Sustainable Travel, Volunteering, & Living in Mexico

Thoughts on the pursuit of living sustainably SOB (south of the border), plus a vetted listing of cultural, environmental, and educational programs where you can actively give back to the environment and local communities that you visit while in Mexico! 

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Do you want to make your trip to Mexico truly memorable and one of meaning? Do you want to contribute to real sustainability while having fun and seeing the country? If so, then this post is for you!

The following is a listing of places where your touring dollar or volunteering efforts can really make a difference. These listings are not typical eco-tourist destinations operating loosely under the guise of being “green” or culturally beneficial. Rather, these sites all have proactive environmental sustainability, education, or relief services as core aspects of their operating mission. These organizations have been individually selected and vetted as places where you can enhance your experience of mexico by actively participating in legitimate projects that really do provide a benefit to the planet.

Please note that many of these locations are working organic farms, ranches, research field stations, schools, etc. and, as such, take volunteers or other visitors on an advanced approval basis only. Unless noted, please be sure to contact the site ahead to make any necessary arrangements for your visit.

I hope that you’ll comment on your experiences, and suggest your own secret spots for helping to have (our) touring dollars & volunteering efforts make a positive difference! This list will be updated frequently and your suggestions will be added. Please provide links, or any other contact info in the comments section (click on comments bubble above).

Bien Viaje! Enjoy the tour!

Pacific Coast

Nearest City: Tepic / Sayulita

Type of Visit: school + center for preservation of indigenous peoples (Huichol) / volunteer work exchange (2 month min. + spanish). Advance arrangements suggested

Name: The Huichol Center for Cultural Survival

website/ http://www.thehuicholcenter.org/about-us/

contact info: Susana Valadez  huicholcenter@juno.com

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State: Jalisco (El Tuito)

Nearest City: Puerto Vallarta

Type of Visit: eco tourism + education / extensive tropical gardens & organic restaurant. No advance booking required.

Name: Vallarta Botanical Gardens

website: http://www.vbgardens.org

contact info: info@vbgardens.org 

From within Mexico: 322-223-6182  From outside of Mexico: 011-52-322-223-6182

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State: Jalisco (Mayto)

Nearest City: Puerto Vallarta / El Tuito

Type of Visit: working organic ranch + campground / guided horse, botanical and educational tours / volunteer work exchange programs (10 day min. – by application) + longer internships & homesteading options

Name: Rancho Sol y Mar

website/ www.ranchosolymar.com

contact info: ranchosolymar@gmail.com

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State:  Jalisco (Mayto)

Nearest City: Puerto Vallarta / El Tuito

Type of Visit: Turtle Research Camp / nightly turtle releases in season (no advance booking required). Volunteer work exchange programs (contact for further info)

Name: Campamento de Tortugas

website: http://www.facebook.com/campamentomayto

contact info: israel_llamas@hotmail.com

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State/Region: Jalisco / Lake Chapala

Nearest City: Chapala

Type of Visit: eco farm + education + community development / volunteer work exchange

Name: Acá Centro Ecológico

Website: www.greatgreens.org
Contact Info: Mari Prudent marimexico@gmail.com

 

Baja Peninsula (California Sur)

State: Baja (Cal Sur)

Nearest City: Cabo San Lucas

Type of Visit: eco tourism / working organic farm / eco visit or volunteer work exchange

Name: Rancho La Venta

Website: http://www.rancholaventa.com/RanchoLaVenta/Home.html

Contact info: rancholaventa1@me.com

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State: Baja

Nearest City: San Jose Del Cabo

Type of Visit: wellness / creative arts center + organic farm + CSA / volunteer work exchange

Name: La Semilla / Raices y Brasos

Website: http://raicesybrazos.com/la-semilla/

Contact: local #: (624) 142-3794  US #: (802) 734-9808

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State/Region: Baja

Nearest City: Tiajuana

Type of Visit: Cattle Ranch being converted to organic farm / volunteer work exchange

Name: El Papalote

Contact Info: 52+661-100-0000 (land) 52-1-664-194-7514 (cell)

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State/Region: Baja California Sur

Nearest City: La Ribera

Type of Visit: botanical gardens / teaching center / volunteer work exchange

Name: Buena Fortuna Jardin Botanico

Website (blog) http://buenafortunapermaculture.wordpress.com

Contact Info: seeds.forever@gmail.com

Central + South Central Highlands

State: Guanajuato

Nearest City: San Miquel de Allende

Type of Visit: center for sustainability & appropriate technology workshops (contact for workshop schedules)

Name: iCATIS Mexico / Instituto Tierra y Cal

Website: http://www.icatis.org/catis-mexico

Contact info: Dylan Terrell  dylan@icatis.org

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State: Oaxaca

Nearest City: Oaxaca

Type of Visit: off grid living / volunteer in exchange for learning about solar, chickens bee keeping, and grey water

Name: Sn Fco Lachigoló

Contact info: Daniel Ellsworth 52-1-951-142-1849

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State/Region: Oaxaca

Nearest City: Oaxaca

Type of Visit: urban / relief work with children, primarily education. No advance necessary.

Name: Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots

Website/Contact Info: http://www.oaxacastreetchildrengrassroots.org yjimenez@oaxacastreetchildrengrassroots.org

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State/Region: Oaxaca

Nearest City(Guevea de Humboldt)

Type of Visit: organic coffee plantation / volunteer work exchange

Name: Linda Vista / ConDoy Coffee Farm

Website (blog): http://condoycafe.wordpress.com

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State/Region: Michoacan (Lake Pátzcuaro)

Nearest City: Pátzcuaro

Type of Visit: organic permaculture farm / retreat center / volunteer work exchange (2 wk. min.

Name: Bosque Village

Website/Contact info: bosquevillage@gmail.com

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State: Mexico

Nearest City:  Malinalco / Tenancingo / Mexico City (D.F.)

Type of Visit: organic farm, school & retreat center / volunteer work exchange

Name: Rancho Cazahuate

website: www.centronierika.net

Contact Info: Anya Loizaga Velder www.ecomundi.info or

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State: Chiapas (Teopisca)

Nearest City: San Cristóbal de Las Casas

Type of Visit: non-profit farm & community development / volunteer work exchange (1 month min.)

Name: El Porvenir

Website/Contact info: 52+9671107386 (w) / 52+1+ 9671149914(cell)

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State/Region: Morelos

Nearest City: Amatlan

Type of Visit: Yoga/Healing Center

Name: Garden of Eden Healing Community

Website/Contact Info: http://www.moving-overseas-guide.com/2012-awakening.html

Yucatan Peninsula + Chiapas

State: Quintana Roo (Tulum)

Nearest City: Cancun / Playa Del Carmen

Type of Visit: Eco tourism, biological reserve park & lodging. Nature Tours. Reservations suggested.

Name: Sian Ka’an Bio Reserva

Website/Contact info: (http://www.visitsiankaan.com)

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State: Quintanaroo

Nearest City: Playa Del Carmen

Type of Visit: Working organic farm / volunteer work exchange, 2 wk min.

Name: Tumbem Ha

Website: http://www.tumbenha.com(http://www.facebook.com/TumbenHa)

Contact info: alexis@tumbenha.com

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State/Region: Yucatan

Nearest City: Vallodolid / Merida / Cancun

Type of Visit: Sustainability courses / volunteer work exchange (3 wk. min.)

Name: Lodgecol

Website: lodgecol.com

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State: Qintana Roo

Nearest City: Cancun

Type of Visit: Environmental & cultural educational tours offered (fee).

Name: Project Mayan Encounter

website: (http://accessecotours.com/tours_7.html)

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State/Region: Chiapas

Nearest City: San Cristóbal de Las Casas

Type of Visit: After school student center in indigenous Mayan Community.

Name: La Chozita / Chiapas Children’s Project

Website: http://www.lachozita.org/ourwork.html

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Contact Info: info@lachozita.org

State/Region: Chiapas

Nearest City: Teopisca

Type of Visit: Education, community development, environmental protection

Name: El Porvenir

Contact Info: 52+9671107386

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Nearest City: Playa Del Carmen

Type of Visit: rustic organic farm / volunteer work exchange

Name: Tumben Kuxtal

contact info: 52-1-998-133-4486

Gulf Coast

State: Veracruz

Nearest City: Xalapa

Type of Visit:  aquaponics classes / urban organic farm / volunteer work exchange

Name: Semilla Verde

website/contact info: http://www.facebook.com/semilla.huertoshidroponicos

Northern States

State: Chihuahua

Nearest City: Juarez

Type of Visit: orphanage / volunteer work exchange

Name: Rancho Los Amigos

contact info: Patti Kidd  ph: 407-232-3009

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State/Region: Nuevo Leon

Nearest City: Monterey

Type of Visit: Relief Work (distribution of food & clothing)

Name: Ammac

Website: http://www.ammac.com.mx/#!inicio/mainPage

Contact Info: Info@ammac.com.mx

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State/Region: Sonora

Nearest City: Puerto Penasco

Type of Visit: medical clinic staffing

Name: Manos de Ayuda

Website/Contact Info: webmaster@manosdeayuda.org U.S. (520) 760-8645

Pay-For Volunteer Programs

State: Various

Nearest City: N/A

Type of Visit:  Pay-for volunteer programs (teaching, medical, schools, etc. – $270 U.S. per week to participate)

Name: International Volunteer HQ

website/contact info: International Volunteer Head Quarters (volunteerhq.org)

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S State: Various

Nearest City: N/A

Type of Visit:  Pay-for volunteer programs (promote peace & justice, work with children – $2,295 U.S. per week to participate)

Name: Global Volunteers

website/contact info: (www.globalvolunteers.org)

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State: Nayarit & Jalisco

Nearest City: Puerto vallarta

Type of Visit: Pay-for conservation, cultural, and ecology-oriented “expeditions”.

Name: EcoTeach

website/contact info: http:

//www.ecoteach.com/announcing-new-opportunities-to-see-turtles-in-mexico/

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State: Various

Nearest City: N/A

Type of Visit: 72 listings for (mostly) pay-for volunteer service organizations operating in Mexico!

Name: GoAbroad

website/contact info: http://www.goabroad.com

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State/Region: Various

Nearest City: N/A

Type of Visit: Eco tours + some coordination with local NGO’s for more extensive volunteer / service options.

Name: Glocal Travel

Website/Contact Info: info@glocaltravel.net http://www.glocaltravel.net

Passive Eco Tourism Destinations

In researching this post I came across numerous quasi eco tourist establishments that adorn themselves with green labeling but have little if anything to offer in the way of active environmental or cultural payback. Following is a link to tourist resort properties that appear to be offering truly low impact, mostly sustainable amenities, even if they don’t offer opportunities for active service.

http://www.eco-tropicalresorts.com/centralamerica/mexico.htm

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secret sustainability south of the border

View of beautiful Mayto Beach from the first hill.
Rancho Sol y Mar (www.ranchosolymar.com)

Thinking of moving off the grid? Starting an organic farm or CSA? Are you part of a group considering pooling resources and homesteading together?

Well, shhhh-h-h-h, come closer, I’ve got a few well guarded secrets I can share with you…

Secreto Numero Uno: get your hippi ass south of the border! Be it Mexico, Costa Rica, Columbia, or wherever, there are many reasons that you should consider the southern option. The reasons? Listen in:

Reason #1: Two to Three growing seasons. Yes, you can find extended growing in the southern U.S., but 1000 miles south of Texas you really do get an entire second or even third season. What’s not to love about growing outdoors, year round!

Reason #2: The cost of land & living. Land is cheaper (well maybe not Costa Rica anymore), but equally important for the long haul is that property taxes are nearly zero. On our one hundred acres we pay a whopping $200 a year. Tell me that doesn’t help with the bottom line! And while some things like farm & solar equipment are expensive there, once you have property you are allowed a one time exemption to bring a moving van’s worth of “household goods” into Mexico without import taxes. Also, the cost of ongoing basic staple goods is roughly half what one pays in the U.S.

Reason #3: Save energy and reduce your carbon footprint: So how much of your precious time and energy do you want to spend every year preparing for the coming winter? 30%? 40% 50% or even higher??? Well how does 0% sound as an option for you? If you are situated in Mexico or further south, the cost of winter is a thing of the past. And then there are the ethics and nuisance factors of winter heating to consider. How much of your life’s energy, not to mention the planet’s carbon resources, do you really want to spend on heating you home, or even, in extremes climes, avoiding the possibility of freezing to death?

Reason #4: Less Regulation: Face it amigos, you just can’t fart in the U.S. anymore without a permit! Seriously, come south of the border and you’ll discover a sense of freedom you would never have dreamed of. Whether you plan to sell in a farmer’s market such as one of the three or four thriving ones in Puerto Vallarta alone, or if you’re planning a CSA, selling to restaurant’s, simply just growing for yourself, you can count on minimal regulation once you’ve crossed the border and made your way south.

Reason #5: Security in the face of what lies ahead. Really, you ask? Is he really suggesting that life in Mexico can be more secure than life here in the good olde U.S.A.??? Well, yes, actually, I am. As for the narco violence, there are a few simple, common sense rules to be followed such as staying out of the areas of drug production or major transport corridors. The vast majority of the violence I hear about is limited to three or four states, and even with that, it’s the narcos and cops getting perforated, not tourists, travelers, or organic veggie farmers. (I could go on and on about this subject, but will save that for another post…). So what do I mean by security for what lies ahead? Well, the way I see it, if the energy infrastructure gets disrupted for one of any number of reasons (troubles in the middle east, peak oil, climate change) then simply surviving, let alone thriving anywhere north of 30 – 40 degrees north latitude could get really expensive if not downright impossible. Personally, I’d rather build my life’s dream infrastructure in a place with great public transport, and where access to cheap energy is a bonus, not a necessity!

Reason #6: Sun, sun, sun… Viva El Sol! And boy do we have plenty of it. We make our electricity with it, heat & pump water with it, cook with it, and even sterilize with it. Yes, of course there’s sun in Arizona, but 1000+ miles south, it get’s even better. Just one of our photovoltaic systems alone, a mere 2.4kw array, produces close to 15kw on a sunny day. Sweet! So come on down and start farming those photons…

Reason #7: Affordable Help. Let’s face it, you can’t, or don’t want do, do it all yourself. At 200 – 300 pesos a day ($15-$25 U.S.), it’s possible to get excellent, flexible help as you need it. We always make sure to pay above the going rate, and we have gotten terrific, reliable help for all the special projects that inevitably pop up! For one longer term employee we pay all the required social security taxes and withholdings, and, all told, including accounting & filing fees, the extra cost still comes out to only around $1000 per year, (not counting the wages paid). Get the help you need at truly affordable prices!

Reason #8: Quality of Life. Having shuttled back and forth, splitting parts of the year between the two worlds for nearly a decade now, I can with some authority that QOL south of the border is, in general, superior. Yes there are issues with sanitation, schooling, crime and such, but over all life there is really sweet. The Mexican people are, on the whole, far more open, warm and friendly to strangers than has been my experience in the northern countries, and the pace of life, much more focused on friends and family, is more relaxed, and even festive, than north of the line.

Secreto Numero Dos: The really good news is that if you’re still not convinced, there’s a secret spot I can tell you about where you can come dip your toe in the water (literally) and try the idea on first before plunging in. You, our new amigos are cordially invited to come spend some time with us in beautiful Mayto! Our off grid goat ranch + sustainability center has a campground where you can beat the winter and hang out for a while. We also have work exchange programs, internships, and even the possibility of homesteading or other longer term involvement. Check us out! http://www.ranchosolymar.com