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Rural Ejidos and Indigenous Cultural Preservation

Tecate is a charming border town of northern Baja California, Mexico, and is the center of the ancient territory of the Kumiai people, who today live both north and south of this international borderline. The native peoples here including Kumiai, Paipai, Cucapa and Kiliwa Indians have endured several unsuccessful colonization attempts, government marginalization, and assimilation into the modern way of life. These resilient tribes are now reduced to just a few hundred individuals and they are rapidly losing their customs and traditions.

Located less than an hour drive from San Diego, the Rural Ejidos of Tecate are one of Mexico’s most unique cultural institutions. These communal lands still function today in a complex interdependence.

In partnership with the local Kumiai and Mexican ejidos, volunteers will support local indigenous identity by generating awareness and social progress within the border region working to identify, protect, preserve, and restore this precious cultural heritage. This program will give you a unique insight into community leadership techniques.


Typical Program

Generating awareness by identifying, protecting, and restoring the cultural heritage of the Rural Ejidos of Tecate is the aim of this program. Visitors are welcomed by traditional ceremony and dance. Participants will be immersed in community working side by side with local leaders to help improve educational facilities, community centers, rehabilitation centers, orphanages, local libraries, and promote sustainable agriculture initiatives. By connecting old traditions with a renewed vision we hope to build new institutions that will carry forward the customs of these native peoples.

This project includes opportunities for participants to engage in traditional Kumiai arts with visits to local ceramic artisans’ studios and a crafts workshop providing support to micro-enterprise initiatives. We will also go hiking around one of Tecate’s lakes to perform an ecological survey identifying and harvesting local medicinal plants. Shop from local merchants in the historic town square of Tecate and see the gorgeous murals in the Basilica de Guadalupe. Visit Casa de Migrate, migrant house and listen to local migrant stories. There are also opportunities to learn about and work with honeybees along with a workshop on the “basics of building & repurposing recycled materials”. This program may also include a refreshing stop at the local hot springs of Santa Veronica followed by a scenic drive through Valle de Guadalupe wine country. Learn directly from regional experts with presentations on micro-credit, indigenous identity, and the history of migration.

Duration and Directions

Tecate is an ideal border program location because of its easy access from San Diego and is a quick scenic one hour drive through the Northern Sierra de San Pedro Mártir Mountains.

Trips can be arranged for five to ten days where visitors fly directly into San Diego’s Lindbergh Field Airport which is uniquely located right in the heart of downtown next to the iconic San Diego Bay.


Upon arrival to the hostel and after a rest, an orientation will be provided including an introduction to the hosting organization including culture, safety, rules and expectations. Volunteers will also learn about the critical issues facing communities, including the impact of migration and globalization in this unique region. The orientation will provide an overview of activities for the week and background on the projects, people, and places where we will engage.

Volunteer Requirements

Volunteers should be adaptable and flexible, willing to work as part of a team, and respectful of local traditions, culture, and customs. Those taking part in communal solidarity projects need to be capable of doing physical work, although previous experience is not essential. Spanish language ability is useful, but not necessary.

Click here to view the packing checklist.

Check out a Sample Itinerary

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Food and Accommodations

Each night, volunteers will enjoy regional food, traditionally prepared by Los Ninos de Baja nutrition experts. As part of your immersion experience we’ve invited a local Promotora from Tecate to join the group assisting with meal preparation, education, and cultural exchange. Enjoy traditional Mexican dishes prepared with a vegetarian nutritional model including fresh veggies, rice, legumes, soy, and other regional fare. Not to worry carnivores, we’ll still have chicken pozole and various tamales. Replenish with homemade agua frescas like, horchata, hibiscus, and tamarindo. For student teams, preparing food, eating together, cleaning up, and recycling are all part of the learning and immersion experience. We’ll aslo make sure to stop over and enjoy Tecate’s famous pan dulce sweet bread.

Rancho Cienega Redonda Hostel is a charming and picturesque site offering visitors tranquil accommodation uniquely located within the Rural Ejidos of Tecate. Facilities include: bunk beds, central showers, covered-outdoor kitchen and dining area, lagoon, trees, gardens, basketball court, walking trails, horse trails, and 24-hour on-site staff and security. This retreat-like setting is the perfect home base for your work in the community.

Community and Region

Over its 100 year history, due to its surroundings, Tecate has remained largely untouched by the bustling cities of San Diego and Tijuana that lay only 40 miles west. Kuuchamaa Mountain, known as Tecate Peak in the United States, as well as many of the surrounding hills and mountains, have created a natural boundary, keeping many of the modern day influences out of Tecate. Many of these mountains have been considered sacred ground for the indigenous Kumiai people dating back to their first arrival in the region hundreds of years ago. As a result, many of the surrounding areas remain to be large populations of the indigenous people and the native Kumiai language can still be heard in many of the surrounding villages.

Since its formal founding in 1892, many ranchers have moved into the area because of its rich natural resources, particularly the river that boasts the name of the city, and fertile lands that have yielded grain, grapes, and olives among other harvests. This migration of people, along with time and other historical events, has developed some of the most unique cultures and customs in all of Mexico. Tecate has developed a mixture of indigenous cultures with a modern city vibrancy that makes life here a unique blend of modern day history.

Via Local Partner Organizations

Los Niños de Baja California is a Mexican based NGO that has been working in the border region of Tecate since 1975. Los Niños’ programs address the basic needs of communities by building the capacities of the residents to become agents of positive change. The community members in turn create opportunities for themselves, their families, and their communities.


  • Discover the complexity of border life and globalization in a traditional pueblo setting
  • Learn how community leadership is demonstrated through communal programs involving food security and education in rural ejidos
  • Analyze the unique interdependence between Mexican and Indigenous cultures
  • Understand how indigenous identity can keep its roots while adapting to modern living
  • Participate in community-defined service projects improving local schools and teaching elementary english

You will observe, listen and engage with local community members, hearing their stories and learning from their individual and collective struggles for cultural survival. A microcosm of the elements and realities of globalization, you will come away with a heightened understanding of the issues facing the human family and the planet..


  • Loyola University Maryland “I highly recommend Via International as a great host agency for meaningful immersion programs, both domestic and international. They are rooted in the community with years of experience and relationships, organized and offer great educational input for the participants. They have everything you need for a comprehensive experience.”
    Andrea Goicochea, Assistant Director International ImmersionsAndrea Goicochea, Assistant Director International Immersions
  • University of Colorado Boulder
    “Via International is an excellent partner in engaging students in grassroots community development. During our recent service-learning trip to Bolivia, they proved responsive to our needs and adept at working with community partners and navigating local realities. The students came away with a remarkable understanding of local issues and global interconnectedness.”
    Karey Sabol, Director of International ProgramsKarey Sabol, Director of International Programs
  • Stonehill College
    “Our first experience working with Via International was exemplary.  The communication with the organizers was thorough and timely.  All aspects of the trip were carefully considered and taken care of with great respect to our group needs and the needs of 
    the receiving community. Our students walked away with a heightened commitment to learning about indigenous peoples, immigration and migration into the United States and a desire to educate their peers, friends and families regarding the information they learned.  We are definitely partnering with Via again and are grateful for such an educational, fun and life changing experience.”
    MaryAnne Cappelleri, Campus Minister for Service Immersion ProgramsMaryAnne Cappelleri, Campus Minister for Service Immersion Programs


Photo Credit: Will Rattigan
Photo Credit: Gabriel Reed

Program Fees

Program Development

Is a key expertise of Via Staff providing faculty and student leaders collaborative input to refine itineraries. We create unique access to local partners and coordinate all pre-trip activities.

Travel Services

provide ground transportation in Mexico, 3 meals-a-day including snacks and clean water, lodging at community site, adventure activity and museum entrance fees, first aid supplies, and 24-hour supervision.

Educational Services

Create dynamic cultural exchange through a full-time Regional Coordinator and translator, presentations by local experts and partner organizations, discussions on regional issues and initiatives, community preparation and participation support.

Community Support

Covers the cost of volunteer work projects, bringing vital resources to community-driven initiatives, and funding the purchase of tools and materials that facilitate the visitor experience.

Sustainable Development Support

Provides an important donation to mission-based initiatives for year-round program development of micro-creditnutritionleadership educationecology training, and sustainable development initiatives.

Via's Integrated Model

We’ve designed our programs to provide high-value, affordable travel while maximizing volunteer and educational impact. Via provides full-service support and coordination to simplify logistics for group leaders and engage seamlessly with community-driven initiatives and local community members. Via’s regional facilitators and educational program development provide and integrated approach that offers visiting volunteer groups a deeply immersive, inspiring, memorable, and transformational experience that is safe, stable, reliable, and impactful.

We are very proud to offer this level of access and impact. A group of 14 participants can volunteer in Tecate for a 5 day immersion at an estimated cost of $550 per participant. To receive an exact quote based on your organization’s specific needs, please complete the form below.

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