I spent two incredible months in Merida, Mexico and I cannot say enough great things about my experience. I was extremely nervous to travel, work and live in a foreign country by myself, but the local staff (Carolina, Miguel, Marina, Ana, etc.), made it all so easy. I can honestly say that I felt safe, supported, and cared for throughout my entire stay.
I was fortunate enough to get to try out two volunteer programs -- childcare and animal care -- and both programs left me with experiences that I will never forget. My first two weeks were spent volunteering at a cultural center helping entertain local children while they were on school break. I was then fortunate enough to spend three weeks at Los Amiguitos with children ranging in age from a few months to 4 years. Every single kid that I met was so friendly, loving, and sincere, and none of them cared one bit about the language barrier. My final three weeks were spent in the animal care program volunteering at AFAD and Evolucion. This program was definitely more physically demanding, but I loved that we could see the immediate benefits of our work. And when we were done working, we just got to spend as much time as we wanted hanging out with the animals. I know it sounds odd, but I actually loved taking buses to and from placement. They were cheap (7.50-11 pesos per ride), and I really felt like I was embracing the local culture. All buses in Merida go straight through the center, so in the afternoon I would usually just stay in the city before heading back to the house. I came to really enjoy the commute.
I opted to stay in the volunteer house rather than a homestay, and I'm so glad that I did. It made it so easy to become friends with the other volunteers and gave me a very comfortable and convenient home base for my time in Merida. That being said, I know plenty of people who stayed at homestays and loved it, and I really don't feel like it isolated them from the other volunteers. I was in Merida during the warmest time of the year, when the temperature was usually over 100 every day. I know that sounds unbearable, but I actually got used to the heat and came to like it... the pool at the volunteer house certainly helped, and it was highly utilized. Considering everything that was provided (and how cheap everything is in Merida), this program was SO affordable.
Merida is not only a beautiful, vibrant city full of color and life, but the Yucatan offers so much to see and do. I was never bored in my two months there, from trips to the ruins, cenotes, haciendas, beaches, nearby cities, and so much more. I was able to do and see so many things (with lots of help and guidance from Carolina and Miguel). Additionally, I was fortunate to have enough time in Merida that I was able to spend afternoons just wandering around the city, eating, shopping, and simply enjoying the beauty of the city.
I decided to do the program because I was at point in my life where I just needed a change, and I have zero regrets about my choice to go to Merida. I met so many people through the program that will be lifelong friends, and the Mexican culture is truly so welcoming and inspiring. So, my advice to current or future volunteers: If you are hesitating to go, I promise you, you will not regretting just taking the leap and going for it. I don't consider myself to be a very outgoing and adventurous person, and my Spanish was sub-par at best, but I went for it and it turned out to be the best thing I've ever done. Another bit of info: try to plan your trip at a time when the house is likely to be busier, such as school breaks or common vacation times. I was the only one in the program for one week during my stay and it was pretty lonely. And make sure you go for at least 2 weeks! The Yucatan has way too much to offer and you need at least two weeks to really take it in.
Have fun :)