Planning a trip to Peru? Prepare yourself for the mountainous passes of the Andes, the majestic sprawl of Machu Picchu’s ancient ruins, the cloud forests of the Amazon, and the vast deserts of the south.
But — whatever you do — don’t leave home without your camera! Just in case you need a bit of photographic inspiration, here are some of Peru’s most photogenic offerings.
From its charming, cheerful cities to its multi-hued mountains, Peru is place of vibrancy. Whether you’re exploring the countryside or a metropolis, be on the lookout for bright hues. Buildings in the country’s villages may be painted cheerfully, though sometimes only the front doors are splashed with color. Make your way through local markets where you’ll get the opportunity to photograph fresh produce and vivid handicrafts. In both cities and villages, you’ll also find Peruvians donned in traditional — and colorful — dress (just be sure to ask before you take anyone’s photo!).
Undoubtedly Peru’s most beloved destination, Machu Picchu is the site of centuries-old Inca ruins. Keep in mind that this location is likely to be crowded, so book your ticket in advance and consider arriving for the morning session.
If hiking isn’t your thing, take the IncaRail train from either Cusco or Ollantaytambo, and be sure to ready your camera for the magnificent views that follow. Adjust your camera settings to prioritize shutter-speed, which will ensure that your snaps aren’t blurry. Set your ISO to 100-200 if you’re shooting on a sunny or well-lit day. Or, take advantage of early morning fog, clouds, and mist to create a moody, mysterious shot. But remember to photograph the locale during different parts of the day to capture the site in all of its ancient glory.
Although this peak is officially named the Ausangate Mountain, it’s not difficult to see how it got its pleasant nickname. The Andean hills are streaked with a variety of colors that range from maroon and gold-green to crystalline blue, caused by various sedimentary mineral layers. While the peaks are truly beautiful to behold, hiking to them is no walk in the park — it’s actually quite a trek. Color-hungry photographers must venture deep into the Andes via a trail that lies nearly three hours from the city of Cusco. For this reason, we recommend this excursion if you’re an avid hiker who just happens to carry their camera along. But if you do make the trek, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views and photos that will awe friends and family back home.
For stunning shots that showcase the extreme juxtaposition of nature and man-made metropolis, head to the Miraflores district in Lima. Located just south of the downtown area, Miraflores is an upscale shopping and residential area, but it’s also a phenomenal photo opp.
Head to the district’s eponymous park to photograph Lima’s skyscrapers against the steep cliff drop-offs and ocean swells. If you can, visit in early morning or late afternoon, when the light is soft and dreamy, and opt for a wide-angle lens — it will allow you to capture the entire coastline.
Salinas de Maras
Though the colors of Peru make for incredible shots, there’s something to be said for monochromatic landscapes as well. For unique photographs, make your way to the Sacred Valley of the Incas, just north of Cusco.
From there, follow the roads to the small town of Maras — a region revered for the salt-evaporation ponds that have been in use since the dawn of the Inca civilization. Nestled in a canyon between the Rio Vilcanota and the Sacred Valley, the Salinas de Maras are a truly mesmerizing site. The pools occupy a vast sprawl, so utilize a wide-angle lens to capture their scope. If you’re patient, you can often spot residents harvesting salt or tending to the pools. Featuring a person in your shot can add visual interest and give the photo a sense of scale and perspective — so don’t rush!
Also known as the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption of the Virgin, Cusco Cathedral is one of the oldest and most significant Roman Catholic churches in South America. Completed in 1654 ( nearly 100 years after its initial construction), the cathedral is both an important place of worship and a resting place for some of Peru’s finest colonial art and archeological findings.
While the cathedral’s architectural style reflects the Gothic-Renaissance look that Spanish colonists in Cusco so revered, the building itself was constructed of stones from Sacsayhuamán, an Inca stronghold and holy site that still stands in Cusco’s hills. Be sure to photograph the impressive facade of the cathedral from Cusco’s Plaza de Armas, but then venture inside to snap a few shots of the two altars, the sacristy, and the Black Christ.
Besides experiencing the stone ruins, colorful cities, and warm personalities that make Peru a vibrant destination, you’ll notice that the country is home to herds of these curious creatures. Llamas have been an integral part of Peruvian culture since they were first introduced as pack animals in the Pre-Columbian era. But whether you decide to stage a llama-focused photoshoot or simply discover one photo-bombing your frame of Machu Picchu, take care!
Like any other wild animal, llamas can feel threatened by close human contact and may decide to take an investigatory nibble, though most are friendly. To photograph these animals up close, set your settings to portrait mode (or use aperture priority and shoot from a low f-stop like f/1.8). Or, to photograph llamas in a landscape, use an f-stop of f/8 and adjust according to the natural light around you.
If you make the pilgrimage to Peru, be sure to explore the rich diversity found in the Peruvian Amazon. That said, photographing in the midst of the jungle can be difficult, not to mention wet, so be sure to pack the lenses you know you’ll use and bring an abundance of plastic bags to cover your gear (just be sure to carry out all trash!). Stick with a wide-angle lens to capture the depth of the forest and the height of the trees, and a zoom or macro lens to photograph wildlife.
Because sections of the rainforest can be dense and dark, we suggest bringing the fastest lenses you have — i.e. the ones with the lowest f-stop and widest aperture (f/1.8 and f/2.8); these will capture jungle scenes most effectively. If you don’t have lenses with such wide apertures, bring a tripod or a stabilizer instead — that way, you can take longer exposure photos and avoid blur caused by shaky hands. Overall, keep your ISO low to avoid excessive grain, and avoid using your camera’s flash. Photographing the rainforest can be difficult, but with some patience and adjustment, you’ll get your jungle snaps just right.
Header photo by Carlos Olaizola