Families can volunteer at a turtle sanctuary located on Playa Viva’s resort property. // © 2014 Shutterstock
Families who want to take a break from bus tours and shopping malls while on vacation are increasingly turning to voluntourism. From protecting baby turtles to painting schools, volunteer programs are often offered directly by resorts and give families the opportunity to immerse themselves in the destination’s local culture and natural environment by lending a helping hand.
Here are three resorts in Mexico that feature voluntourism programs perfect for families with children of any age.
Turtles and Tutoring at Playa Viva
Playa Viva in Guerrero coordinates a variety of voluntourism projects through which families can engage with the community. Programs include an English/Spanish tutoring exchange program with local children and volunteering with the turtle sanctuary located on the resort’s property.
Children as young as 3 years old with an affinity for animals will especially love the latter opportunity. The experience lets participants count turtles as they move them to large buckets and release them back into the ocean. Teenagers can go on patrols with volunteers to help identify and dig nests, as well as collect and count eggs. These patrols help reduce poaching and prevent turtle nests from being disturbed by predators.
Families don’t need to give the resort advance notice to help out, but the program is dependent on whether baby turtles are available. The best time is August through mid-October, says David Levanthal, co-owner of Playa Viva. If parents want their families to engage in a community-development program, such as painting a school or gardening, they should notify the resort in advance via email.
Preserving the Environment at Grand Velas Resorts
Although most often used by corporate groups, the volunteer programs offered by Grand Velas Resorts in Riviera Maya and Riviera Nayarit are also perfect for families. Popular activities for kids include volunteering at local schools, painting and restoring classrooms and setting up soccer fields and basketball courts.
Grand Velas also works with the Association of Flora, Fauna and Culture of Mexico to coordinate reforestation programs. Families can help with environmental preservation by planting palm trees and irrigating seeds while guided by landscapers, or help improve La Ceiba Park in Playa del Carmen by painting and cleaning. These opportunities can be arranged through a destination management company in Puerto Vallarta or an external provider in Riviera Maya.
Paradise for Pet Lovers at Fairmont Mayakoba
Fairmont Mayakoba in Riviera Maya partners with nonprofits to provide guests a variety of volunteer activities, such as bringing supplies to dogs at Playa Animal Rescue. Families seeking a more hands-on experience can help clean, bathe and walk the dogs. For parents worried about safety precautions, the shelter provides training in handling the animals for younger guests.
Other family-friendly programs include reforesting a park, repairing schools, volunteering at a local orphanage and working with children at a rehabilitation center. Programs occur on a seasonal basis. Parents should check with the resort for specific dates.