What to take
What do I need to take with me?
A volunteer with small group of children at St Vincent De Paul charity.
The international language of smiles and pointing at the Police kindergarten
Art and craft materials are always useful. Bring enough that children in sitting at tables in groups of 4 – 5 can share and work with. Building games could be a great addition, especially for the boys who may feel they have seen enough glitter and love heart stickers! Perhaps you could bring or ask a local toy shop to donate a couple of technical Lego or Meccano sets for a two team competition. You could give them a photo each of the finished work and a little prize for the fastest team. All the basic stationary, felt tips and stickers can be bought cheaply in Merida.
Merida has all the local facilities that are needed within a 20 – 25 minute walk to the city centre, including banks, doctors, cafes and other amenities.
Are meals provided?
Merida is a self-catering project. There are plenty of shops in the city where you can buy food to take back to the kitchen at the volunteer house and prepare. There is also a French cafe not far from the volunteer house which is recommended by volunteers as a cheap place to eat, called Bistro Cultural. See Accommodation tab above for more.
A day after arrival, the co-ordinator will usually if not too busy, arrange a tour of the city and the area. On this tour you will be shown the facilities, shops, and where best to get buses etc. Merida was designed in a grid system, although it is only 20 – 25 minutes to the city centre it can feel longer when walking in the heat so it can be easier to hire a taxi or grab a bus if there are a few of you going into town on a hot day.
Travelling with other volunteers
Can I fly with another volunteer?
We can Buddy you up with another volunteer so you can travel together, just let us know at the time of booking. Even if you do travel alone, and more than half do, it is unlikely you will be on your own on this popular project. You can also check out the travel buddy list and our main Facebook page too leaving a post with your project and month of arrival.
Can I be placed with a friend?
Yes you can apply with a friend. Let us know at the time of booking so we can request you are placed in the same room at the volunteer house.
Will I have free time?
All volunteers are free at the weekend to explore or relax. And during the week, volunteers often spend their evenings at the volunteer house relaxing or strolling in the colonial heart of the city. Merida is well known for its street café culture, especially in the evenings with live bands and a typically Latin party fiesta feel. With weekends free to explore and some of Mexico’s tourist highlights to see this placement in Merida is the perfect volunteer holiday.
Merida is known for its archaeological sites; Chichen Itza is the most popular, easily reached on a day’s visit. Almost all volunteers will climb the Chichen Itza ruins and often report this is one of the highlights of their Merida volunteering experience. Volunteers also like to visit the Mayan city, Dzibilchaltun, which is only nine miles from Merida. Dzibilchaltun is a great historical site and an amazing experience. Another great day out especially on a hot day is a trip to the underground caverns where you can swim in the azure warm water amidst the stalactites. All activities and excursions can be easily organised through one of the many tourist agencies in Merida. Just ask your co-ordinator for advice on what to see during your visit. Scroll down for more.
Two girls at the San Antonio primary school with their new colours kindly donated by volunteers.
OV volunteers at the boys rescue centre. Staffed by one cook and a security guard only, the boys welcome the activities arranged by volunteers
What are the costs after I have registered and booked my space in Mexico?
After you have booked your space and registered with us, (registered volunteers travelling within 12 months of their first project abroad do not need to pay the registration fee again) the weekly project costs for the Merida programme are £125 per week, this includes accommodation and organisation of the placements by your dedicated volunteer coordinator. All volunteers need to purchase a return flight to Mexico; Cancun is the preferred airport. If you fly to Cancun a transfer is made by coach to Merida with the ADO coach company, this takes approx. 2.5 hours and £15 each way.
For Merida airport arrivals, a pick up is available for £15. Travel insurance is required and we strongly recommend all volunteers obtain one which covers medical bills. You can expect to pay between £20 and £40 for travel insurance for a short visit. A visa is not needed if you have a British/European passport. You should allow about £10 to £15 a day for meals (usually eating out in cafes together) and buses and taxis to get to projects. For day trips to the Cenotes (sink holes) and other day trips, allow about £40. Take as much as you can extra as for any holiday.
What do I need to know?
You will often see Mexican money displayed on signs and in websites with the same symbol as US dollars, so 100 Pesos would be written $100. If in doubt – assume it is Pesos. Merida has ATMs. The exchange rate hovers around 10 Pesos to the US Dollar. Travellers cheques are not easily exchanged, most travellers these days arrive with cash and a visa card and find this sufficient. Mastercard is not always accepted. If you overspend, money can be wired in minutes from home with Western Union easily.
Getting to projects
How will I get to my projects?
Most projects are on the other side of the city or in hard to reach suburbs and villages outside Merida. Volunteers travel together in pairs or small groups by bus or taxi to their project. As volunteers can be going to different projects each day as per the schedule and preferences, volunteers are either escorted by their volunteer co-ordinator or a volunteer who already knows the way from previous visits. Journey time can vary between 30 and 60 minutes depending on project location, but the experience of travelling amongst local people on mostly public transport and seeing the environment should more than make up for any irritation spent travelling. Merida can be one of the steamiest places in Mexico, summer volunteers (April to September) are advised to dress for the heat in loose cotton and make sure you take a water bottle straight from the freezer in the morning if you can!
Travel with others
How can I travel with other volunteers?
We will Buddy you up with another volunteer so you can fly out together, just let us know at the time of booking. Even if you do travel alone, and the majority of volunteers travel alone, it will be unusual to be on your own as volunteers arrive every week. To travel with another volunteer you can:
- Add yourself to the Buddy List to meet other volunteers, travel together or simply find a familiar face when you arrive.
- Join the volunteer community on Facebook and like the page to connect with other volunteers, receive recent pictures, stories and updates
Volunteers give the dogs a refreshing bath on a hot day.
Volunteers made good use of the splash pool after a hot day’s work.
How and when do I need to pay for my project?
An invoice for the weekly project costs and airport pick up if you are flying to Merida, will be sent by email shortly after we have received your flight. If you are flying to Cancun, please email us your expected dates that you will be in Merida as soon as you know and we will adjust the invoice accordingly.
What types of things will I be doing?
For community volunteers the schedule is varied and can change each week following requests by local projects and charities. The local support team and your co-ordinator organises this for you. The volunteer group normally travels together or if large, divides up into pairs and smaller groups to visit projects.
If you particularly enjoyed an activity, schedules permitting, it may be possible to make an extra visit or two if you would like to be more involved. The cat and dog sanctuary welcomes extra hands on almost any day of the week. A children’s home or community centre may appreciate more volunteer visits during school holidays to keep the children occupied.
What’s it like to work with young children?
Police Kindergarten : Volunteers usually leave at 8am by taxi or bus for the Kindergarten Monday to Friday. Volunteers arrive at 9am and stay with the children aged from birth to 6 years old until midday.
Volunteers work alongside the local staff in a supporting role from watching, showing flashcards, singing songs, colouring and art activities. Volunteers also help out in the kitchen and help wash mucky hands. Female volunteers only sorry!
Can I work with disabled children?
Volunteers can help at an orphanage for disabled boys. Volunteers leave the volunteer house at 9am by taxi on Tuesdays and Thursdays for a 2 hour session between 10 and 12. No Spanish is required but it can be useful to know a few basic phrases like what’s your name? My name is… etc Everyone is welcome to come and help.
Physical therapists and student nurses may find they can put their skills and knowledge to good use here. Volunteers push the children in their wheelchairs, blow bubbles and help them to play instruments. Help at mealtimes may also be needed.
Most teaching is relaxed and in small groups so do not worry if you have never taught before
Taking the dogs from the sanctuary for a walk.
Can I teach English?
Volunteers leave at 8am by pre-booked taxi to the bus station and then take a 35 minute bus to the village project at San Antonio Tehuitz. Volunteers help with activities between 9 and 11/12:30, then lunch, then with the children again between 2:30 and 4pm. Some Spanish is useful but not essential.
Activities are mostly pre-planned by your volunteer coordinator so you will not be at a loss for what to do. The emphasis is on English teaching but art and craft activities can be included. An ideal placement for anyone wanting to gain teaching experience and sport and games organisors.
Volunteers can also teach at the local state academy and help with student’s pronunciation. Sessions usually run on Tuesday and Thursday evenings between 5 and 7pm although exact days can vary sometimes.
The great thing with this placement is that it is within walking distance of the volunteer house. Spanish is not needed and English is encouraged to help the students gain the most they can.
OV volunteers on the white sand beach at Progreso on the Caribbean coast, a 30 min taxi from Merida
Volunteers enjoy a typical Mexican night out with compulsory sombreros!
Can I work with animals?
Anyone who loves dogs from veterinary students to dog lovers! Volunteers leave the volunteer house at 7am by pre-booked taxi to the bus station and then it is a 30 minute bus ride. Volunteers help out between 8am and midday between Monday and Friday although the need for volunteers varies, for example the shelter may need volunteers for one or two days only a week if they are doing other things or have vets visiting.
For this reason, most volunteers working at the shelter mix up their week with community volunteering or exploring the area. Whilst at the shelter, volunteers bath and walk the dogs, help the vets when they visit, groom, preparing food.Basic Spanish or a phrasebook and dictionary may come in useful for the staff.
Can I work in a hospital or clinic?
Healthcare volunteers usually work in one of the hospitals in or city clinics. Depending on experience and qualifications, schedules vary depending on whether supervision is available to provide support during your placement. Most healthcare volunteers will combine a clinical placement with community volunteering when full time hours are not available.
Basic Spanish is required for healthcare placements in order to get the most out of the experience although it may be possible to shadow or play with the children at the clinics on a casual basis. For undergrad nurses and medics, closed shoes, clean smart clothes and a lab coat or white shirt/blouse should be worn.
How and when do I need to choose my project?
The local team and your volunteer co-ordinator organise the schedule according to the needs of the local schools, projects, community centres, homes and hospital. Schedules are organised for the group as this can be easier to adapt rather than a choose and try which can also take up time discussing and organising. If you would like to pick and choose your preferred projects from those available be aware this may restrict your opportunities. If you would like to change project speak to your volunteer coordinator who is often on hand to help you settle in.
If there is an area of work you are particularly interested in and you are not staying for long, it may be useful for us to know before travel however many charities and schools or shelters may not be able to plan for your arrival in advance as their focus will be to their children/young adults in there care so a degree of patience will be required even if we and your volunteer manager knew in advance, they can often change schedules without notice. For this reason it can be more practical to stay two weeks to enable yourself plenty of time to get into a routine. If there are free days during the week these can easily be filled with a day trip at short notice to a place of interest.
Do I need to speak Spanish?
No Spanish is needed to be a successful volunteer in Merida but most volunteers find it helps at the hospitals and when on their own at the dog sanctuary. For community volunteering and in the nurseries, it is preferable not to speak Spanish with the children so they can get used to spoken English and learn or improve even if this feels frustrating.
A volunteer was heard in one lesson saying the word hola which he had just learnt in Spanish (hello) and said it over thirty times to the children. It is easy to think you need Spanish but once you get used to only speaking in English and using sign language and visual demonstrations you will get used to it and it will quite natural.
Another way round this is to try to remember when you were 7 years old. Did you enjoy having an adult conversation with adults around you? It is rarely the case, most children follow by adults gesturing and showing around them, not by the spoken language and carefully worded instructions.
For getting around and eating and shopping, a phrasebook is sufficient for most visitors to Merida and the volunteer group normally spends all their free time together in town or touring.
If you will be using your volunteer experience to improve your Spanish your first point of contact between volunteering activities should be to speak with local staff at the projects, charities and schools you are volunteering at. From cleaners, kitchen staff to teachers and charity support workers, they will be impressed with any attempt you make as so few volunteers and not so many American tourists visiting the region, speak any Spanish. With adults you will gain a greater vocabulary and more natural conversation than you would with shy children. And of course you may not want to ask vulnerable children about their families as this may cause anxiety if they have suffered distress or neglect at home.
Why not start by asking local staff about their families followed by their interests before moving on to specific topics. Although you may want to stay clear of religion or politics!
What opportunities are there to learn or improve my Spanish?
Spanish classes can be organised easily, and some volunteers take a few classes during their stay. Your volunteer coordinator often organises Spanish classes as part of the training programme for your volunteer project. Where not included, allow £5 – £7 per hour depending on group size and frequency.
Do I need a visa?
British (and most European) passport holders do not require a visa for stays up to 30 days. Other nationalities should check with their nearest Mexican Embassy or Consulate for requirements. Supporting letters can be provided if required.
What happens on arrival?
Most volunteers fly into Cancun as flights can sometimes be as much as £100 – £200 less than Merida depending on the time of year. There are regular buses from Cancun airport to the bus terminal in Merida.
Coach tickets from Cancun to Merida cost approx. £15 for the 2.5 hour journey. You will need to get off at Fiesta Americana. On arrival, jump in a taxi and call the local team for directions to the volunteer house so the driver can take you straight there (approx 50 Pesos) this saves waiting or the volunteer driver waiting if your bus is delayed.
If you prefer, the local team can meet you but it’s not too far to the volunteer house. An airport pick up and transfer is available for all volunteers arriving at Merida airport or take an airport taxi (approx 150 Pesos).