WHAT TO PHOTOGRAPH ON A PERU PHOTO TOUR ?
(WHAT I MANAGED TO PHOTOGRAPH IN AN 18-DAY TRIP TO PERU)
This year, I led an 18-day taylor-made photo tour in my country of adoption : Peru. The group of friends that I guided wanted an itinerary that combined most of the different environments that this country has : the desert, the mountain, and the jungle.
So the trip started in the capital city of Lima, located on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, before we flew to the second biggest Peruvian city : Arequipa.
Arequipa is a very pleasant and relaxing stopover for travelers.
Located at an intermediate altitude of 2,325 meters above the sea level, it is also an essential acclimatization stage before attacking the Andean highlands. The historic center, classified as a cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO, is built in sillar, a porous white stone of volcanic origin, as you can see on this first image.
Three volcanoes face the city: El Misti, Chachani and Pichu Pichu (respectively at 5825m, 6075m and 5664m above sea level). The setting is simply spectacular!
Then we visit some friends of mine in the countryside. They own a farm and grow all sorts of fruits and vegetables.
This family took us to their fields, with the majectic Misti volcano in the background. What an amazing place to live !
Arequipa is located in the desert, not far away from the Pacific Coast, and there are nice short trips to do around, such as exploring the surprising Majes Valley…
This green valley lies on 800 meters above the sea level, and exists thanks to its proximity with the high Andes, which delivers a lot of water.
The light was warm and nice for some landscape photography in the afternoon.
I love this contrast between the desert mountains and this greenery…
On the way back to Arequipa, there were still some photographic opportunities along the road.
I really like photographing through the car window. I sincerely think that it makes you improve a lot, because it requires great reactivity, anticipation and presence of mind.
I’m fascinated by this kind of houses/buildings along the road in the middle of nowhere. I always wonder who would build something here in the desert and why…
I also love photographing the roads I travel.
South America, generally speaking, offers stunning roadscapes and movie-like sceneries…
COLCA CANYON :
The Colca Canyon is located three to four hours drive from the city of Arequipa and it’s neither more nor less the second deepest Canyon in the world. But before reaching it, one must drive through the amazing cultivated Colca Valley which has thousand-year-old pre-Incan terrasses.
The surrounding mountains are all over 5,000 meter high. I’m shooting here at about 3,500 meters above sea level.
As you will see in most of my photos, the sky is very often clear blue, since I traveled there during the month of June (the weather is very dry from June to September in the Peruvian Andes). From a photography point of vue, people usually say that this is not necessarily ideal, which I partly agree. But I partly disagree as well, because it’s the reality of this season in the Andes, and it’s worth documenting it.
No matter what the weather is, a good travel photographer, in my opinion, should be able to adapt and compose with what he’s given.
The Colca Canyon is famous for having the biggest specie of humming-bird in the planet. When you see them flying, you wonder how they manage to fly still and backwards as they look so heavy (something that I have not managed to photograph yet unfortunately…)
I loved the atmosphere this particular morning… From the hotel, we went for a short walk in the agricultural terrasses. Nothing was really happening, it was extremely calm and peaceful.
On the way back to the hotel, we could see a few people already awake, taking their animals out to the fields. This village – Cabanaconde – remained pretty authentic, despite the amount of tourists who visit it nowadays.
But the main attraction for tourists and for the majority of us, photographers, it’s the presence of one of the biggest bird in the world – El Condor de los Andes!
It is mythical, impressive, and one can see quite a lot of them early in the morning from one particular point in the canyon.
I got pretty lucky this time as I took my favorite photo of a condor while it was resting on a rock, the wings outstretched.
We spent the entire morning driving around, from one view point to another.
I was drawn to photograph and emphasize the beauty and refinement of the traditional clothes of the Quechuas of the region.
And since I was photographing condors, I had my 55-200mm zoom lens mounted on my camera, so I had to focus my attention more on details.
A warm smile is also always welcome…
Later in the morning, we stopped by the village of Yanque, and some kind of procession seemed to take place.
That’s the beauty of traveling. There’s always an element of the unexpected.
Culturally, that was very interesting.
There were many photo opportunities to take advantage of.
Overall, people were very friendly. I liked the vibe of the place and the diversity of costumes this very day. Peru is magic!
The drive from the Colca Canyon to Titicaca Lake is a bit long. It usually takes about 5 to 6 hours. But as always, there are nice things to photograph along the road.
We stopped by this stone forest, at an altitude of 4,200 meters above sea level. The whole region is volcanic, so there are many interesting rock formations all around.
There’s another place that I love photographing on the way. It’s a lagoon called “Lagunillas”. It’s wild, the mountains around are dry. There’s a very special atmosphere here…
TITICACA LAKE :
The Titicaca Lake is the highest navigable lake in the world (3,812 meters above sea level).
Everytime I go there, we embark on a boat to visit the floating islands of Uros. They’re made of a reed called “Totora” that one can find everywhere around the lake.
Despite the fact that it became a kind of Peruvian DisneyLand, I like the history of these islands, and their aesthetics.
As always, the sky was clear blue, so I focused my attention on something a bit more original.
I found the color contrast captivating between the yellow of the grass and the deep blue of the water. The waves from the boat were creating a smooth pattern and the stillness of the water was giving me a perfect reflection…
After the visit of these islands, we headed towards a natural island called Taquile. It’s a relaxing three-hour boat ride.
The Taquile people are known for their traditional textiles, where men are in charge of knitting and women make yarn and weave.
The island also offers stunning panoramas on the “Cordillera Real”, the highest Bolivian mountain range that you can see in the background on this photo.
Again, despite the recent arrival of tourism on the island, it remained quite authentic.
There are nice scenes of daily life to capture.
Obviously, Christianity has reached every corner of this country. I always enjoy photographing the symbols of religions and documenting their spread.
We finished the day on a peninsula, where we had a homestay.
My friend Primo nicely welcomed us to his house.
It was time to get some good rest.
ROAD TO CUSCO :
As you already know, I like to photograph through the car window. On a trip like this, there are sometimes long days on the road. The distance between Puno and Cusco is the longest in this tour. It usually takes about 7 to 8 hours.
This time, I felt like showing another facet of Peru, that most people don’t really imagine before coming here.
It is a developping country with many problems. Poverty is one of them, plastic pollution another one. During this journey, we traveled through the town of Juliaca, which is pretty big. It always surprises/impresses travelers. Everyone has nice images of Machu Picchu and Cusco in their minds for instance, but not necessarily about this reality.
Sometimes, I’m also frustrated that we drive so fast and can’t really stop the transport everywhere we want. I’m a big fan of these kinds of rural scenes. I wish I could get off the car, talk to this lady and photograph a bit of her daily life from a deeper perspective…
Or like here for instance. Life along the road is sometimes so visually interesting.
Again, it’s always a good excercise to try to anticipate such a scene and to get ready with the correct settings to capture it while driving…
I particularly enjoy this image, I can’t really tell why. It’s another stolen moment caught by my camera, when things go fast.
The result is often random in this exercise…
Here’s an image of Urubamba town in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. I didn’t shoot anything in Cusco when we arrived…
It’s on the way to Ollantaytambo and the train station that leads to the famous… Machu Picchu !
MACHU PICCHU :
No need introduction for this one. Every time I come back here, the weather is THE big question. Will it rain? Will it be foggy, sunny…?
As you can see, there wasn’t a cloud in the horizon, but a soft and warm light. I found it so good for photography.
Every time I come back, I can try different compositions, shoot from different angles. There are countless images to make here, since everyday, the mood/atmosphere is different. It really depends on the season you visit it.
Look at these mountains! Machu Picchu itself is not the only interesting subject to shoot. The surroundings are absolutely stunning as well.
After this visit and our return to Cusco, we headed to a completely different environment…
PALCCOYO QUECHUA COMMUNITY :
The region of Cusco, and Peru generally speaking, are amazing because they offer so much diversity in terms of landscapes and environments in such a small area. In a one-day drive, you can travel from the tropical jungle that surrounds Machu Picchu to the highest mountain passes of this country.
We reached the community of Palccoyo, which has incredibly beautiful rainbow mountains and colorful valleys above 5,000 meters.
But what I find even more beautiful, it’s the people who inhabit these lands.
Long story short : I’ve got to know a family very well from there, and I’ve become the godfather of a 3-year old boy from this family. So it’s always a great pleasure to visit them again.
Here on the picture is Demetrio, the father of this family.
After a morning walk to these rainbow mountains, we came back down to the community, and some people were preparing “Huatia” for lunch for us.
It’s an earthen oven which date back to the Inca Empire. It is one of the most popular typical dishes within the region of Cusco, and people wait until June every year to prepare it.
They cooked for us amazing native potatoes that they grow themselves and an excellent chicken too. The taste of the food is really unique from this traditional Quechua way of cooking.
It was almost the end of the trip. The group I was guiding wanted to relax the last 4 days.
So from Cusco, we took a very short 40-minute flight to…
THE AMAZON JUNGLE :
A trip to Peru can be tiring, demanding. I think that to end it in the Amazon Forest is always a great choice.
Especially if you have the means to pay yourself a good hotel like this one that we had.
What amazing comfort, views from the rooms, and food in the restaurant ! There are also plenty of super nice Lodges/Bungallows all around for lower budgets…
So a stay in the jungle is extremely relaxing, but also entertaining ! There are countless day-excursions to do with local guides deeper in the forest. It is a wildlife photographer’s paradise…
Every trip always has to come to an end.
This one was truly memorable, both on the relation level with the people I traveled with and photographically !
I hope you enjoyed the article and that you have a better idea of what Peru can offer.
A big thank you if you read the entire article. 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 also may be interested in joining me on a PHOTO TOUR that I organize and lead myself in Peru! The next one is in May next year (2024), and you’ll find all the information HERE. The one I co-lead with TOM BOURDON in October 2023 is fully booked.
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. Don’t forget to leave a comment below and share the article if you enjoyed it!