Mérida, the political, financial and cultural center of the State of Yucatan is a romantic, Bohemian city that easily meshes its splendid past with a lively modern arts scene.
Its nickname, La Ciudad Blanca, “The White City,” refers to Mérida’s original white buildings and the traditional white clothing worn by its original inhabitants. Today’s Mérida is growing fast in color, foreign investment and expats, yet this lovely city still retains a gracious small-town feel and strong colonial and Mayan influence.
The once nearly-vanished Mayan culture is now enjoying a renaissance and is readily evident in the daily life, language and frequent festivals celebrating Mérida’s indiginous people. ELI volunteers and interns based in Mérida enjoy easy access to the iconic ancient Mayan cities of the Yucatan, among them Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Ek Balam, Dzibilchaltún, and several others. Exploring them offers unforgettable adventure and insights into Mayan life before the 1542 arrival of the conquistadores.
After all that volunteering and exploring, ELI-ers hit the beach or chill in “cenotes,” unique water-filled caves. They were sometimes used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings, but today they draw tourists who kayak, snorkel, zip line or try out night-time scuba diving. The tranquil beach town of Progreso, about 25 miles from Mérida, is a popular weekend getaway, as are the fabled beaches along Cancun, located about four hours away.
ELI works with community organizations throughout Mérida, offering volunteers and interns the unique opportunity to live within a Mayan community and experience its family-oriented culture. From volunteer work with sea turtles on the coastal islands off the Peninsula, to long term internships in tourism and marketing, you can experience all that Mexico has to offer while giving back to the community.
Volunteer or intern with a local organization that embodies love and hope for young cancer patients. This private assistance institution, supported by the city government, provides free services to children with cancer and their accompanying families who come to Mérida for treatments and chemotherapies but lack the financial means to support their stay.
“We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.” - Madre Teresa de Calcuta
Interns and international volunteers work at the Shelter, helping with lodging, food and transportation; offering medical, psychological and emotional support. The work is varied - you’ll support the organization in many ways, from distributing food, clothing and toys, to helping stock the medicine cabinets and the food pantry. When you volunteer here, you’ll have direct contact with locals, contributing to the quality of life of cancer patients and their loved ones. Rest assured, you will make a powerful, lasting impact among a community not used to much help or support.
Volunteers can work at an orphanage or a child welfare organization in the city of Mérida or in one of the Mayan villages around the Yucatán. The children come from a variety of situations. Some have lost one or both parents, suffered physical and sexual abuse, or experienced hunger and extreme poverty. Some of these children are in the orphanage on a temporary basis and others stay until they reach the age of 18. The orphanage provides shelter, education and all the child's basic needs.
ELI works with two types of facilities. One receives children from birth to the age of 6 and provides basic care for boys and girls who were abandoned, neglected or are waiting for adoption. Volunteers will spend time with the little ones, leading activities and games, helping at meal times, and teaching basic skills. Volunteers are welcome to assist with the children's daily activities and with chores around the center.The second facility is for children ages 6-18, split into Boys Homes and Girls Homes. The youngsters here have been brought here by other organizations or were sent by their families unable to take care of them. Volunteers will work with the youth, playing games, leading social and cultural activities, teaching, and offering them the attention and role models these at risk children badly need.
Please, keep in mind that this position requires a basic to intermediate level of Spanish, especially in the rural areas, where only Spanish and Mayan dialects are spoken.
Mérida has 23 Integral Development Centers in which indigenous dance, culture and artistic values are taught to both local children and adults of all ages. It’s part of an effort by the city of Mérida to rejuvenate ancient traditions which have been lost due to conquest, colonization and urban growth. The Centers also teach participants how to combine modern life with ancient traditions.
In these placements, volunteers can organize cultural workshops and teach English (or other languages) as well as share their own skills in the arts, music, paintings, dance, etc. Questions? Click here
Small Business Development
Put your business education or experience by volunteering with a program that helps small business owners sharpen their skills in the areas of finance, marketing, project and brand development, and other key areas crucial to the successful start, and expansion, of a small business.
This program includes businesses in the city of Mérida and in rural areas where the needs for growth and opportunities are even more acute.
Marginalized Mayan communities in particular are in great need of such help, and as someone with a background in business you’ll guide small local businesses to improve their image and increase their ability to compete locally and in the international market.
The organization focus is divided into six areas:
Interns and volunteers may work in one or more of these areas during their stay. Participants must have experience in marketing, finance, international trade, design or related areas.
Internships are available any time of the year. We require a minimum of 2 months; interns may stay for up to 6 months. Internships are based in Merida but often work with indigenous communities of high and very high marginalization. Placements are available for undergrads, graduate students, professionals and qualified volunteers.
Questions? Click here
Sea Turtle Conservation
Most species of sea turtles around the world are now considered endangered; many of them accidentally caught in fishing nets or poached for their meat or shells. Preserving the sea turtle population is vital in maintaining the natural equilibrium and biological diversity in Caribbean waters. ELI works with organizations in different centers around the Yucatan Peninsula that the sea turtles frequent during their nesting season from April to September and May to October. Placements take place in camps on beaches outside the city of Merida. Volunteers share basic cabins with other participants and sleep in hammocks. Participants on this project have the chance to go on night rounds to find nesting sites, work with the community to promote awareness of this issue, and collect data about progress on this project.
Volunteers for this program do not need to speak Spanish, but must be comfortable in a primarily Spanish speaking environment. Participants must be in good physical condition. Questions? Click here
Join groups that promote social, economic and environmental development of indigenous and rural communities in western Yucatan. These often overlooked and vulnerable communities need help in making good use of their natural resources and while strengthening their cultural and social bonds.
Current projects focus on conservation, the environment, community development, business and micro finance, with interns and volunteers able to:
ELI invites professionals, undergraduates and graduate students in Sustainable Development, Microfinance, Agriculture and Eco-Tourism. Qualified volunteers will also be considered based on availability and the skills demonstrated in their CVs.
The groups require a minimum term of 2 months; volunteers and interns may stay up to 6 months.
Participants must have an intermediate to advanced level of Spanish, be flexible, and respect the needs of the local community.Questions? Click here
The Yucatan is a magical place where ancient Mayan culture mixes with modern technology and commerce. ELI works with local government organizations to provide unique internship opportunities where interns learn about the many different aspects of the tourism industry in Mexico. Interns work in a wide variety of arenas, from helping to develop new forms of tourism to working in public relations in the community, and more. Participants can choose from positions in the fields of Marketing, Ecotourism, Tourist Operations and Public Relations. These internships require a background in tourism, marketing, finance or related fields.
Interns in this program must have an intermediate level of Spanish, and commit to at least 6 months. Questions? Click here
For participants seeking experience on the field of hospitality, ELI has oportunities working with big hotels in Mérida, where interns can learn about the work on a five stars hotel, managing high end pasengers and big groups of tourists. Questions? Click here
|Length of Program||Programs Fee|
Application Fee: $200
The application fee is a separate administrative charge for all programs. It does not apply to the program fee. (Please see our application fee refund policy here)
The Mexico Programs can last up to 6 months. Each additional week costs $120.
Spanish Classes may be arranged
Credit card payments: Payment by credit card will be assessed a 3.5% surcharge. This is the fee that we will be charged for the transaction. Contact us about alternative forms of payment.
*Airport Pickup in Mérida
Program Does Not Include:
Volunteers in Mexico stay with local host families. ELI believes that this is the best way to fully immerse oneself in another culture and get the most from an international experience. All families are carefully screened and are well-respected members of the community. Participants will have either a private or shared bedroom. Bathrooms are shared with the host family. Volunteers will be provided with breakfast and dinner daily.
For participants in Mayan Communities, there is a supplemental fee of $50 per month for extra meals, since there are no markets in the villages.
Arrival dates are flexible except that no arrivals will be scheduled for Easter week or Christmas.
Travel insurance is not included in the program fee. We prefer to let participants decide what kind of coverage they need.
All prices are listed in US Dollars. The program fees reflect the costs ELI faces when setting up a program. We work hard to keep our costs as low as possible. ELI is a registered 501(c)3 non profit. US taxpayers may be able to deduct some or all of the program fees. If you are outside the US and wondering what these costs translate to in your currency, click here for an online conversion tool that will give you the approximate current exchange rate.