Felipe Barrio y Última Frontera: 30 años de viajes submarinos
Fordivers blog

Felipe Barrio and Última Frontera: 20 years of travels under the sea

by Jorge Mezcua on Mar 14, 2023

Felipe Barrio is one of those divers who has managed to turn his passion into a way of life, developing it to become one of the best in his field. On other occasions we have talked about the ever present Jordi Mateo and Rafa Herrero as examples of two passions related to diving that have become a way of life. Felipe is another of these figures, a naturalist that every diver should know.

felipe barrio pictures
With this image of whale sharks in Djibouti Felipe won the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year award for underwater photography.

 

There are people who discover their calling late in life and race against time to develop and make the most of it. In the case of Felipe, who started free diving at the age of 9, is a caving enthusiast and has been practicing high-risk sports such as skydiving for years, he has managed to develop his talent in these fields and has always combined it with photography, becoming one of the best underwater photographers in our country, whose work is recognized worldwide.

Joining passions

In the early 90's, Felipe reached the point where many of us wonder if the path we are on is the right one, and he realized that his future had to be among corals, gorgonians and underwater carcasses. That was the moment he decided to create a travel agency specialized in diving, perhaps as an excuse to fully develop his activity as a photographer, abandoning stability and money for happiness.

felipe barrio images

Image taken during the Wallace Expedition on the reefs around the Timor Islands

At a time when there were no specialized diving travel agencies in Spain, Felipe created the first one, Window Buceo, which later became Última Frontera with the addition of his partner and underwater photographer, Charo Gertrudix. It was 1992 when Felipe left his job as a manager in a multinational computer company to dedicate himself to scuba diving. Few shark pictures can be taken from an office, he thought, and the best way to develop his talent as a photographer and discover new dive destinations was to dedicate himself body and soul to it. Today, his office is littered with incredible underwater photographs of spectacular whale sharks and huge schools of carangids, but he spends more time taking them than sitting in front of a computer, more than fulfilling his goal.

"When I started diving," recalls Felipe, "there were only 1,000 divers in Madrid, so we decided to "manufacture" divers in our own diving school. In just one year they managed to train 1,500 divers. The beginnings were complicated and the clientele was not very numerous, "at the beginning the destinations were simple, they were the typical trips offered today by all the diving agencies: Cuba, Mexico, Maldives... and little by little we expanded the range of trips". Twenty years later, the number of divers in our country has multiplied and although the vast majority of their clients are still Spanish, they receive requests from groups from the USA, Germany, Switzerland, France or Latin America.

Maintaining a diving business for more than 20 years is already a major undertaking; getting 3,000 divers a year to want you to take them to the Caymans, Philippines, Galapagos, Bonaire, Maldives, Turks & Caicos, South Africa, Red Sea, Mexico, Mozambique, Komodo, Azores, Baja California, Alaska, Indonesia or Australia is a real triumph. "Before we contract a destination, before we put it in a package, we visit the place, we check that the center is suitable, that it really meets our standards". They only work with partners that meet the minimum quality standards set by Ultima Frontera, which have been refined over the last two decades. "The best centers are the ones that are more established, that have been around longer, with trained staff, with experience, with high demand and high quality".

Today Última Frontera offers 165 dive destinations all over the world, which they know and have explored themselves. This enormous work of diving trips in search of new routes and options for their clients has been captured in images to the point of composing another area of the agency: "Última Frontera Photo", a photographic archive of more than 175.000 underwater images that they sell to the most important magazines and media specialized in diving and nature, such as Asian Diver of Singapore, BBC Wildlife of Singapore, BBC Wildlife of Singapore, BBC Wildlife of Singapore and BBC Wildlife of Singapore; aQa, Buceadores and Inmersión in Spain or Tauchen in Germany, among others. His work has won several international awards, including the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year in the underwater category. He has also exhibited in prestigious museums and galleries such as the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, the Natural History Museum in London and the Australian Museum in Sydney.

Exclusive diving

One of the most successful of the more than 240 programs offered by Ultima Frontera around the world is the "Explorer Club". This program is managed by the staff of Ultima Frontera Viajes and has a special feature: it is a diving trip with a specific theme, with a unique itinerary, in which the Ultima Frontera team participates and accompanies its clients. "In this program we propose trips that require special permits from the local authorities, as in the case of the Galapagos Islands," says Felipe, "to others that include courses and seminars on photography in the destination that we teach, or other themes such as diving with white sharks, wreck diving or the Wallace Expedition".

Beyond the Last Frontier: The Wallace Expedition

Felipe, together with Charo and 9 other experienced divers, embarked on one of the best liveaboards in the world, the Damai, to open new diving routes around the Timor Islands, thanks to the Wallace Expedition, some points whose bottoms were totally unknown until now. In the 21st century, when it seems impossible to discover new areas on our planet and we have to leave it to broaden our horizons, there are still discoverers, pioneers who make new species known, create new underwater maps and show that this world, especially the seabed, is bigger and richer than we can imagine.

Wallace Expedition, discovering new dive routes in Timor

For 22 days, the Ultima Frontera team, in partnership with online dive magazine aQa and Mares, traveled more than 2,000 kilometers of unknown reefs, photographed species they had never seen before (and they have a few dives under their belts), christened dive sites that had never been bubbled, and even discovered unknown species.

You can see the extraordinary work of both Felipe and Charo on their Facebook profiles.

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