MY BEST TRAVEL PHOTOS OF 2022
(MY YEAR 2022 IN 50 IMAGES)
In terms of travel and photography, 2022 has been a crazy year for me. Very intense, very active, very productive. I kind of needed to write an article about it just to digest what just happened. Let’s go with my 50 best travel photos of 2022 !
A bit of context before looking back at this year and its highlights : my wife and I own a travel agency in South America, and since February 2021, we’ve embarked on a motorcycle trip in Colombia that has taken us so far to Northern Argentina, while we kept organizing/guiding trips for our clients.
The real challenge was to keep a good balance between work and free time. When we did not have to lead a group, we jumped on our bikes, sometimes with our skis on our back, and hit the road for new exciting adventures…
JANUARY : GUIDING A TRIP IN COLOMBIA.
The year started with a motorcycle trip that we organized and led on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia. It’s an amazing itinerary, which can actually be quite challenging in one region : La Guajira. It’s the Northern most point of all South America, and the most desert area of Colombia. It is home to an indigenous ethnic group called : the Wayuu. The environment in which they live is extremely beautiful, but very harsh. Six years ago, they unfortunately experienced 3 years of drought, and thousands of people died. This place has been totally abandoned by the Colombian government and can be dangerous for any inexperienced traveler…
I shot a whole body of work from this place since I’ve been there three times. If you’re interested to see more, follow the link to my COLOMBIA GALLERY.
What’s amazing about the Colombian Caribbean Coast, it’s the insane diversity of landscapes and cultures in such a short distance. After riding three days off road in the desert, we headed to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, which is neither more nor less the highest coastal mountain range in the world. The low lands are tropical and contrast so much with the desert of La Guajira…
Every time we come with tourists here, we hike to the mysterious Lost City of the Tayronas. It’s a four-day trek in a pristine jungle environment that leads to a stunning archeological site. But what I feel the most compelled to photograph when I come here are the indigenous Kogi people who live on the trail. I’ve already shot a whole project in the region about this people and their habitat. You’ll also find it in my COLOMBIA GALLERY.
Then we headed south to the Coffee region, which is quite famous for its colorful villages like Salento and Filandia, and also for the Cocora valley and its wax palm trees. Nowhere else on Earth one can see bigger palm trees ! They emerge really high from the forest, and the light can be gorgeous in the morning.
In this particular morning, we (myself and two people of the group only) actually started a tough two-day trek to the “Los Nevados” National Park. It is very little frequented because not easily accessible to the majority of people. You have to be able to climb up to 4,000 meters in one day from the Cocora Valley (2,400 meters above sea level), which is quite something in terms of elevation gain…
I love these highlands of Colombia ! Few people know that there are mountains and volcanoes culminating at more than 5,000 meters above the sea level in this country, and still authentic “Vaqueros” living up there. Their lifestyle and surroundings fascinate me.
When we arrived after a long and tiring hike up, we met Jorge at the finca where we were sleeping at night.
He was very nice, and had no problem being photographed. The light was absolutely gorgeous this late afternoon, and Tolima Volcano (5,220 meters) was standing high behind him in the background. I shot one of my all-time favorite images during this trip.
I could not expect to shoot a second all-time favorite image from the same place, moment and character. While talking in depth about the region, about the situation of the Vaqueros and the difficulties to maintain this hard but fascinating way of life, I made another environmental portrait of him, that recently granted me a 3rd prize at the TRAVEL AWARD of “The Independent Photographer” judged by STEVE MC CURRY himself ! You can see all the winning images HERE.
We finished this trip in the Amazon jungle, in a small town at the border with Brazil and Peru called Leticia. Its port is really picturesque and that’s where I enjoy shooting in the morning. It is full of life. I once got the chance to see the iconic Pirarucu (also called Paiche or Arapaima) carried by porters from the port to the market. This fish is among the largest freshwater fish in the world. It can reach a length of nearly 3 meters, and a weight of 220 kg. It is part of the people’s diet in the Amazon forest. I was pretty happy with this image which kind of surprises the viewers when they first see it.
This town by the Amazon river is fascinating at night. I recommend to visit it right after the rainy season. The water level is really high in the rivers, so people can only move from one place to another by boat. All houses by the port are made of wood and stand on stilts.
Once alone with my wife, we wanted to explore the surroundings a bit more. She randomly picked a name on the map, not too far away from Leticia. It was Nazareth. We asked at the port if it was possible to go there on a private craft. It took us two hours on the Amazon river to reach it, and we’ve been really pleased with the authenticity of the place and its inhabitants. Very welcoming, we learnt a lot about the Tikunas, the indigenous people of the area, and about their culture/history. I shot quite a few nice images that you can see again in MY GALLERY.
FEBRUARY : FROM COLOMBIA TO ECUADOR BY MOTORCYCLE AND MOUNTAINEERING IN ECUADOR
Then we were completely free. The group had left, and we had two to three months ahead of us without having to guide. So we jumped on one motorbike (we couldn’t get the papers of the second one on time) and headed towards Ecuador. The goal was to try to climb the three highest volcanoes of the country. But on the way to the Ecuadorian border, we stopped by a surprising Colombian desert called Tatacoa. It’s relatively small, but so photogenic. I was happy that one of my photos from there got published later in the year in the National Geographic Traveller UK print magazine, and in the National Geographic website. You can find the article HERE.
Once in Ecuador, we dedicated two full weeks in attempting these ascents (Cayambe, Cotopaxi and Chimborazo volcanoes).
The first image was taken from the top of Cayambe (5,790 meters above the sea level), which is the highest mountain on the Ecuador line in the world.
And the image below was taken from the top of Cotopaxi, an active volcano culminating at 5,897 meters.
The ascents were a success. We also made it to the top of Chimborazo (6310 meters) which is the farthest point on the Earth’s surface from the Earth’s center, given that it is located along the planet’s equatorial bulge. These adventures left us with incredible memories, and beautiful images from my part, that you can see in my ECUADOR GALLERY.
MARCH : SOLO MOTORCYCLE TRIP IN PERU
After these fulfilling challenges that we set to ourselves in Ecuador, Iza (my wife) wanted to come back to Poland and enjoy the European winter with her family and friends. Me, on the contrary, I felt like continuing this South American motorcycle trip on my own for a month, along the Peruvian Pacific Coast, on the mythic Panamerican Highway.
It felt so wild ! Also a bit scary at times, because the whole Pacific Coast in Peru is a desert. You don’t want anything to happen to your motorcycle or to yourself in the middle of nowhere. The consequences could be deadly…
In some parts, this road can be boring, made of endless straight lines… But in other parts, the desert is absolutely gorgeous. There are many dirt roads leading to stunning sand dunes and unexpected towns in the desert.
The contrast between the snow capped volcanoes that we climbed in Ecuador and this desert in Peru was so unreal ! That’s one of the reasons why I love South America so much. The diversity of landscapes that the Andes offer is equaled nowhere else on Earth. In one day, you can travel from the desert by the ocean to the Andean snow peaks, and it takes you one more day to reach the Amazon forest. It always feels like changing countries in such a short time.
Mornings on the Pacific Coast can look totally different from the afternoons. There’s a soft light and a bit of fog very often. I was in Huanchaco town, near Trujillo, when I saw a fisherman on a “Caballito” surfing the waves. Huanchaco people have always used caballitos made of totora reeds to go fishing in the Pacific Ocean. These are the traditional boats used by Peruvian people for the past 3,000 years. But this form of fishing is obviously slowly disappearing as tourism nowadays represents a more sustainable source of income.
As always, you can see more of my work in my galleries. These photos are from the PERU one.
As I said in a previous paragraph, in one day you can travel from the Pacific Coast to the high Andean peaks. After three weeks in the desert and 1,500 km, I decided to go up towards the highest mountains of Peru, in the “Cordillera Blanca”. The thermic shock was brutal ! I climbed two high mountain passes over 4,700 meters in a miserable weather in the region of Huaraz. But these views and these mystical atmospheres were worth all the efforts and pain.
Culturally, the Coast of Peru is not so interesting photographically speaking. Besides, I was most of the time in the middle of nowhere, alone, on my own… So I didn’t photograph people a lot. But what’s interesting about the Peruvian Andes, it’s the cultural richness of the Quechua indigenous people who inhabit these mountains. I was happy to be back in this world ! Moreover, the Covid regulations were almost gone, people were not fearing to walk in the streets without masks any longer. It seemed that finally, this pandemic was a thing of the past.
APRIL : BREAK IN EUROPE – MAY/JUNE : BACK TO PERU AND BOLIVIA WITH IZA
I took a break in April. I came back to Iza in Poland. We traveled by 4x4 in the French Alps to ski tour. We visited family members, friends… but no photos from this period.
In May, we came back to Peru. Iza had to go straight to Bolivia to guide a group. As for me, the plan was to join her with the motorbike for further adventures ahead…
So I rode 1,500km again, from Lima to La Paz. The weather on the Pacific Coast, as you can see above, had completely changed. From May to October, the desert along the ocean is everyday under the clouds, and very often in a thick fog. I shot a whole series about the Panamerican Highway during this season that you can find in my PERU GALLERY.
Once in Bolivia and after Iza’s trip with her group, we embarked on another adventure that was totally new for us : ski touring in the “Cordillera Real”, in the mountain range of la Paz ! This time, we had taken the skis with us. And we attempted the ascent of two high mountains of the region : Mururata (5870 meters) and Pequeño Alpamayo (5,430 meters).
The image above was taken from the summit of Mururata at sunrise. These two ascents were again a great success and so fulfilling for us ! I haven’t shot many images from this trip as I was mostly filming for Iza’s Youtube Channel. Together, we make vlogs about our South American Roadtrip. If you guys are interested and want to have a look at what we do, you can first watch the video of one of these ascents HERE. The vlogs are in Polish but most of them with English subtitles.
After these ascents, we rode three weeks in Bolivia at a slow pace. We needed to rest and chill out, while still discovering some new places for our travel agency. But in June, we came back to Peru. I had to guide a photo tour in the region of Cusco, while Iza had free time (she’s actually been able to pick up her motorcycle in Lima, that she had lent to a friend, once the papers were in order, so that she could travel and bring it back to us in Peru).
Since I am really passionate about travel and photography, as you probably noticed… I want to develop these PHOTO TOURS in order to combine my two biggest passions. Cusco region is the one in South America that I know best so far, so every year I take people to some of my favorite places. This image above was shot at sunset in one of the most incredible colorful valleys on Earth.
I like to take people to some Quechua communities that I know well now. This little kid on the photo above recently became my godson. His name is Neymar. He was born in the community of Palccoyo, an environment and a society that is changing fast, transitioning, with the development of tourism and infrastructures in the village. So I know how much of an influence I could be (I hope a good one) for him in the future. I’ll try to be involved in his childhood, growth, studies. I’ll also photograph his journey.
During this photo tour, we explored different mountain areas. I’ve been able to shoot this portrait of Chucho for instance. This day, he was sad. His brother-in-law, Domingo, that I also knew well, had recently passed away. Chucho was left alone now in these mountains, with his herd of alpacas only. I could not attend the funerals, I was in Europe when it happened, but I could at least send all the photos that I had of him to the family.
The day after I made this portrait of Chucho, I shot this image of Hernan, a Quechua man who I work with. The morning light magically reflected itself in the soup bowl and illuminated his right eye.
An image that was part of a 4-image winning portfolio of mine, COMMENDED in the “Cultures” category at the 2022 TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR AWARD ! You can see all the winning images and my portfolio by following this LINK.
Little anecdote : in this winning portfolio is an image of Domingo, this Quechua friend who passed away, who seems to say good bye to his beloved ones…
JULY/AUGUST : ARGENTINA, BOLIVIA, PERU AND PATAGONIA IN WINTER !
The most amazing thing about our job is that we take people to the most incredible wonders that South America has to offer. In July, we had to guide a group in three different countries. An itinerary that takes you to one of the seven natural wonders in the world : Iguazu falls (above image). This photo was actually taken from the Brazilian side of the falls, because they stand at the border of Argentina and Brazil.
Then in Bolivia, we crossed the wild and raw region of the Sud Lipez, a remote highland only accessible by 4x4, full of 6,000 meters volcanoes, and yet, inhabited by a few lama herders.
Then we passed by another nature wonder : the Uyuni Salt Lake. I was quite satisfied with this image above, because it’s never easy to produce something different from what has already be done. Uyuni is indeed visited by dozens of thousands of tourists every year now. It’s been over photographed. I like the fact that this place is actually inhabited by people, not a tourist attraction only, who must take old and polluting local buses to move from one town to another. This is not necessarily the type of idyllic postcards that we see everywhere on social medias, even though the landscape and the morning light still look gorgeous in this photo.
We ended the trip in Peru, again, with a place that I don’t need to introduce. I’ve been maybe a dozen times to Machu Picchu, and it’s actually pretty rare to see it on such a clear day. I gave myself a challenge : to shoot it with one prime lens only : a 35mm. It’s always a pleasure to be there anyway, whether I try to photograph it or not.
You probably recognize this landscape. It’s from Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia. This destination had always been a dream of ours, and yet, we had never found the time to visit it. Now, we were free again, no need to guide. So we flew to Santiago de Chile, and to Punta Arenas.
When we explore a new region in South America, it’s always a kind of investment for us, because we know that we’ll maybe sell this destination in a relatively close future. It’s in fact part of our job.
July and August are winter months in this part of the world. As we had our skis with us in Bolivia, it immediately made sense to take them to Patagonia and explore these wild mountains in a rather unique way ! After visiting the Chilean side of Patagonia and spending enough time in Torres del Paine National Park, we arrived in El Chalten in Argentina, the doorway to some of the most iconic and beautiful mountains in the world, like Cerro Torre on the image above. What a place ! I still remember our reaction when we first saw it. It was a real winter wonderland, and we were completely alone to enjoy these views (Patagonia is empty in winter).
We spent a total of 10 days in El Chalten exploring the surrounding area. We did three hikes and climbed three mountains on skis, always with Mount Fitz Roy in the background! It remains, so far, one of our best travel experiences since we started traveling ten years ago.
At the end of our trip, we couldn’t leave Patagonia without visiting Perrito Moreno. It’s one of the biggest glacier on Earth. What a place too. What color the ice has ! We knew already that we would come back. It was just a matter of time…
All the photos of this trip are in my PATAGONIA GALLERY !
AUGUST/SEPTEMBER : BACK TO FRANCE AND POLAND FOR A BREAK
Ahhh… Summer in Europe ! How good it always feels to come back during this season. As always, we take advantage of this free time to relax, to recharge our batteries. Traveling non-stop like we do is sometimes very tiring.
In Poland, at my wife’s hometown, I usually enjoy shooting the epic weather conditions specific to central Europe. The weather can be capricious, the light can turn dramatic in a second…
I created a whole gallery dedicated to this country on my website if interested : POLAND GALLERY.
OCTOBER : CONTINUATION OF OUR MOTO TRIP IN CHILE/ARGENTINA AND BACK TO PERU AS A FIXER
What a come back to South America ! You won’t believe what I’m gonna tell you. We had our bikes parked in a parking lot in Arica (Northern Chile), safely watched by the owner of the place. But, when we arrived to pick them up, we found the parking completely empty. We started panicking ! Where are our motorbikes ? Where is the owner of the parking ? It turned out that he passed away when we were in Europe… And no one had told us.
Fortunately, some locals living nearby gave us a phone number, and told us that a random guy, a client of the parking, had actually kept them. But still, it was a stressful situation. Who was this guy ? Why would he have done that ? Would he want a large sum of money in exchange for the bikes ? Many questions running through our heads. Besides, when we called him, he said that he was not in town, and that he would come back in four or five days… But in the end, he turned out to be very nice. He indeed had our motorcycles. He was a rider, so when he saw two bikes, with Colombian plates, about to be abandoned, he nicely took them at his house and left his number in case we would come back.
We finally could continue our motorcycle journey through the Andes. We passed by the amazing Atacama desert in Northern Chile (image above), before crossing to Argentina. The roads were amazing. But it was already time, for me, to come back to Peru for a photography trip…
From Northern Argentina, it took me 40 hours by bus and two long border crossings to reach Cusco in Peru, from where I was about to guide a very good French photographer : Corinne Vachon. The idea was to go to the community of Palccoyo, from where my little Quechua godson, Neymar, comes from, and see what photos we could make there. This place is magical. There are many colorful valleys and rainbow mountains in the region, which slowly make it more and more attractive from a touristic point of view.
We ended up staying 10 days in my Quechua family of adoption, in the village of Palccoyo on 4,300 meters above the sea level. The experiences that we lived all together were so unique and truly authentic. Some strong bonds were created. From being Corinne’s fixer at the beginning, and her my client, we quickly became good friends and even started to think about a photographic project that we could develop together. This is how I managed to shoot some of my favorite images of the year.
What makes a good portrait or a powerful documentary project in my opinion, is the close relationship that the photographer can have with the people he wants to photograph. We had such a privilege access into their lives, and a mutual trust, that the photos were easy to make, and a coherent body of work was slowly but surely taking form.
Then the whole community knew what we were here for, and accepted us. Many people invited us into their houses, so once again, it allowed us to produce some truly intimate photos.
This image above, by the way, just got rewarded in the “Night Life” competition of LIFE FRAMER, that you can see HERE.
I hope it will bring a bit of exposure to the project, and some awareness about the changes that such communities are facing in the high Andes. If you haven’t seen this personal project of mine that I’m talking about yet, please read about it in my PERU GALLERY. I called it ‘Breath of Modernity”. This is, until now, the most accomplished photography project that I have developed.
NOVEMBER : GUIDING OUR FIRST TRIP IN PATAGONIA !
It was just a matter of time, as I mentioned earlier in this article, before we organized a trip to Patagonia ! Three months after our winter explorations in the region, we were back with a group, but in spring this time. How cool it is to see these same landscapes, but with a completely different vegetation ! I really liked this view on Fitz Roy mountain, from this sandy “beach”. It always makes me happy when I manage to take a decent/good photograph when the conditions are not what people usually consider as “ideal” for landscape photography. You would normally see this photo taken at sunrise only, when the light is “good”.
What I liked about this trip was the weather conditions that we had. Patagonia as a whole has a very, very capricious weather ! But the drama that it adds to the landscapes always makes you feel like you’re in a very inhospitable and wild place, like on a movie set.
This time with the group, we went down till Ushuaia, a place that had always intrigued/attracted me. It’s the Southern most point of all South America and in the world. And as we had started our trip in La Guajira in Colombia, the Northern most point of South America, there was something symbolic in finding oneself here. We had officially traveled all across this continent, from North to South, following the Andes mountain range. A real sense of accomplishment took hold of me…
DECEMBER : GUIDING A TRIP IN ARGENTINA, BOLIVIA AND PERU AGAIN, AND CONTINUATION OF OUR MOTO TRIP
To be honest with you, I was now starting to feel really exhausted about all these travels. So much distance covered in one same year was a little bit overwhelming for me. And I still had to lead a group from Argentina, to Bolivia and Peru again. I did it with little enthusiasm at the beginning, but the good vibe of the people in the group made me feel better about it. So we were off again, on the wild tracks of the Andes. When I find myself on such crazy roads, I forget my fatigue and grab my camera. I always feel like photographing when all the elements in a scene align.
I particularly enjoyed shooting at the Laguna Colorada in the Sud Lipez region of Bolivia. This land is home to dozens of insane colorful lagoons populated by hundreds of flamingos.
It’s a volcanic region, as I already said. And these landscapes can look so dramatic sometimes…
Now the trip finished with this group, we were free to continue our motorcycle journey through the Andes. It took me 40 hours again, by bus, to join Iza and the motorbikes in Argentina. The plan was to follow the mythic “Ruta 40” as far as we could. We rode through insane landscapes and lived some crazy new adventures, that we kept on filming for Iza’s Youtube Channel.
This image below was taken from one of the stunning wild camp sites that we found in the region of Salta.
Believe me or not, but once we arrived in Mendoza, after more than 2,000 kilometers of road trip, we still had to fly to Colombia, again, to lead a last motorcycle trip for this year. This time, I didn’t touch the camera even once. I just enjoyed riding, and made sure that the trip go as smoothly as possible.
We finally flew back to Europe and decided to stay there for a long time (3 to 4 months). As I said in the introduction of the article, this year has been more than intense ! We deserve now a long and good rest before hitting the road again. From the Colombian Caribbean Coast and its 35°C, we landed in Poland and its -10°C. The shock was brutal ! But now we can calmly appreciate these frozen landscapes that winter has to offer here.
CONCLUSION of this year : 22,000 km traveled with our motorcycles, new enriching experiences gained in ski touring and mountaineering, new destinations opened for our travel agency, and a few nice photos that I’m happy about for my part…
Writing this article felt almost therapeutical to me, because when too many things happen in such a condensed interval of time, I tend to forget what we did and in which order we lived all this.
A big thank you if you read the entire article, because it’s a very long one ! And it shows your real interest in my photography and my approach to it.
If by any chance, you think you could learn from me and would like to know how I make these images, I created a complete TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE that you can find on my website.
You can follow my adventures on my social medias. Here’s my instagram account :
IG : @nicolascastermans
I also have a 500px account where I mostly showcase my landscape photography : https://500px.com/nicolas-castermans
Thank you for your time and your support and don’t forget to share the article if you enjoyed it!