Mexico is a world of its own, with unique geography, landscapes and beaches, a rich history and delicious food. All this adds up to a diverse culture, awesome weekend activities and meaningful volunteer opportunities. Despite being in the same country, there are vast differences between our volunteer programs in Merida and San Pancho. Below are a few aspects of both cities to help you figure out which Mexico volunteer program is right for you… you may even decide to experience both!
Where are the two program located?
Sometimes also called San Francisco, San Pancho is a small and welcoming seaside town on the Pacific Coast of Mexico in the state of Nayarit. It’s a short drive from Puerto Vallarta and Sayulita. Everything is in walking distance in San Pancho - it’s an easy and relaxed place to give back within a friendly community.
It’s warm year round in San Pancho so you’ll be able to enjoy swimming in the Pacific Ocean regardless of when you choose to visit. June through October are the warmest months, with an average temperature of between 77-90°F (25-32°C). Take advantage of the sea at your doorstep by cooling off with a refreshing dip after your day of volunteering!
Merida is the vibrant capital of the Yucatán state on Mexico’s Caribbean coast and is one of the most beautiful cities on the peninsula. The Yucatán peninsula also happens to be one of Mexico’s top tourist destinations. Your accommodation is in the neighbourhood of Maya - it’s a safe and quiet area of Merida and only around 25 minutes drive to the beautiful beaches.
It’s warmer than San Pancho, with summer temperatures reaching up to 98°F (37°C).
What’s the culture and cuisine like?
So why visit Mexico? It has a lot more to offer than just tacos and tequila. Although food and drink does play a big part in the culture! Its a vibrant country full of life and color - you’ll love every moment you’ll spend living here as a volunteer. Then there’s the natural landscape to consider. The sand is spectacular, be it on a beach or in the desert, perhaps only to be matched by the mountains or the jungle. As an IVHQ volunteer in Mexico you’ll be close to the beach in either San Pancho or Merida - and they’re some of the most beautiful beaches you will see! Most Mexicans have some grasp of English so you can get around if you don’t speak Spanish, although it does help.
Full of charm and character, San Pancho is the place for music and melt in your mouth Mexican food.
The local cuisine is unique and distinctive, and quite different from the rest of Mexico. An abundance of local smoothie bars have loads of breakfast options from nutritious acai bowls to the traditional huevos rancheros. When it comes to lunch and dinner, grab some tacos on the beach, head to an oceanside restaurant or enjoy a local BBQ. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, stop by one of the many stalls selling fresh fruit and ice-cream for a snack or light dessert.
There’s a strong music culture which means you’ll get to enjoy local and international acts at a beachside bar or side street speakeasy.
With its colonial past, Merida is rich in history, culture, art and tradition. The downtown buildings are an attraction in their own right - painted in bright shades of purple, red, pink, blue and yellow. Then there’s the Museum of Modern Art located next door to the city’s striking Cathedral. Be sure to explor the vibrant nightlife with an evening of salsa dancing. And, the locals (mainly of Mayan decent) will welcome you into the city they call home.
The Yucatecan cuisine in Merida is delicious and food is often from strictly local produce. Head to the colourful and crowded Lucas de Galvéz Market, housed in a stunning big pink building, to try escabeche, cochinita pibil (slow roasted pork), sopa de lima (lime soup), frijol con puerco, queso relleno (stuffed cheese), papazules and poc chuc (marinated pork).
What can I do in my free time?
Mexico is increasingly being seen as a desirable tourist destination, due to its beautiful beaches, its amazing food and how affordable it is. Both IVHQ volunteer programs have handy access to stunning local scenery nearby.
If you’re into surf, sun, sand, and stretching, San Pancho is the place for you. Spend your free time learning to surf, enjoying a class at a local pilates or yoga studio and end the day watching the sunset on the beach. You can also get involved in things like snorkelling, diving and sailing to help you fill your weekends with fun.
For the history buffs out there Merida has you covered! The nearby Chichen Itza is one of the wonders of the world and home to stunning Mayan pyramids. You can also get lost in the ancient Mayan cities of Uxmal and Izamel.
Take a dip in some of the beautiful blue cenotes (natural underground pools) or visit the pink flamingos at Celestun National Park. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also markets and fairs, evening performances, walking tours and a stunning main beach right on the Caribbean!
What is the accommodation like?
Both programs accommodate volunteers in safe neighborhoods that have been pre-approved by IVHQ staff.
In San Pancho you’ll likely find yourself in a small volunteer house with shared bedrooms, bathrooms and communal areas. Each bed has a fan to keep you cool during warm nights. When the volunteer house is at capacity or if volunteers want an upgrade, rooms at a local hostel are provided, just a short walk from the volunteer house and centre.
You’ll be staying alongside others in a dorm-style volunteer house, which has shared rooms and bathrooms, a communal outdoor kitchenette, WiFi and swimming pool. Accommodation upgrades to private and air-conditioned rooms are also available for an additional cost.
What volunteer projects can I choose from?
When you’re trying to find the right volunteer opportunity for you, it’s important to consider what your motivations are for volunteering abroad and whether you have any specific skills that you can contribute. Figuring out these two things will help guide your decision and support you in finding the right Mexico program for you. Think about how your motivations and skills fit with these projects.
Environmental Education and Upcycling: Encourage and educate community members about living sustainably. Assist with restoration projects such as beach clean ups, gardening, collecting and sorting recycling materials, and upcycling glass, textile and plastic materials. For the super keen, you can also help design and deliver environmental education programs (intermediate Spanish required).
Art and Community Outreach: This project is a creatives dream. You’ll assist with dancing, singing, graphic and web design, photography and videography.
Childcare and Education: Volunteers focus on providing educational lessons and activities for children within this small seaside community. This project requires volunteers to speak at least intermediate Spanish.
Teaching English: Encourage local students to learn a foreign language and increase their own employment opportunities. Volunteers work at community centers and schools and typically plan activities to reinforce a weekly educational theme. An intermediate level of Spanish is required.
Childcare: Provide support to economically disadvantaged children. Placements include a family crèche at children’s therapy center, a daycare center for single mothers, as well as a shelter for adolescent children.
Special Needs Care: Work alongside locals in a residence for abandoned adolescents and adults with special needs. You’ll assist with physical, medical and therapeutic attention.
Animal Care: Work at a shelter for abandoned cats and dogs, assisting staff to bathe, brush, train, walk and play with animals to prepare them for adoption.
Sustainable Agriculture: This is a unique opportunity to work on sustainable farms, learning traditional techniques and building an authentic connection into Merida’s hardworking agricultural community. An intermediate level of Spanish is required.
Can I volunteer in both locations?
Torn between which volunteer program in Mexico is going to the best option for you? You can always join both! This is the ideal way to experience both city and coastal living in Mexico. You’d also support and be immersed in two distinctly different communities.
Volunteers in San Pancho can begin on the first and third Tuesday of every month for between 1-8 weeks. In Merida, volunteers can begin on the first and third Monday of every month for between 1-12 weeks.
In order to join both programs, all you need to do is submit an application for each program, and then register for each. And because you’ll be registering for two programs, you’ll receive a 10% registration fee discount for your second program. See the IVHQ Alumni Network page for more information.