Baja and the Sea of Cortez High School Expedition

Described by legendary underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau as the “world’s aquarium,” the Sea of Cortez teems with marine life, from acrobatic dolphins and sea lions to massive manta rays and whale sharks. Dive into this incredible underwater ecosystem alongside marine biologists and conservationists to lend a hand in preserving at-risk habitats, and witness groundbreaking conservation initiatives in action.

July 14 - July 25, 2019
July 27 - August 7, 2019
Airfare is not included. We have arranged a round-trip group flight between Los Angeles and San José del Cabo.

Trip Highlights

  • Experience close encounters with playful sea lions, gentle whale sharks, and giant schools of tropical fish while snorkeling or diving in the Sea of Cortez.
  • Travel by traditional panga boat to deserted Isla Cerralvo, and spend a night on the beach camping under the stars.
  • Join marine biologists and conservationists in their underwater research efforts, helping to identify and examine resident species.
  • Kayak or paddleboard alongside pods of leaping dolphins, and search for glowing bioluminescence on a snorkeling excursion after dark.

Itinerary | 12 days

Days 1-3

View Images

Our expedition begins in Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park, a living laboratory for underwater explorers with National Geographic’s Pristine Seas initiative, which aims to protect the world’s wildest patches of ocean. The park is also a shining model for oceanic conservation and harbors the only living coral reef in the Sea of Cortez. Get to know your fellow travelers during our trip orientation, and break into your On Assignment teams to begin discovering the Baja California Peninsula. Learn about how conservationists are working with residents to reclaim a patch of ocean from commercial fishing, pollution, and other environmental threats; and hear from members of the Los Cabos Whale Conservation Society, which promotes sustainable whale-watching practices in the region. Then get out on the water, on the lookout for whale species, such as blue, sperm, and fin; and cruise the coast in a traditional panga boat.

Days 4-6

Travel to Bahía La Ventana on the Sea of Cortez and settle into our waterfront accommodations, run by a marine biologist and educator. After settling in, dive into the water and snorkel or scuba dive along the bordering coral reef, accessible directly from the beach. Spend your days here exploring the sea by boat, kayak, and stand-up paddleboard. Learn to identify the resident aquatic species—including fish, crabs, and sea stars—and assist a marine biologist in examining and recording their behaviors. After sunset, grab a flashlight for nighttime snorkel excursions, in search of nocturnal marine species and glowing bioluminescence.

Day 7

Pack your panga boat for an overnight camping trip on Isla Cerralvo, the southernmost island in the Sea of Cortez. Upon arrival, set out to explore secluded land and seascapes. Hike beneath dramatic sandstone cliffs, snorkel with playful sea lions, cook meals over an open fire, and learn the basics of how to navigate by the stars.

Days 8-9

Return to Bahía La Ventana, and meet representatives from the local branch of Reef Check, a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving tropical coral reefs and Californian rocky reefs. Help the team check the health of the local reef, and collect data for projects aimed at protecting native species. Invite students from the local primary school to join in your explorations, and together perform a plankton tow, using microscopes to identify the species you collect. Spend your down time practicing your Spanish with the students and playing games on the beach. Enjoy a research presentation from Whale Shark México, then spend a day on the water photographing and identifying whale sharks—the world’s largest fish. Lend a hand with beach clean-ups, and plant native species in a nearby cactus sanctuary.

Days 10-12

Say goodbye to the Sea of Cortez and drive to the Pacific coast. In artsy Todos Santos, chase the perfect wave while learning to surf. Spend the last nights of your trip reflecting on your adventures in Baja, and present your On Assignment projects. Depart Cabo San Lucas for Los Angeles on our final day.

Our high school expeditions are for students in grades 9-12, and offer opportunities to get out into the field and discover fascinating destinations across the globe through the lens of an On Assignment project. Each expedition offers a choice of two or three areas of focus, such as photography, geology, or wildlife conservation. Students travel alongside a team of highly-qualified trip leaders—college graduates with extensive experience in the field, who love working with students. A National Geographic expert joins for a portion of the trip (four to eight days) to share their insights, and inspire students with their passion for the work they do and the places they will discover. The group size ranges between 14 and 28 participants, and the student-to-trip-leader ratio is usually between six and eight to one and never more than nine to one.
While scuba diving is not the main focus of this trip, students who are certified will have the opportunity to participate in up to six dives, dependent on weather and conditions. The supplemental fee for diving is $300 per student.
We will stay in family-run guest houses, and spend one night camping in tents.

Octavio Aburto, Photographer and Conservationist

Meet Our Experts

National Geographic Explorer and photographer Octavio Aburto focuses his photographic outreach and scientific research on the conservation of marine habitats and fisheries. He has been photographing marine ecosystems off the coastal waters of Mexico since 1994, and also works in Belize, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and the United States. Octavio earned a Ph.D. at the Center of Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at Scripps Institute of Oceanography (SIO), where he currently serves as an associate professor and research scientist. His images have been part of several conservation projects worldwide and have won international photography contests. Octavio is a National Geographic grantee, was awarded the Conservation of Nature prize by the Mexican Ministry of the Environment, and a Pew Marine Fellow. In collaboration with National Geographic Pristine Seas, Octavio played a large role in establishing a National Park that now protects 5% of Mexican seas and is the largest marine reserve in North America. Octavio will join both departures of the Baja Expedition.

On Assignment Projects

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, experiment with shutter speed to capture leaping dolphins and breaching whales, and try your hand at underwater wildlife photography as you experience up-close encounters with gentle whale sharks and sea lions. There is a supplemental fee of $150 for this On Assignment Project.
Work with scientists and conservationists to help protect the fragile ecosystems of the Sea of Cortez. Under the guidance of marine biologists, collect data on marine species, catch—and later release—specimens for up-close observation, and evaluate the health of a coral reef. Record your wildlife encounters, then join other citizen scientists across the globe in contributing to the iNaturalist observations of biodiversity.