Category Archives: Travel

Where To Go In Mexico?

 Ajijic on Lake Chapala. Easy living with gorgeous views. Look, but don’t swim!
Photo copyright©Daniel Gair. All Rights Reserved.

Daniel Gair is the author of Amazon/Kindle’s top-rated romp through the Mexican underbrush ‘The Mexico Diaries: A Sustainable Adventure‘ (

Updated April 2021

It’s a damn vast country, so where to go???

As the wave of U.S. Baby Boomers looking for a warm, cheap place to retire begins cresting on the shores of Mexico, the question of potential relocation spots comes up in blogs and FB pages daily. Those nervously planning their first trip to Mexico, while trying to get a handle on all the possible destination options, are also searching for solid advice.

Having traveled in Mexico for decades, lived here full-time for ten years, and visited virtually every region, Holly and I love to share our thoughts on the subject. Though there are dozens of books and websites to help guide prospective ex-pats and travelers, most we’ve seen are either hopelessly vague, primarily meant to address the mechanics of resettling, or are hyping one specific location or region (Mexico has a way of making people feel ‘born again’, and those posting on social media tend to proselytize as if their spot was a new religion). This post was prompted by the fact that we’ve never found a truly concise guide that outlines the many, varied locales, while clearly stating the pros and cons of each, particularly for those planning to relocate. 

Of course, we too are biased to where we’ve settled, here on the mid-Pacific coast near Puerto Vallarta, however, in this post I share (ahem) ‘objective’ thoughts on the many alternatives and their pros and cons. I realize that by stating the disadvantages for each region I risk insulting every born-again Mexpat who reads this and has an emotional or proprietary interest in their own specific area. All I can say is that I’ve attempted advanced, bend-over backward yoga moves in order to stick to the facts and ladle out the downsides in equal measure, including the cons of our own little slice of paradise.

My first recommendation for those looking to relocate is to rent for a minimum of a month in several different locations before cashing in your chips and committing to any one spot. Mexico has a wealth of relocation possibilities, many with subtly different vibes that appeal to some folks, but not others. The website Housesit Mexico is a great way to sample places free, although the listings are heavily oriented to the Lake Chapala area, and many are only available in the low season. Hopefully, this is changing as it’s a well-run service, and their listings seem to be expanding.

The first, main consideration for those planning to visit, or relocate here permanently, is usually whether to head toward the beach or the mountains. In a nutshell, the beaches tend to epitomize the laid-back, tequila-swigging, Mexican hammock lifestyle, while the mountains and central highlands represent a deeper cultural experience with a more comfortable, year-round climate. If Holly & I had it to do over, we’d probably have chosen a more flexible condo or renting lifestyle, spending time in the mountains in summer, then beaching it winters. 

Following are the most popular options, both regional and local, including their flaws and favors. 

If the beach is your thing, then…


Yucatan, Sugar-white sand beaches (when not covered in Sargasso 😦      Photo copyright©Daniel Gair. All Rights Reserved.

The Yucatan

Advantages & Disadvantages: Mexico’s best snorkeling and diving, cool cenotes (ethereal saltwater-filled sinkholes), gorgeous white sand beaches, spectacular Mayan ruins, and easy hop to the U.S. On the other hand, the Yucatan tends to be crowded on the coast, dreadfully flat, and fairly short 3-4 month season unless you happen to like one hundred plus degree days with high humidity. Crime is becoming more prevalent, especially in Playa Del Carmen and Tulum. Beaches fouled with Sargasso Seaweed has become a significant problem the past couple of winters, and is something that is likely to continue and worsen with the warming waters (of course, if you’re a sustainability nut like me, all that sargassum equals endless biomass just itching to be used for mulch or composted. There’s even a guy squashing and drying it into blocks to make houses out of!) The fact that the Yucatan is a major hurricane alley put Holly & me off from investing there originally, even though we liked it and visited regularly in our early days of exploring Mexico.

Cancun, a hopping cluster of high-rise hotels and all-inclusive is Mexico’s spring break capital, and Merida is a colonial city with a thriving ex-pat population. It is touted as being remarkably free of cartel activity, although we hear that general crime is on the rise (like so many other places in Mexico, especially with the pandemic’s added economic stress, we’ve seen waves of criminality enter supposedly safe areas, practically overnight, so one should take any reports of specific ‘safe zones’ or especially safe cities with ‘un grano de sal’). And as a side note: water contamination is yet another issue surfacing in popular ex-pat spots such as Merida, SMA, Lake Chapala, and many other locales.

The best Yucatan options for getting off the beaten path are the beach areas north of Chetumal and Lake Bacalar near the Belize border of Campeche on the Gulf Coastkeeping in mind that either area puts you more than a six-hour drive from Cancun’s international airport and medical servicesAlso a note of caution about Lake Bacalar – it’s drop-dead gorgeous, but also a drop-dead scary place to swim according to recent reports of extensive fecal coliform contamination. Other interesting places to visit are the Mayan ruins distributed like giant stone party favors throughout the Yucatan (Chichen Itza is the most spectacular, but too crowded for us); numerous, cool, old sisal plantations, many of which have been beautifully restored and turned into five-star resort properties; Valladolid with its massive cenote; the islands of MujeresHolbox, and Cozumel (dive with sleeping sharks!); and the Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve. Palenque, located in the Isthmus of the Yucatan, is the place to go to munch on magic mushrooms, explore the jungle ruins, and get in touch with your inner Mayan. Don’t miss swimming in the nearby aqua blue river (Aquas Azules) and spectacular Misol Ha waterfalls. 

Overall, Holly and I love the Yucatan as a place to visit but consider it to be uninhabitable for much of the year due to the heat and humidity. That’s just us though. Many have made their ex-pat homes here and are extremely happy with their choice. In fact, of all the retirement spots in Mexico that people rave about, Merida’s denizens are among the most vocal.

The Baja (including mainland Sea of Cortez)

Advantages: Easy U.S. driving access and reasonable year-round climate in the northern part. Todos Santos is a particularly hip and artsy, though pricey, surf town. Rosarito/Enseñada on the Pacific and the San Carlos/Puerto Peñasco/Guaymas at the top of the Sea of Cortez (just over the border into the mainland from The Baja) share the prize for easiest jog back and forth from the U.S. (although I’ve heard that Tecate is the easiest and most affordable border-hopping ex-pat option of all, other than fuming Tijuana.) Disadvantages: The Baja is basically a parched, dry desert. This region also has the feel of still having one foot in the U.S. (which is a good thing for some). Narco activity on the Baja has been ramping up in recent years, particularly around Cabo and the mainland side of The Sea of Cortez is a region of perennial narco activity. Cabo San Lucas is the obvious choice for those seeking sport fishing, golf, and an upscale, high-rise, all-inclusive type environment. Nearby La Paz is a calm seaside town, similar to the vibe of Zihautenejo, but not a lot going on (a snorkeling trip to Isla Espiritu while visiting La Paz is a must!). Nearby La Ventana attracts a winter population of kite-boarding and mountain biking enthusiasts. A vineyard tour of the Valle de Guadalupe region of northern Baja is a definite winner! And a one to two-week camping and kayaking trip down the length of the Baja, especially during whale rutting season, is worth the effort, though it didn’t live up to our once-in-a-lifetime adventure expectations.

North-Central Pacific Coast

A hundred miles of cities and beach towns with Puerto Vallarta and the sprawling Bay of Banderas at its center.

Advantages: Liveable year-round climate, though somewhat hot and sticky summers. Plenty of culture, good restaurants, amazing farmer’s markets, and overall vibrant ex-pat living, especially Puerto Vallarta area with its many year-round festivals, excellent private hospitals, gay-infused art galleries and nightlife (PV regularly shows up on top-ten lists for international retirement destinations).

There are lots of lifestyle options up and down the mid-coast from big city living to gated golf or sailing communities, to sleepy beach towns. Some of the great beach town options include hip-but-crowded Sayulita, and the more upscale San Pancho in Nayarit state to the north, or the yoga Mecca of Yelapa to the south. Closer in to the hub of PV is the sailer’s haven of Cruz de Huanacaxtle and the Canadian stronghold of Bucerias (excellent kiteboarding in the spring). We also like the beach towns of Barra de Navidad and La Manzanilla several hours south. Near to Barra de Navidad is Malaque a Canadian favorite, and there’s also Costa Careyes for the mega-wealthy. Nuevo Vallarta and Punta Mita are the Bay of Banderas’ most upscale yachting and golf-centric destinations. About a 6-hour drive north of Vallarta is Mazatlan with its beautiful historic center, hotel zone, and malecón waterfront popular with Mexican nationals, and some limited golf and yachting options. One could think of Mazatlan as being Puerta Vallarta with a fraction of the buzz and services. (Probrecita Mazatlan – a nice girl, even if she’ll never be quite as sexy and glamorous as her big sister Vallarta – but still, who could resist those adorable taxis of hers?)

Disadvantages: The entire mid-cost turns into “Gringolandia” during the winter months, and Puerto Vallarta’s “Romantic Zone” is going through an overwhelming growth spurt that is likely to bring problems, Robberies are notably on the rise throughout the region.


Puerto Vallarta – specialized in outrageous sunsets. Photo copyright©Daniel Gair. All Rights Reserved.

South and Central Pacific Coast 

Advantages: Big Surf around the resort city of Puerto Escondido. Huatulco, Puerto Angles, and Mazunte are nearby beach cities/towns that have their following. Zihuatanejo further north, with its sleepy tourist beach town feel, is similar to La Paz in the Baja, while nearby Ixtapa is a good southern option for golf and high-rise hotels, not unlike Cabo San Lucas or Cancun.

Disadvantages: Unfortunately, like the Yucatan, you’ll boil like a lobster summers, so the south-central coast is not a great year-round ex-pat option, in our opinion. It’s also a bit of a hike from the U.S. or Canada. Acapulco, once Mexico’s most high-rolling, high society beach resort city has been all but written-off to crime in recent years.

The Coast of Michoacan north of Zihuatanejo is a gorgeous no man’s land only visited by renegade surfers, fishermen, and true adventure types due to the narco fear factor. A trip there is like having California’s Big Sur all to yourself!

The Mountains and Central Highlands

These regions offer a wealth of relocation options, especially if you’re more a fan of colonial culture and cooler weather than you are of sand and sea.

Advantages are great culture and climate, while the disadvantages are, for us, that you’re trading in a laid-back beach lifestyle, for more of a bustle.  San Miguel De Allende is Mecca for the monied, art gallery, fine dining set. It’s just plain hard not to like San Miguel, though, admittedly, it’s had its share of crime over the years, and water quality is emerging as a serious issue. While there be sure to check out the picturesque, art gallery-laden mining town of Pozos about 45 minutes north. Holly and I also really like, and have owned properties in, nearby Guanajuato, a terrific, artsy, visually stunning, university city. Other very liveable cities that have ex-pat communities include Puebla, Queretaro, Morelia, Cuernavaca and Oaxaca (arguably Mexico’s cultural and culinary heart). Update Note as of October 2020: Puebla is currently experiencing a wave of organized crime due to the government’s curtailing of narco revenues from oil thefts). I’m going to stick my neck way out here and say that these highland cities are fairly comparable with their good-to-excellent health care, affordable housing, beautiful historic centers, and increasingly upscale dining and shopping options – vibrant change driven by the influx of gringo ex-pats, and Mexico’s own emerging middle and upper-middle classes. Aquas Calientes is yet another alternative in this group, but one with more of an international ex-pat population, and very affordable. Smaller, popular mountain towns include Tepotzlan and Tequila (among others) and the culturally rich city of San Cristobal de Las Casas further south in Chiapas. One highland locale that blends a beach-like feel with great climate is Lake Chapala and Ajijic with its stunning Malecon waterfront (see photo at top), a short one-hour drive from Guadalajara where one can find cheap international flights and excellent, affordable medical services. Flies in the ointment for this Mexpat enclave are that the Chapala area has its fair share of robberies, and the lake, though beautiful, is badly polluted by the Lerma River watershed. There is also considerable pollution and related health issues due to agricultural runoff into Lake Patzcuaro, otherwise known for its fascinating and colorful Day-of-the Dead celebrations (think the movie “Coco”) and craft villages surrounding the lake.

The Copper Canyon in the north is a great place to tour. Lots to see and do, but brutally hot summers. The train trip through the canyon, with overnight stops, is a must. The mining town of Alamos near the western end of the canyon is also worth a layover, especially if driving down the west coast from Nogales. There are ex-pats in this region, but they seem to be scattered few and far between.

Then there’s the Huasteca Potosina region of San Louis Potosí state, over toward the Gulf Coast. Again, plenty of outdoor adventure; caves, aqua blue waterfalls and cenotes, and the not-to-be-missed surrealist jungle art installation of Sir Edward James at Xilitla. Like The Copper Canyon, there are no significant ex-pat populations in this area that we know of, however, as is true anywhere in Mexico, you will find the occasional North American or European emigres scattered here and there amongst the creosote bushes.

Another must-stop on your Central Highlands tour is Real de Catorce. Near the Texas border, this über cool, ancient-feeling mining city is the main spiritual pilgrimage site and peyote gathering grounds for the Huichol Indians. If you like to dance with aliens, this could be your place.

Finally for the highland option is Mexico City. We love “CDMX” for its wonderful museums, dining, and cafe culture, but, not being city people, we couldn’t imagine ever living here full time. The air pollution is also quite bad spring-through-fall.

Trav-Mex-06-07-127Guanajuato, an exuberant cultural center with a comfortable climate.   Photo copyright©Daniel Gair. All Rights Reserved.

Veracruz / Gulf Coast

Catemaco is a funky little lakeside town, and Vera Cruz is a beautiful port city, but both wilt in the summer heat. Xalapa and Orizaba are very liveable cities with better climates, higher up in the mountains, that are gaining popularity with ex-pats despite Veracruz state’s violent reputation.  Advantages to this region are that is hasn’t been nearly as overrun by gringos as other areas. Disadvantages are that the summer heat & humidity on the coast, and the fact that this region is a perennial center of narco activity.


There are endless FB groups for specific cities and regions, too many to mention here. Following is a list of our favorite, more general online resources for digging in further: 

Los O’Grady’s in Mexico ( Fun moving to Mexico blog + Site Admin Katie O’Grady runs a well-respected, personalized relocation consulting service.

Mexico News Daily ( – The very best English language news source for Mexico!

Surviving Yucatan ( – Yucatan-centric, but still a great source of general life and retirement info for Mexico. 

MexConnect ( – For years this was the go-to site for overall Mex info with extensive chat boards though, unfortunately,  it seems to be falling into neglect.

Mexperience – Slick, professional Mexico info site with plenty of useful info but geared toward selling their products & services (

Make the Right Move to Mexico on Facebook: One of several move to Mexico FB pages (

On The Road in Mexico (Facebook) – Fine, well-informed travel page.

For a list of the 121 designated “Pueblos Magicos” (Magic Villages), the spots the Mexican government is most highly touting check out Mexico Desconocido Magazine online at:  (Spanish Only but you can cross-reference the list with Google). While many of these towns are, uhm, “magical”, others tend to be cutesy places barely worth a visit, so do your research.

And last but not least, a shameless plug for those interested to learn more about the ‘real’ Mexico or hankering for an over-the-top adventure story: The Mexico Diaries, A Sustainable Adventure! chronicles the insanity that Holly and I treated ourselves to by moving to rural Mexico (4.7 stars on Amazon/Kindle: ). Also available locally in Mexico at Under the Volcano Books in Mexico City, A Page in the Sun & The Library in Puerto Vallarta, NV Books in Nuevo Vallarta, and The Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens. The Mexico Diaries, a lively romp through the Mexican underbrush, is both encouragement to choose Mexico, as well as a cautionary tale! 

You are also cordially invited to visit my new author website at: My website is your website!


Mexico Sustainability With A Twist!

Thirteen years ago Dan Gair & Holly Hunter bought land in a small village on the coast of Jalisco. Three years later they sold their U.S. businesses and moved to the property full time. The experience since became a rogue experiment that overran the lab – fun, challenging, and even scary at times.

In September 2018 “The Mexico Diaries, A Sustainable Adventure”, a memoir about their journey, was released on Amazon & Kindle. To date the book has received an astounding 4.7 average rating on Amazon/Kindle and 4.44 on Goodreads (30+ reviews on each). SurvivingMexico. com / Book Reviews calls The Mexico Diaries “A whirlwind Mexican journey to sustainability and beyond…”.

In the book you will find scores of eccentric people, outrageous animal stories, narco encounters, corrupt cops, and even a splash of Voodoo or two! The book is also a narrative about switching up our lives and pursuing a more sustainable lifestyle on foreign soil.

For those of you considering Mexico as a place to retire to, ‘The Mexico Diaries’ can serve as both encouragement, and a cautionary tale.

That’s it then. Hop on Amazon using the following link (, purchase a copy, and enjoy the ride! Please also consider giving it a review (the Amazon sales game is all about reviews which drive rankings) knowing that 50% of any profit will be donated to The Environmental Defense Fund!

#Mexico #sustainbility #adventure #Permaculture #photography #sustainable #travel



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! 


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


contact info: Susana Valadez


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


contact info: 

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


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


contact info:


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


contact info:


State/Region: Jalisco / Lake Chapala

Nearest City: Chapala

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

Name: Acá Centro Ecológico

Contact Info: Mari Prudent


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


Contact info:


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


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


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)


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)

Contact Info:

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


Contact info: Dylan Terrell


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


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:


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):


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:


State: Mexico

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

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

Name: Rancho Cazahuate


Contact Info: Anya Loizaga Velder or


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)


State/Region: Morelos

Nearest City: Amatlan

Type of Visit: Yoga/Healing Center

Name: Garden of Eden Healing Community

Website/Contact Info:

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: (


State: Quintanaroo

Nearest City: Playa Del Carmen

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

Name: Tumbem Ha


Contact info:


State/Region: Yucatan

Nearest City: Vallodolid / Merida / Cancun

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

Name: Lodgecol



State: Qintana Roo

Nearest City: Cancun

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

Name: Project Mayan Encounter

website: (


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



Contact Info:

State/Region: Chiapas

Nearest City: Teopisca

Type of Visit: Education, community development, environmental protection

Name: El Porvenir

Contact Info: 52+9671107386


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:

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


State/Region: Nuevo Leon

Nearest City: Monterey

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

Name: Ammac


Contact Info:


State/Region: Sonora

Nearest City: Puerto Penasco

Type of Visit: medical clinic staffing

Name: Manos de Ayuda

Website/Contact Info: 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 (


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: (


State: Nayarit & Jalisco

Nearest City: Puerto vallarta

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

Name: EcoTeach

website/contact info: http:



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:


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:

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.

Our Solar Story; one couple’s journey in search of solar living…


Me wrapping up the array install. The home made racking system saved $ and functions well, but ended up being a major pain to install

Note: the following post describes, step by step, how my wife & I went from total solar neophytes, to living completely off grid and harnessing the power of the sun for its help with much of the daily work and comfortable lifestyle we enjoy here in Mexico. I’ve included a fair amount of techno speak for those who, as I once was, are craving the empowerment of understanding and implementing solar, but are struggling though some of the initial phases. Readers are encouraged to post questions or comments about the systems or processes described here in that all questions, no matter how basic, may be of some help to others that follow…

The first couple of winters visiting the property we had purchased near Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific coast of Mexico (2005-2007), my wife Holly & I were still in the process of securing title, and thus reluctant to put any money into infrastructure improvements. The modest, one bedroom mexican ranch house we occupied had one existing 15 watt solar panel direct wired to a 12v marine battery and running one long string of 12v incandescent lights when we bought it. Despite twelve hour days of cloudless skies, we had, at best, an hour of light once the sun went down. For refrigeration we parked our faithful old pickup truck camper next to the house and used the onboard dometic gas refrigerator. Around that time I had launched and was chairing a municipal energy commission back in the states, and was growing increasingly interested in sustainability in general, and solar in particular.

By the second winter, we hand carried down three Sunsei 17w panels and I began learning about charge controllers, inverters, and the always dreaded “voltage drop”. At that early stage of learning, it took quite a while to figure out that voltage drop inherent with using the existing #12AWG house wiring for 12v, combined with a tired old marine starting battery, far too small solar panel array, and energy sucking incandescent bulbs, were all conspiring to keep us literally “in the dark”.

“Poco a poco” (little by little) is a favorite expression of our mexican neighbors, and poco a poco it was learning the ins and outs of solar. Around the second year in, a mexican neighbor told me he knew of someone with some panels, and soon four Sharp 175‘s, of unknown origins, were purchased for a good price, and stored safe & sound in our rickety goat shed. Using the SEI guide “Photovoltaics Design & Installation Manual” plus help from Lee Consavage, an engineer friend, and other input from online chat groups such as Arizona Wind & Sun, I began designing our first real PV system. Finally, after stumbling int the dark – literally – we were well on our way to a brighter future! On the next trip SOB (south of the border), Holly and brought down in our carry-on luggage an Outback MX60 Charge Controller, a 1000watt Go-Power inverter, and miscellaneous fuse blocks and cable connections. Three sweaty days later, much of which was spent crouching gingerly atop spanish roof tiles, drilling holes through cement walls, and making numerous, nervous, electrical decisions well above my pay grade, I flipped the switch, and lo-and-behold, “the miracle of the ranch” had finally occurred! Truly; seeing that little green light go on for the first time, hearing the gentle hum of the inverter, and realizing that we were now sucking power, real power, 120v power sufficient to run ample lights, a small 7cubic foot refrigerator, blender for margueritas, play music, and charge computers, right out of the sky, right out of the either, felt as close to something miraculous as I expect I’ll ever experience!

Since those early days, we have upgraded our batteries from the original 4 trojan T 105’s and now have 8 Trojan L-16’s for over 700amp hrs @ 24volts DC, plus a larger, 1500watt Xantrex inverter to run a heavier duty washing machine than we had originally. Still, even with the larger battery capacity, we rely on a small, portable gen set to top off the batteries from time to time in extended periods of rain during the summer months.

A note on inverters: 1500watts with a 2000peak load capacity seems to be the break point providing enough amperage to run a decent size washing machine and virtually any home power tool except a welder. Pure sign wave inverters run quieter and provide cleaner power, while the more economical modified inverters tend to hum, both the unit itself, as well as through stereos and certain other electronics. We have also experienced two appliances that wouldn’t run at all on the Xantrex modified sine wave inverter; a yogurt maker, and also a dehydrator which actually burned out as a result.

Fast forward another year from building the original house system, and I had completed my NABSEP coursework from the AltE learning center in Hudson Massachusetts, and I was ready to take on much more significant solar project. By this time Holly and I had also expanded our vision for the ranch to include an off-grid campground, solar water pumping & heating, and various other projects. In the fall of 2009 we both sold our companies (I had been a commercial architectural photographer and Holly had a financial planning firm) and we committed ourselves to the dream of living and promoting sustainability full time. Currently we rent out our house in New England most of the year and we’re forging ahead with creating a broader scope, regional, sustainability center. Our ongoing projects include building with stone, compressed earth block, & other local material, organic farming & gardening, goat cheese production, composting, tree planting, water recycling, biofuels experimentation, and numerous other initiatives.

In the winter of 2009/2010 we learned to mix mud for adobe, and with much help from visiting family & friends, and our mexican neighbors, we built the campground bath house and solar shed which houses showers, bathrooms, a laundry room, a workroom, the 2.4kw solar array, an Outback 3600w pure sine wave inverter, sixteen Trojan L16 batteries for 700amp/hrs at 48volts, and the balance of the electrical system. Our campground “Camping Sol y Mar” (Camping Sun & Sea) is, as far as we know, the first completely off grid campground with RV hookup sights in the americas, if not the world. This winter are building on a new backpacker bunkhouse, and with that in place will begin hosting workshops and work exchange Volunteers.


putting the finishig touches on the campground bath house and solar array instal.

The entire project has been a huge learning curve but we have an increasingly steady stream of adventure campers and wonderful volunteer work exchange participants using the facilities. In addition to the solar which produces up to 15kw per day (enough to budget 2kw for each of the 5 hookup sites – sized for small to mid-sized campers – plus a couple more kw for a modest sized cheese cooler for Holly’s goat cheese making operation, the building also boasts solar hot water showers, and grey & black water recycling systems. The increasingly “edible” campground also features an herb spiral, rapidly growing fruit trees (see “Eat This Campground! post below) and a natural wood fired pizza oven coming online soon Thank you Katy & Alex, our amazing summer caretakers this year! ).

Finished 2.4kw system inside adobe bath house at campground. i decided against using a battery enclosure due to having plenty of open air venting and to help keep temperatures as low as possible.

I wish I could say it’s been easy and smooth getting this far. Sometimes it feels as though every step is a battle. Attempting to cut costs, I opted for creating my own array racking. Big mistake! The thousand dollars saved cost me countless hours piecing together a custom aluminum framework on a completely uneven roof made from timber milled with a chain saws and machetes. Simple tools like a drill bit and bolts long enough to through-bolt the 6” timbers all had to be brought down from the states as needed. After my experience of working atop spanish tiles on our home system, I opted to leave off having tiles under the bath house array, and instead lay down a roofing of clear polycarbonate laminate. Constructing this, and making it all waterproof and structural enough for potential hurricane force wind loading turned out to be incredibly tedious, and much more of a project that I had ever bargained for. Still, the roof works really well, in that it provides nice passive daylight to the workroom below where the rest of the system is housed, as well as the fact that the laminate stays perfectly cool under the panels, even on the hottest of days.


long view of campground and finished bath house with land scaping starting to come in…

Yet another error I made was the purchase of the Outback FX inverter rather than GV model. The FX series won’t accept the voltage vagaries of supplemental charging from generator backup (a subtle distinction missed by both myself, and the sales agent that recommended the FX unit for my specific application). Outback was kind enough to supply me with a replacement board to convert the FX model since bringing the inverter back to the states for replacement was impossible. Still the changeover meant dismantling the guts of the system after it had been already been completed.

Occasionally my wife and I ask ourselves, “if we had it all to do over, would we simply have tied in to the power lines less than 100 yards away?” That definitely would have been the easier, less expensive route to take. But

then we realize that if we’d wanted easy, we would’ve been better off just staying in the states. Rancho Sol y Mar increasingly is our home now anyway. A crazy, inventor friend of ours just finished building us a fuel alcohol still, so tackling renewable transportation is the next learning curve looming. We also have 100‘s of fruit & coconut trees planted, a small, first crop of corn coming up, and loving, productive, adorable animals on all sides, Our dream of 100% independent living is increasingly becoming a reality. We realize we’re a little crazy, and a more normal life would be easier, however were strapped in now, and taking the ride. I guess that as long as the sun keeps shining, we’ll be here in Mexico seeking to sustain ourselves and others from it!

View of campground and Mayto Beach.

campground, summer 2012

secret sustainability south of the border

View of beautiful Mayto Beach from the first hill.
Rancho Sol y Mar (

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!

Eat This Campground!

View of the campground bath house and Mayto Beach…

Well, it’s really happening! We now have our sign up, and Camping Sol y Mar (Camping Sun & Sea – is finally launched. Situated 300 yards back from the gorgeous, pristine beach of Mayto, Mexico (state of Jalisco, 2 hours south of Puerto Vallarta) Camping Sol y Mar is to our knowledge, the world’s first 100% off grid campground with solar powered RV hookup sites. And yet another first, thanks to the new herb spiral created by Katy & Alex, Camping Sol y Mar is also now the world’s first “edible campground”. That in addition to the bananas, mangos, coco’s and other plantings, well on their way to fruity fruition. Oh, and did I mention the new clay pizza oven that Alex is working on? Getting hungry yet? well then there’s just one solution – come camp with us in Mayto this winter!

Our Mission Statement…

Mission Statement:

 “To provide a source of income and good jobs for the community. To promote sustainable construction and living practices. To foster education. To help connect visitors with local residents”

Holly & I feel that we have been given and incredible opportunity with this property and the above mission statement is the beacon that guides us. Rancho Sol y Mar, has an ongoing interest in trading care-taking responsibilities or project help for housing, shared business opportunities, or other compensation. Together with friends, family, and other participants, we are forming a flexible, working community based on common goals and open spirit.