Mexico: Marine Biology on the Baja Peninsula

Explore marine ecosystems and coastal life in contrasting natural environments during this immersive high school summer abroad program.

Compare and contrast different marine environments and regional cultures as you travel from the coastal city of La Paz—situated between desert mountains and the Gulf of California—to the Yucatán Peninsula on this program for high school students. Meet with marine biologists, researchers, and guides in La Paz. Learn about the history of human and animal habitation in the peninsula. Snorkel among coral reefs, observing sea lions in their natural habitats, on the beautiful island of Espíritu Santo, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. During this period, you live with a Mexican family, which opens up amazing windows into Mexican culture. Take advantage of continuous opportunities to practice your Spanish while exploring the region’s incredible natural environments and regional culture with host family members.

As the program moves to the Yucatán in southeastern Mexico—from desert to jungle—experience a completely different natural environment. Learn about pearl farming on the island of Cozumel and witness ongoing ecosystem restoration efforts through the installation of artificial reefs. Take a late-night beach walk to watch giant sea turtles laying eggs on the sand. Travel to Akumal beach for a guided snorkel excursion with sea turtles and manta rays. Discover the region’s strong Maya cultural influence, and visit the Maya archaeological ruins at Coba or Tulum.

The program begins and ends in Mexico City, giving you time to deepen your knowledge of Mexico’s culture, history, and food from the vantage point of the country’s expansive capital city. Visit the Zócalo, Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de María, Frida Kahlo Museum, or take a walking tour of the old city.

Orientation: Mexico City, 3–4 days
Homestay: La Paz or Cozumel,* 11–12 days
Other Accommodations: Hotels, eco-lodge, ranch

* Homestay locations can vary.

Days 1–3

Orientation in Mexico City

  • Learn about the history and culture of Mexico
  • Visit important sites in the city, including the Museum of Anthropology, the Zócalo, the Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de María, and the Frida Kahlo Museum
  • Get to know other members of your group during activities and discussions
  • Practice your Spanish language skills
  • Explore diverse neighborhoods and try Mexican cuisine in street-side cafés

During the orientation period, you and your group will stay in a centrally located hostel.

Days 4–14


  • Become fully immersed in the daily life of a Mexican family and community
  • Do activities with your host family

Thematic Focus

  • Work with local marine biologists to learn about the huge biodiversity of the Sea of Cortez
  • Tour a marine research institute
  • Snorkel in the waters off the island Espiritu Santo
  • Visit traditional fishing communities
  • Camp at a goat ranch
  • Go kayaking among mangroves

During this period, you will stay in the home of a family. Sample community: La Paz.

Days 15–19

Thematic Focus in Yucatán Peninsula

  • Explore the mangroves, beaches, and ecosystems of the Caribbean
  • Work with Mexican ecologists at the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
  • Snorkel with giant sea turtles and observe manatees, dolphins, and other sea life in their natural habitats
  • Explore Mayan ruins and rural villages around the city of Tulum
  • Observe scientists as they monitor sea turtle nests

During this period, you and your group will stay in a lodge.

Day 20

Program Reflection and Wrap-up in Mexico City

  • Reflect with your group on your experiences during the program

During the reflection period, you and your group will stay in a centrally located hostel.

Day 21


Please note: This itinerary is only a sample and is subject to change. Because of factors such as group size and availability of in-country offerings such as festivals, your experience — including sites visited and the number of days spent in each location — may differ somewhat from the one presented above.

These are leader bios from summer 2014.

Anna Hamilton

Born and raised in Topeka, Kansas, Anna Hamilton obtained her BA in public health and international development from Tulane University in May of 2014, with minors in Spanish and economics. In autumn 2014, she returned to Tulane to start her master's degree in public health monitoring and evaluation. Anna has extensive experience working with young adults as a swim instructor, volunteer teacher and tutor for both English and Spanish speakers, and resident advisor.

Anna and her family share a strong love of music. She also enjoys hiking and outdoor activities, learning new things, and meeting new people. She is a swimmer and a runner and completed her first marathon in February 2014. Anna has traveled widely in Central and South America and plans to work as a monitoring and evaluation specialist in Latin America after obtaining her master’s degree in public health.?

Emily Josefowitz

Originally from Austin, Texas, Emily headed to the east coast to attend the University of New Hampshire for college where she earned her BS in zoology. While studying at UNH, she completed a semester abroad in Perth, Australia, which catalyzed her love for international travel and adventures. Since completing her undergraduate degree, Emily has traveled to many different international locations for both work and pleasure. She is experienced in leading and working with students on adventure travel programs, such as in Hawaii, Costa Rica, Belize, Ecuador and the Galápagos, Turkey, Greece, Kenya, Tanzania, and the Caribbean. Emily recently completed her Master of Education from the University of Washington, where she specialized in outdoor/experiential education topics, and she currently works in special education for an elementary school in Seattle. When Emily is not traveling, you can find her enjoying all the Pacific Northwest has to offer, including skiing, hiking, paddle-boarding, and playing in the rain and sunshine!