Causes Worth Visiting, August 2009

By: Lydia Linton Pontius

There are a number of great causes up and down the Riviera Maya Coast. And several are actually a great way to spend some time during your next trip or vacation.

I have found, through my group travel business, Just Imagine Vacations, Inc. and through inquiries to Sac-Be International, Inc. that more and more vacationers are wanting to get involved and do something to make their trips more memorable and to give something back. This spurred us to start an entire section on the Sac-Be website dedicated just to causes in the area. In addition, I recently visited a number of places, some I had known and been involved with for years, others I had the opportunity to meet for the first time.

Here is a break down of some of the organizations that visitors and locals alike can get involved with in a hands-on way, or visit and learn more, starting south and working our way north:

Jungle Place
is a sanctuary for spider monkeys. It began as an act of love when Heidi ended up adopting her first spider monkey. Heidi explained to me that she became completely enthralled with them and caught “primateitus” - a total addiction to these magnificent animals. I had a meeting scheduled with Heidi, but she was somewhat beside herself at the time I arrived. One of her youngest males was at the veterinarian's in Playa and she was preoccupied with worry. Our meeting was cut short and the tour was postponed for a day. I certainly understood and was delighted to be able to view the massive cage-system, which is home to her spider monkeys.

I had a chance to meet Teva, up close and personal and enjoyed the interaction immensely. Heidi explained that she raises money to care for these monkeys through tours. However, the tours take their toll and she has to limit them to not stress the monkeys out. If you are interested in visiting this unique place, you can make arrangements for a tour prior to your trip. We returned the next day, but due to another misunderstanding were again unable to take the tour. The animals are truly loved and there is no doubt that Heidi is dedicated to the well-being and happiness of these spider monkeys.

Akumal has two wonderful organizations that offer ways to get involved.

Heading into Akumal Playa before you get to the arches on the left hand side of the road is Hekab Be Library. Hekab Be offers short term volunteer projects from helping with repairs and maintenance to reading or doing arts and crafts with the young people who frequent the library. It is open all year round and you can learn more by contacting Maggie. I worked with Maggie on the Children's Treasure Hunt for Akumal's 50th and it was a pure joy to spend the time with these children. The smiles on the local children's faces have warmed my heart for many years, I never tire of being around them. To learn more visit their blog, or contact them via email

Past the arches bare left and on the right hand side is CEA, Centro Ecologico Akumal. It is a small environmental organization that has been a part of Akumal for many years. The success of its programs depend on the hard work of a small staff and volunteers. Volunteers are asked to commit a minimum of one month. For visitors on vacation the CEA Center is a great place to visit and learn more about the fauna and flora and this unique eco-system. If you visit during Turtle Season you won't want to miss out on their nightly turtle walks. It is unforgettable to experience a mother turtle laying her eggs and pure joy to watch the hatchlings scrambling to the sea. The money goes directly to the Turtle Protection Program.

Playa Del Carmen is where I met Laura R owner of Coco's Cat Rescue, who has an amazing Cat Rescue facility in Playa del Carmen. They not only help find homes for kittens but they also are a very active organization combating the feral cat problem that plagues Playa and many other areas.

Coco Cat Rescue has cat communities set up in different neighborhoods and at some all inclusive resorts. They have feeding stations and they offer a catch and release spay and neutering program. By decreasing the number of feral breeding cats the numbers will eventually decrease. This is also a humane way of facing an overwhelming problem that affects the environment. Cats are not indigenous to the Maya Riviera and they breed at an alarming rate. Over-population of cats without a spay and neutering programs will eventually affect the environment because they prey on birds and small reptiles that are part of this fragile eco-system.

For you cat lovers, this is a great place to get your kitty fix and you may even be able to foster a kitten while on vacation.

SPAP (formally SPAY) and VIDAS are two other organizations that do free spay and neutering clinics along the Maya Riviera. You may contact them to see about volunteering. I have done that on several occasions and found it always to be richly rewarding. You don't need to be a vet or vet tech to help, they need people to help in recovery and as gofers.

To learn more about any of these great causes and organizations please visit their websites. And if you have any stories you would like to share about your experiences that touched and changed your life when you reached out while on vacation, please be sure to share them with us. We would love to post them.

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