Baja & the Gulf of CaliforniaMarine Science & Conservation on the Mexican Coast

Often called “the aquarium of the world”, the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez, teems with marine life, from acrobatic dolphins and sea lions to massive manta rays and whale sharks. Travel to Baja, Mexico this summer and dive into this incredible underwater ecosystem. Choose your On Assignment theme, learn about marine conservation and terrestrial photography from professionals, and embrace adventure as you snorkel, kayak, and paddleboard. Alongside marine biologists and conservationists, see groundbreaking conservation initiatives in action and lend a hand in research projects and the preservation of at-risk habitats.


July 12–July 23, 2024July 25–August 5, 2024
12 days
$ 7,890 + airfare
Departs from Los Angeles
20–24 students, 3 leaders


  • Get up close with sea lions, dolphins, and tropical fish while snorkeling
  • Spend two nights on the Pacific Coast and learn to surf on its pristine waves
  • Help identify and examine species with marine biologists and researchers
  • Photograph the clear night sky during a camping trip to the remote desert

Meet the Expert

Dr. Tierney Thys, Biologist & Filmmaker

Dr. Tierney Thys is a biologist, filmmaker, Research Associate at the California Academy of Science, and National Geographic Explorer. Her diverse research and outreach projects include mapping connections between nature and human wellbeing through brain imaging in partnership with Stanford University; quantifying nature’s effect on incarcerated populations in partnership with the University of Utah; satellite tracking marine megafauna throughout the world’s oceans; and researching sustainable textile solutions to fast fashion pollution. For seven years, Dr. Thys was the Daily Explorer in the online game Animal Jam (100 million registered players). She is a world expert on molidae, the giant ocean sunfishes, and recently co-edited the first academic book on the family molidae. As past Director of Research for Sea Studios Foundation, she helped produce the NSF-funded PBS documentary series Strange Days on Planet Earth and Shape of Life. Dr. Thys also serves as an expert for numerous National Geographic itineraries each year and has traveled to more than 60 countries. She is a TED All-Star speaker, frequent TEDed contributor, was a member of the TED braintrust, and serves on the science advisory board for the innovation think tank ThinkBeyondPlastic.

Liliana Gutiérrez Mariscal, Biologist & Conservationist

Liliana GutiĂ©rrez graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology from National Autonomous University of Mexico in 2000. She has a master’s degree in public administration from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, and an M.Sc. from the State University of New York where she defended the thesis “Public Participation in Mexican Biosphere Reserves: A Comparative Case Study.” Since 2007, she has been a member of the Latin American Network for Integrated Coastal Management. She joined Noroeste Sustentable in July 2007 as program coordinator, and was promoted to executive director in 2014. She has experience in highly complex multisectorial processes, and has received training from the Centro de ColaboraciĂłn CĂ­vica (Civic Collaboration Center) in conflict resolution, facilitation, mediation and effective communication and from the Society of Organizational Learning in organizational learning, leadership and generative dialogue. In 2016, GutiĂ©rrez helped to found Achamar, a for-profit organization designed to invest in fishery and community restoration.


This itinerary represents our best projection of the group’s schedule. However, we may implement changes designed to improve the quality of the program.

  • Departure
  • Travel Day

Meet your fellow student travelers and one or more of your leaders in Los Angeles, California, and fly together to Cabo, Baja California Sur, Mexico.

  • La Ventana, Gulf of California
  • 3 days

Begin your program in La Ventana Bay on the Gulf of California and settle into your waterfront accommodations, run by a marine biologist, sea captain, and educator. Get to know your group and On Assignment team during an in-depth orientation, then dive into the water and snorkel or scuba along the rocky coast, a living laboratory. Learn to identify the resident aquatic species—including fish, crabs, and sea stars—and assist a marine biologist in examining and recording their behaviors. Work alongside photographers to learn techniques to photograph charismatic marine life and hard-to-find bird species. After sunset, grab a flashlight for nighttime snorkel excursions, in search of nocturnal marine species and glowing bioluminescence. Take a cooking class and learn how to make authentic tortillas and spicy salsas. Learn traditional moves during a lesson with a local youth dance troupe.

  • Punta Marquez, Pacific Coast
  • 2 days

Adventure across the peninsula to the Pacific Coast, stopping to hike in this dramatic desert landscape. Stay on a remote stretch of beach and continue learning about the different ecosystems found in Baja. Search for fossilized shark teeth in the soft, white sand and learn to surf the perfect wave. Visit an oyster aquaculture lab, then cook meals together as a group as you watch the sun sink into the Pacific Ocean. Gaze at millions of stars, point out constellations, and learn the basics of astrophotography.

  • La Ventana, Gulf of California
  • 6 days

Return to La Ventana Bay, and meet locals dedicated to the conservation of tropical coral reefs. Help check the health of the local reef and collect data for projects aimed at protecting native species. Perform a plankton tow and assist in the collection of invertebrate species. Use a microscope to identify and research the specimens you collect. Through partnership with the local school, invite students and their teachers to the beach to learn more about these animals. Spend your down time relaxing on the beach, swimming, or working on your On Assignment projects. Enjoy a research presentation from Whale Shark MĂ©xico, then spend a day on the water searching for whale sharks, the world’s largest fish. Day trip to the interior of the peninsula for an exciting hike to a secluded waterfall oasis and natural hot springs. Lend a hand with beach cleanups, plant native species in a nearby cactus sanctuary, and join a game of football. Pack your boat for an overnight camping trip on Cerralvo Island, the southernmost island in the Gulf of California. Hike beneath dramatic sandstone cliffs and snorkel with playful sea lions near a rookery. Visit the nearby towns of La Paz and Todos Santos to speak with local artisans about their crafts. Finally, enjoy the last night of your program reflecting on your adventures, presenting your On Assignment projects, and savoring one final meal together with your group.

  • Return
  • Travel Day

Fly from Cabo, Baja California Sur, Mexico, to Los Angeles, California, with your group and a leader, then continue on to your final destination.

A Day in the Life: La Ventana

Due to the traveling nature of this summer program, each day is different. Here is a snapshot of a day during our time at La Ventana Bay.

  •  Enjoy breakfast as a group at your waterfront accommodations
  •  Board the panga boats and go snorkeling, scouting for dolphins and other wildlife
  •  Eat a packed lunch on board your boat
  •  Return to La Ventana to enjoy some downtime or project time
  •  Kayak or stand up paddle board from the beach down the coast
  • Prepare and eat a delicious dinner of fresh fish, fruit, and Mexican fare
  • Enjoy a presentation by a local whale shark researcher
  • Group meeting to recap the day and discuss the plan for tomorrow
  • Participate in a workshop on night photography taught by group leaders

What to Expect

  • On Assignment Themes

Choose either the Photography or Marine & Tropical Conservation On Assignment theme, and break into teams to delve further into your area of focus.

Marine & Tropical Conservation: Work with scientists and conservationists to help protect the fragile ecosystems of the Gulf of California. Under the guidance of marine biologists, collect data on undersea species, catch—and later release—specimens for close-up observation, and evaluate the health of a coral reef. Work alongside whale shark researchers in La Paz to identify and catalog individual animals.

Photography: Capture the spectacular landscapes of the Baja California Peninsula on camera, and document the marine life you spot along your journey. During excursions on the water and land, experiment with shutter speed to capture leaping dolphins and breaching whales, and learn the basics of night photography during a camping trip in the desert.

  • Physical Activity

This is a physically active summer travel program. It is important that you have a desire to be physically active, and that you are interested in trying all activities, including swimming, snorkeling, stand-up paddleboarding, and kayaking. While you don’t need to be an advanced swimmer, this program spends a lot of time in and on the water, so a level of comfort and a basic ability to swim is necessary.

  • Lodging

We stay in comfortable family-run guest houses, and spend one night camping in tents on the beach.

  • Language

Proficiency in Spanish is not required. However, if you speak and/or study Spanish, you will have opportunities to communicate with native speakers throughout the program. If you don’t speak Spanish, you will have the opportunity to learn some basic language skills.

  • Meals

We eat most meals in small, local restaurants with a lot of fresh fruit, seafood, chicken, rice, beans, and other traditional Mexican food. For day trips we pack our lunches to bring with us.

  • Scuba Opportunities

While scuba diving is not the main focus of this trip, students who are at least Basic Open Water certified will have the opportunity to participate in up to four dives, depending on weather and conditions. The supplemental fee for diving is $300 per student.

Please call our office with any questions about the physical nature of this program or to discuss specific accessibility and accommodation questions.

Explore the Destination

Next Steps

If you have questions or would like to talk further about this program, please get in touch!

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