanted her animal kingdom to be a magical kingdom. She just loved happy critters!

So, nestled in the mountains, she found a 5-acre spot a few miles east of Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico, that was perfect for her fantastic project and she named the place Rancho San Francisco. It took her many years to build, remodel and make the Rancho absolutely perfect, but she knew that just like in Field of Dreams (another magical place), “if you build it, they will come.” And they did. By the time we met this tenacious woman there were over 100 happy creatures that make the Rancho their home.

Rancho San Francisco offers trail rides and is available for weddings and events. In addition, Doña Stephanie owns Hotel Villa San Francisco right on the malecon in Chapala where each room has a unique musical theme. Another fascinating place filled with “melodious” old world grace! She also owns and is overseeing construction of a new villa in Chapala, right on the lake, that will be a bed and breakfast and event center, as well as housing a jazz bar. Whew! She’s one busy lady.

Understandably, Doña Stephanie needed some rest and to spend relaxing time with her family for Thanksgiving, so she entrusted us to oversee her precious Rancho domain while she was away.

The first time we walked the grounds of the Rancho we were in awe of the beauty of the place. We thought we’d fallen down the rabbit hole or something, and I swear I saw a few fairies twinkling around the bushes. John told me that they were just lightning bugs, but I clapped my hands just in case.

The property consists of several horse stalls and pastures, barns, a circular stone hut that looked like a mini Rapunzel tower/Hobbit home to me, a croquet field, a casita, two pools, a mansion main house with a wrap-around porch, two aviaries, a main garden, a palapa with a bar, and a pond. All of this is expertly landscaped and decorated with unique statuary and artwork. We were wowed!

Before she left for her trip, we followed Doña Stephanie around with notebooks and pens, to make sure we knew exactly what, where and when to feed each animal, as well as what we needed to do to keep the Rancho infrastructure churning. We felt a little like Lovey and Oliver on Green Acres, but having just survived two major hurricanes, we knew we were up for the task.

Thank goodness we had help. Rancho San Francisco employs a staff of eight that includes gardeners, housekeepers, ranch hands and a “fix it” main manager. Everyone except the manager, Bennie, spoke very limited or no English. John, thanks to Duolingo and Wlingua, is getting better at his conversational Spanish. I’m really good at mime. We got by.

Our daily regimen, for the month we housesat at Rancho San Francisco, went something like this:


  • In the morning, feed the five cats (all in different spots and different types of foods)
  • Cut up vegetables and feed the iguanas, guinnea pigs, rabbits and ducks
  • Check chicken nests for eggs
  • Go to farmers markets to get specific vegetables for each critter
  • Make sure hummingbird feeders all have nectar
  • Pay the staff on payday


  • Mix up dog food (BARF) and feed the three dogs, in separate spots
  • Feed the cats again
  • Cover the bird cages
  • Make sure that all the chickens and ducks are in the aviary, and if they aren’t, herd them and swoosh them in without letting the bunnies get out — the dogs love chasing the wild jack rabbits, so these would be easy to catch
  • At 11 pm feed all ten horses, each in different pastures or stalls
  • Put dogs to bed
  • And then, rest up to do it all over again!

Talk about stepping out of our comfort zones and doing something we’d never done before…WE LOVED IT!

By the time Doña Stephanie returned, we were bewitched by the charismatic charm of the place. We got really attached to all of the Rancho animals and hated to leave them (more coming about each critter in Meet the Menagerie).

After all, each of these critters live in an enchanting place, which makes them all extraordinary. And even though we both had misty eyes as we departed, we left with the assurance that the inhabitants of Rancho San Francisco…the horses, dogs, cats, birds, bunnies, iguanas, guinea pigs and pig, as well as the incredible Doña Stephanie…could make it without us, and live happily ever after.

Check out John’s “fairy tale” images of Rancho San Francisco below. Click images to enlarge or view as a slideshow.

There’s more:

Horseback Riding at Rancho San Francisco

To book a horse riding excursion or find out more about Rancho San Francisco visit website.

Hotel Villa San Francisco
Find out more about Hotel Villa San Francisco.

Story Categories:

2018,House Sitting,Mexico

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2 Responses

    1. Definitely a good time! You guys made our time there much more enjoyable. We hope to meet again when you’re finished skiing. Belize maybe?

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