Central/South America

How to Photograph Machu Picchu
Thursday, January 15th, 2015

Machu Picchu. You finally made it. It’s the once in a lifetime event you always thought it would be because all the literature tells you it is once in a lifetime. Having been to Machu Picchu twice now, I have a few photography tips that might be of value when you make this journey in your lifetime. Why did I go twice? I was lucky enough to have won a tour at a Meet, Plan, Go! event in my hometown of Seattle. When you see (photo op) you might want to make a note of the next words.

First, take it all in. Sit for a moment after you pass through the turn styles (or if you pass through the Sun Gate on the Inca Trail) and just sit. Your memory actually works better when you don’t have a camera up to your eye. No, I can’t back that up with ‘facts’, but you know it’s true. Sit and let the view sink into you.

Photographing Machu Picchu

Done soaking? Good! Now grab your camera and take the first left hand turn you can find after walking in the main gate. It will lead uphill. Chances are, if you’re with a guided tour, your guide will lead you out and through the (photo op) main gate. You might need to sneak away when they do this. Or just let them know where you’re going.

I realize this is something of a catch 22; if you stay with the guide you get a wealth of info you wouldn’t get by walking around alone. But if you walk around alone you get photos you wouldn’t get with the guide.

The reason I tell you to hang a left is because of a few assumptions: 1) You made it to Aquas Caliente the day before and 2) you headed to Machu Picchu super early in the morning on a bus. Maybe you even hiked up the hill (it takes about 1.5 hours and is sweaty). The point is you arrived at the gate when it opened. Oh! 3) It’s not horribly cloudy. Heck, even if it’s cloudy, take that first left.

Keep heading uphill. It’ll get your heart rate up. After a while you’ll plane out onto a flat, open spot with (photo op) gorgeous views. You can stop here for some shooting, but if you’re near the front of the pack or if it’s crowded, keep heading up and to the left. Eventually you will start on the Inca Trail itself and head back to your left instead of up. This is good. A large-ish wall will be on your right. When there is a break in the wall, head up about four terraces and then turn right across the terraces.

You’re almost (photo op) there! This area is far less crowded especially in the morning. Find yourself a likely (photo op) spot just before the trail to the (photo op) Inca Bridge. Here is a perfect spot for portrait style shots. Wayana Picchu, the pokey mountain behind Machu Picchu, is well framed from this location. The sun is to your right which will make the foreground on the left side of the hill below the city a bit dark. If there are bright, white clouds this day, you’ll want to do some bracketing to make an HDR in your computer later (unless you’re reading this is 2015 and all cameras shoot at least 15 stops of light).

Photographing Machu Picchu

Spend some time here and watch the clouds. Often, because the jungle holds in moisture at night, you can shoot some intense time-lapse footage as that vapor crawls up the green hillsides. If it is a gray day, this spot works well because there is not a lot of sky behind Wayana Picchu and thus, not so much gray in your pictures. Take your (photo op) “I was here” photo at this point. Then start back on that trail you were on, going up to Sun Gate.

But stop before you get there! You know how some things never quite look like how you imagined them? Because you built them up with fantasy in your mind? Kinda like standing at the foot of the (photo op) Empire State Building and wondering why it doesn’t look like the aerial shots taken from a $2 million helicopter with a (photo op) $20 million IMAX movie camera? That’s why a lot of people go to Sun Gate. It’s cool and all, but really it’s just there to make neat patterns at certain times of the year on certain parts of Machu Picchu (you really should have stayed with your guide to learn that part).

Before you get to Sun Gate there is a spot to stop. Not the first one with the (photo op) tall rock to the right. Past that. The (photo op) spot you are looking for is small and has two simple, small terraces on the right side of the trail. THIS is the spot you want. You’ll be seeing a time-lapse movie later this week that contains that photo from this spot. Bring a wide angle lens to capture the whole valley. Bring a 100mm lens to get a nice closeup of the city and the mountain. Bring a 300mm lens to find your friends in the tour group.

Photographing Machu Picchu

Take some time here and watch the pattern of the shadows over the landscape. No need to hurry. Take photos at different times as the clouds (hopefully)(photo op) dance. Then start your way back down with that classic, postcard shot on your memory card and in your brain (please tell me you sat your camera down for a minute?).

It seems as you get closer and closer to the city it just keeps begging for more photos. The crowds are starting to arrive now and you’ll have to jockey for position. Make sure to get the standard “I was here” shot at the (photo op) main gate to the city. There might be a line.

The rest of what I’d suggest for the city itself is to explore. I could give you another dozen shots but really, inside the city, find your own path. Get close. Look at the details. Look at the craftsmanship. Marvel at the odd shapes [the same (photo op)space aliens who built the (photo op)pyramids certainly did not build Machu Picchu…..no square blocks!]. Climb up Wayana Picchu and get a photo from there if you are feeling up to the task and if you can get a ticket.

Heck, maybe even find your guide and listen to some of the stories that help bring this wonder of city to life.

Peter West Carey is a world traveling professional photographer who hosts a variety of photography workshops in Washington and California.

Photo credits: rest, all other photos courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission.

Immerse Yourself with Personalized Spanish
Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

If you are thinking about taking a career break to travel and Latin America is on your itinerary, you might consider taking a few days to learn the language and to learn more about the environment you will be visiting. Personalized Spanish in Costa Rica offers a language and cultural immersion program that gives you the opportunity to do just that.

We invite you to take this first step with us!

Traveling in Latin America needs some preparation. Learning how to communicate in Spanish while exploring Latin countries will open many new opportunities for personal growth. Our program allows you to have a meaningful experience that will be key during the rest of your trip, allowing you to better understand and participate in local cultures.

Personalized Spanish is a school that goes beyond any other Spanish schools; class sizes of three or less allow us to provide maximum personalized attention. You will not only learn vocabulary, useful expressions and grammatical aspects of the language, you will have a real experience into Latin American history, culture, and flavor.

Our typical day begins with morning coffee and discussion of Costa Rican expressions, current weather and news. After a couple of hours of class in the morning, everybody comes together to socialize in the main patio over tropical fruit drinks and snacks. We return to classes for another two or three hours and then enjoy lunch together. Afternoons are used to visit nearby historical and cultural places of interest guided by of our school teachers.

If you choose to stay with a local family, your host family will be waiting for you with a nice cup of coffee, delicious dinner and conversation when you arrive home in the evening. We offer weekend trips to enjoy the rest of the country, including visits to historic sites, national parks, volcanoes and beaches.

Costa Rica is well known for its stable democracy and peaceful traditions. It is also safe for travelers to visit and is one of the planet’s most biodiverse countries.

Stay with us at least a week to get you started, or stay for a longer period in order to get deeper into our cultural experience.

Before jumping into Latin America, we recommend you:

? Learn historical, cultural, and basic languages concepts.
? Learn about fiestas, social, political and religious life.
? Sample a variety of our food and drinks.
? Recognize the many cultural differences and patterns in Latin America.

Other school services may include:

? Airport pick up, internet access and wi-fi and international calls.
? Specialized services related to volunteer placement in local organizations such as schools and churches.
? Home stays, including two hearty meals, laundry, private room and wi-fi.

For more information please contact us:
Email: info@personalizedspanish.com
Phone: Miami (786)245 4124 or Costa Rica (506)2278 3254
Web: www.personalizedspanish.com
Facebook: Personalized Spanish

Special offers available through March 13, 2013:

? Personalized Spanish offers you the opportunity to register for two weeks in our Standard Spanish and Cultural Immersion program and receive a free adventure weekend for one person that includes: visiting the world famous Arenal volcano, relaxing in a hot spring and feeling the adrenaline rush of a zip line.

? Get two free hours of  online Spanish classes when you sign up for our 10 hour Spanish Online Program (12 hours of classes for the price of 10!)

Photo Friday: Cusco, Peru
Friday, August 3rd, 2012

Today’s Photo Friday submission comes from Facebook fans, the Van Loen family;

Our kids get some up-close and personal time with a llama at Tambomachay, Cusco, Perú. We’re now 3 weeks into a 13 month RTW career-break, and are loving it!

Follow along with the Van Loens as they travel through South America, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Southeast Asia and China. You can find them on Twitter or on their website, http://anvl.org.

Want to see your photo here?

Check out our easy submission policy!

Photo Friday: San Blas, Panama
Friday, May 6th, 2011

San Blas, Panama

This Photo Friday is from the relaxing shores of one of the many islands in the San Blas region of Panama. It was during this trip that Michaela Potter realized that she isn’t in a rush to always be planning her next career break.

I think that because of my early travel experiences I have learned how to really make the most of my vacations, using the week or two to also experience new cultures while enjoying the time off. It was during that vacation that I realized it’s not the length of the trip that is important – it is what you do with your time that is. And that is something I learned from my various career breaks.

Coley Hudgins did more than just vacation in Panama – he moved his family there for a career break and is now building a life and career there! Based on his experience he offers us advice on preparing to move abroad during your career break.

Want to see your photo here? Join our Facebook Fan Page and upload your career break photo onto our Wall. Add a brief description & we may choose to feature it here!

Colombia Overview
Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Colombia is not usually the top travel destination for Americans. But after living in Colombia for six months, David Lee shows us why it should be.

[singlepic=1545,200,,,right]Colombia is not the first, second, nor even the third destination most travelers have in mind when planning a trip to South America, which is exactly why it can be so rewarding to visit. While the rest of the world remains scared away by outdated stereotypes and Hollywood movies, curious travelers can explore a variety of dynamic cities, traditional pueblo towns, and undeveloped tropical beaches.

Safety is the primary concern on everyone’s mind when considering Colombia as a tourist destination. President Uribe, currently in his second term, is widely credited with marginalizing the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and opening up the country’s main roads for safe travel. While visitors should continue to guard against robbery and theft, the likelihood of being kidnapped around any of the main tourist destinations is minimal. Drug and gang-related violence tends to be targeted, thus you are unlikely to be affected unless you are purposefully hanging out with the wrong crowd. Feeling better?


Peru: Cusco
Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

[singlepic=13,140,140,,right]In 2006 I took a career break and volunteered in Peru for the summer.  This was the first time I really spent an extended amount of time in one place, and the experience was amazing.  The culture and people of Peru touched me in a way I never expected and this led me to my next job at Cross-Cultural Solutions.

For many years, Peru has called me – whether it was the spirit of the Incas, the mystery of Machu Picchu, or the magic of the Quechuan smile, I needed to answer the call.  In the summer of 2006, I did just that. But unlike other travels, where I tried to see and do as much as possible – never staying in one place for more than a few days – this time I wanted to have some roots.  I really wanted to immerse myself in the culture; experience life as the locals; and maybe pick up a bit of the language.


Cusco was the perfect place.  Chosen as the capital of the Incan Empire for a reason, Cusco has a spiritual essence that can’t be explained – it can only be felt.  But if I was going to take so much from this beautiful culture, I also wanted to give something back.  And that’s when I found Peru’s Challenge.


Costa Rica: Surf Camp
Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

We had an amazing time going to Surf Camp in Costa Rica. Here’s a sneak peak of our experience:


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Mexico: Yucatan Peninsula
Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

We’re happy to see you are interested in traveling to Mexico – we loved our experience there. While we finish preparing this post, enjoy a preview slideshow of our trip.

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Galapagos Islands & Ecuador
Monday, January 5th, 2009

[singlepic=876,150,,,right]In April of 2004, I traveled with two girlfriends to one of the most unique destinations in the world – the Galapagos Islands.  This small corner of the world is completely unique to anywhere else, and each island is so distinct from the next.

[singlepic=887,150,,,left]Whether we were exploring the area by land or sea with Gap Adventures, every day brought new surprises – the half-ton sting rays catapulting themselves into gravity-defying flips; the multitudes of dolphins leading the way for our boat; the graceful sea turtles peaking up to the surface; the blue-footed boobies cartoonish mating dance; puffed-up frigate birds courting the females; massive bull sea lions charging at each other over territory; fairy penguins darting about us underwater; playful sea lions curiously investigating our snorkel gear; brightly colored sally-lightfoot crabs darting over the rocks; and stone-faced iguanas warming up under the sun were just a few of the surreal experiences we encountered.


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