Mexico Semester

Leadership & Guide Training Courses
(80 days)

IWLS students heading out on the Mexico Volcanos course. -Luis Villaba

Join IWLS for an incredible semester of leadership and educational experience in the wilds of Mexico. Not only does Mexico have beautiful white sandy beaches and sunshine, it is home to snowy mountains that reach up to 18,500ft and jungles teeming with tropical flora and fauna.

Aside from being a country with lofty peaks and sandy beaches, the rich culture and language of Mexico provide an excellent educational opportunity. The cultural history students glean from interacting with local people and visiting historic ruins is a valuable life experience.

Your 80-day semester in Mexico will include exploring remote coastlines by kayak, climbing high altitude volcanic peaks, backpacking in isolated canyons, and technical rock climbing skills in one of the most spectacular landscapes and culturally rich areas in North America.

Mountaineering and Rock Climbing The Mexico Volcanoes of Ixtaccihuatl (17,160ft) and Pico de Orizaba (18,491ft) tower above the surrounding landscape. These prominent glaciated peaks offer a good introduction to mountaineering at altitude. The limestone rock of El Potrero Chico in Northern Mexico hosts sheer walls with a multitude of climbing routes.

Picture yourself leading a mountaineering team up mixed terrain at 17,000 feet, bartering in Spanish for local produce, or performing a mock rescue of a fallen climber. The combination of high altitude experience and multi-pitch rock climbing set amidst the cultural backdrop of Mexico, make this course ideal for people looking to develop their international mountaineering and rock climbing proficiency.

Backpacking Backpacking in the Sierra Madre Occidental epitomizes the cultural essence of Mexico. Rugged interior mountains, small pueblos, and raging creeks and canyons make this an exciting destination. Backpacking and canyoneering in the copper canyon provides great views of surrounding mountains and introduces participants to backcountry travel in arid environments. Arguably the deepest canyon in North America, the dramatic wilderness of the Copper Canyon is home to high cascading waterfalls and spectacular vistas amidst a unique aspect of Mexican culture. The Barranco del Cobre is home to the Tarahumara Indians.

Picture yourself crisscrossing warm pools of aqua marine water surrounded by towering canyon walls, rappelling alongside a 30 foot waterfall or teaching fellow students about some of the native plants of the area.

Sea Kayaking The east side of the Baja peninsula is home to rugged mountain vistas, secluded ocean coves, tropical waters and great weather. It is the perfect winter location for learning sea kayaking leadership and guiding skills. We’ll explore the coastal waters and pristine coastline in kayaks, on foot, and with snorkels.

Imagine practicing technical rescues in open water, snorkeling in warm azure inlets and hiking along remote island beaches in the Sea of Cortez. The combination of warm winter temperatures, rich natural history, and remote desert topography make this course ideal for people looking to develop their wilderness kayaking skills.

After each segment you will have a few days to unpack, clean up, reconnect with all your loved ones, and prepare for the next portion of the program.

If your first aid isn’t current, consider adding our 10-day Wilderness First Responder course to your semester. This course is available for additional university credit and is the minimum standard for instructors and guides in the outdoor industry.
Upon completion of your semester in Mexico, you will be a competent and confident leader in a variety of terrains and techniques. Qualified students may have the opportunity for future

employment as a guide or instructor with the International Wilderness Leadership School.

THE INSTRUCTORS AND GUIDES OF IWLS are widely recognized as some of the very best in their field and have practical leadership experience from around the globe. They are well trained and have an uncommon enthusiasm for sharing their skill and knowledge, borne out of a passion for outdoor exploration.

The International Wilderness Leadership Schools’ educational model nurtures leadership development and creates an awareness of the guiding mentality that is essential for leading safe, fun adventures in the mountains. The combination of technical skills training, experiential education and practical leadership experience make the IWLS curriculum world class.


THE IWLS GENERAL CURRICULUM outlines the essential components for effective outdoor leadership. Here are a few points that the course will focus on.

  • Equipment/Clothing Selection and Use: You’ll learn to choose the right gear for the correct application, whether enjoying a sunny afternoon on a snow slope or trekking through a tropical rainforest.
  • Leadership: You’ll have the opportunity to lead the group in a variety of activities and objectives.
  • Environmental Ethics: As adventurers in some of the most pristine environments on the planet, it is our duty to respect the natural landscape. All of our courses practice and teach Leave No Trace® principles.
  • Safety and Risk Management: Safety is always the #1 consideration. As the course progresses, you’ll develop an awareness to appropriately asses risk and make safe decisions.
  • Wilderness Emergency Procedures and Treatment: Learn how to effectively manage safe, efficient, and timely backcountry rescues.

-Kevin Forster

IWLS MOUNTAINEERING AND ROCK CLIMBING CURRICULUM is built from countless expedition around the world. You’ll learn how to be a confident and proficient mountaineer in a variety of different environments. Below are some topics we’ll cover.

  • Rock Protection: Pitons, nuts, cams, hexes… learn the nuances of quality placements. You’ll have the opportunity to place protection in a variety of settings and rock quality.
  • Multi-Pitch Climbing: Towards the end of the course, you’ll put your technical skills to the test on multi-pitch climbs, refining skills such as belay site selection, rope management and routefinding.
  • Subjective Hazards: Among other things, dehydration, fatigue and personal pride can be detrimental to group safety. Learn how to implement measures to mitigate these potential hazards.
  • Altitude Considerations: Pico de Orizaba reaches above 18,000 feet. Learn how to recognize signs and symptoms of acute mountain sickness, and steps to take to avoid it. We’ll also discuss the most effective treatment for all altitude illnesses: descent.

IWLS BACKPACKING AND CANYONEERING CURRICULUM prepares students for exploration into remote, backcountry settings. Here are some points we’ll cover on your course:

  • Cultural History: As visitors to this remarkable place, we place a premium on being respectful and learning about the local culture and history. The rich Mexican history of central Mexico provides great insight into the culture of the region today.
  • Rappelling: Learn the principles of safe rappelling in a canyon environment for dropping into slot canyons or over big sandstone cliffs.
  • River and Stream Crossings: In river crossings, attention to detail and safety are #1. You’ll learn and practice safe techniques for wading across a small stream or doing a Tyrolean traverse across a raging river.
  • Pothole Escapes: Shoulder stands, backpack toss and body belays are some of the techniques that we’ll teach and learn as means to escape canyon potholes.

-Ted Roxbury

IWLS SEA KAYAKING CURRICULUM is oriented to providing students with a solid skill set of paddling techniques to be safe and confident in a coastal environment. Here are a few of the topics students will learn on the course.

  • Paddling Equipment: Safely traveling the remote waters of Southern Baja California requires that you have a thorough knowledge of your equipment and its use. We’ll talk about kayak design, appropriate clothing, rescue gear, guide gear, and more!
  • Towing: Whether you are pulling an injured kayaker away from booming surf or lending a helping hand to a seasick client, you’ll learn the finer points of a towing system and the criteria for towing.
  • Maneuvers: When coming in for a rescue, speed and efficiency are of utmost importance. We’ll learn and practice maneuvers such as the low brace turn, bow rudder and hanging draw.
  • Group Management: Managing a pod of kayaks on a windy day is challenging. You’ll learn techniques for managing safety with a group on the water.

EXPERIENCE LEVEL No previous experience is necessary for this course. However, with a desire to learn and an enthusiasm for adventure, you’ll develop the skills necessary for a lifetime of wilderness exploration.

CERTIFICATIONS Upon completion of the 80-day course, participants may qualify for the following certifications:

ACA Certificates of Completion
American Canoe Association


_ACA Assessment Levels 1-5
American Canoe Association

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24 Day Guide Training Certificates of Completion
International Wilderness Leadership School


DATES & PRICES Please see our schedule for current dates and price information.