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Another Kind of Safari

By: Evan Upchurch

Entering wild, pristine environments to observe animals in their habitats can have a life-altering effect on how we perceive and engage with nature. In the world of environmental tourism, safaris have become a symbol of ongoing conservation efforts and respect for our natural world. They represent rare opportunities to learn about responsibly interacting with wildlife while still feeling the thrill and awe of experiencing their presence up close. 

Traditionally, safaris have been associated mostly with East African land expeditions, tented camps, and catching a glimpse of the Big Five. Over time, the conventional safari has evolved and transformed, including our planet’s vast and mysterious oceans. The term “ocean safari” refers to a journey into the open ocean via a secure boat built for long distances and the surge of pelagic species. Accompanied by a certified guide, adventurous participants go in search of whales, dolphins, turtles, mantas, and other marine life — often jumping in the water to snorkel or free dive at a safe distance. 

 

Based in Cabo San Lucas, Alexander Schmidt Márquez has found professional success—and encountered a radical shift in self—through his ocean safari and shark dive business in Baja California Sur. He explains, “For years, I worked in tourism as an Entertainment Manager, which allowed me to travel the globe. Through these experiences, the underwater world became my passion, and eventually, I knew I wanted to devote my life to the ocean.”

It takes bravery and perseverance to change one’s life in the pursuit of passion. Upon arriving in Cabo San Lucas four years ago, Alex began working in the hotel industry, only to resign after three months. After deciding to go all in on his dream of dedicating his life to the ocean, he started a rewarding journey of growth and learning. Today, he is an AIDA 4 Master Freediver (Assistant Instructor Freediver) and Rescue Diver, as well as a certified eco-tourism guide for freediving and scuba diving by Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism. Alex tells us, “As guides, we have a mission to get people to fall in love with the ocean, so they can decide to protect it. No one wants to protect something that they don’t know firsthand.” 

 

Baja California Sur’s rich waters present a treasured opportunity to experience the majestic open ocean. The underwater canyons connecting the Gulf of California (also known as the Sea of Cortez) to the Pacific Ocean create, as Alex puts it, “an underwater highway” for marine life. Thanks to a large number of microorganisms, such as phytoplankton and zooplankton, there is a feast available year-round. The municipality of Los Cabos sits at the intersection of those two bodies of water, offering a front-row seat to an abundance of species.

During the ocean safaris, Alex and his team go in search of marine life based on knowledge from prior experiences and real-time information shared among the eco-tourism community. Upon coming across wildlife, each unique situation is assessed to ensure the safety of the participants and animals. Once confirmed as safe, the participants follow Alex into the water, snap a few photos, and head back to the boat as soon as possible to avoid disrupting the course of the animal(s). Alex says, “We look to show people incredible animals face-to-face that they won’t see anywhere else in the world in hopes of giving them another vision of the ocean.”

In addition to his open ocean safaris, Alex also offers shark dives. He tells us, “Actually, I started with ocean safaris through the shark diving industry in Cabo. I want people to know sharks are misunderstood and vital to our oceans. Diving with sharks is an opportunity to feel a meditative state. Whenever you’re in the water with them, you feel completely in the moment.” 

While Alex is enthusiastic about the life-changing experiences alongside guests, he feels there is still much to learn and accomplish in an industry that can be overly competitive and, at times, detrimental to our oceans. He says, “The next step of this business would be to create a new form of economics. There are so many different eco-tourism companies in Baja California Sur. It would be incredible if we could support each other instead of constantly competing for business. We need to work circularly and make sure things are shared equally. The ocean doesn’t belong to anyone.”

 

The beauty of ocean open safaris and shark dives lies in the unknown. Participants cannot be assured of specific encounters and must go into the experience with an open mind and patience. When expectations are surrendered, there is room for magic to occur. 

 

 

 

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