Visitors to the Peruvian coast on photography tours are welcomed by a steady, salt-tinged breeze that comes off the steel-gray and golden panorama that is otherwise known as the Pacific Ocean. The cries of thousands of seabirds and sea lions that fish the rich waters of this dramatic, desert coast carry over the waves and emanate from the mists that occasionally hang suspended over the cold Humboldt currents.
The scenery contrasts dramatically with a turn of the head as a textured, life-filled sea is replaced by silent sands of the visually stunning Peruvian coastal desert. Plants and animals are replaced by a combination of ridged dunes, rocky outcrops, and lunar-like landscapes that are perfect for Peruvian photography portraits that are mystical and starkly beautiful.
This mix of life, landscape, and good lighting makes the coast of Peru an excellent area for both nature photography in Peru and landscape photography in Peru.
Birds to photograph on the Peruvian coast
There are a number of photogenic bird species that soar above, dive into, and pose for photography near the waters of the Peruvian coast. Many occur in large flocks, the following of which are the most emblematic:
- Humboldt Penguin: Despite being situated so close to the equator, these comical birds are right at home in the cold waters of the Peruvian coast. They also occur off the coast of Chile, but are easier to see and photograph around scenic Peruvian islands. Threatened by habitat disturbance, some of the best places to photograph them in Peru are at Paracas, the Islas Ballestas, or around the Islas Palomino.
- Inca Tern: One of the most striking of Peruvian seabirds, the dark gray Inca Tern has a coral-red bill and feet, and what appears to be a long, white moustache! They are easy to see and photograph as they perch on the craggy rocks and islands that dot the Peruvian coast.
- Peruvian Pelican: They look like Brown Pelicans but are larger, have a lighter colored head, and more colorful bill. Like the Humboldt Penguin and Inca Tern, they are also only found in coastal Peru and Chile.
- Guanay Cormorant: These striking, black and white seabirds with a red eye ring often make good photography subjects in Peru because of their tendency to pose on craggy, wave-washed rocks.
- Red-legged Cormorant: Often seen on islands off of the Peruvian coast, this beautiful cormorant species has deep red feet, a yellow and red bill, and a white patch on the side of the neck.
- Peruvian Tern: The Paracas Peninsula is the best place to go on a Peruvian photography itinerary to get images of this small tern species. There are few photos of this endangered bird and it is found at few other accessible sites.
- Chilean Flamingo: Looking absurdly long-legged and long-necked, with pink and white feathers, Chilean Flamingoes make good subjects for photography in Peru. This is especially the case when a flock of these gangly birds are mirrored by their reflection in the glassy waters of the coastal lagoons they frequent.
The Humboldt Current (or "Why bird photography is so good on the coast of Peru")
In one of nature's great ironies, the Peruvian desert can support so few living things for the same reason that the offshore waters are so incredibly rich with life. The cold waters of the Humboldt Current aren't warm enough to produce the amount of evaporation needed to make rain clouds but they are infused with such a huge amount of upwelling nutrients that Peruvian coastal waters are considered to be the most productive marine ecosystem in the world. In photography language, this translates into a stunning desert coast bordered by a sparkling sea that hosts massive flocks of photogenic seabirds (as well as good numbers of sea lions).
The Peruvian coastal desert for photography
Peru is famous for Incan culture, photography of macaws and other jungle wildlife, Macchu Picchu, and the Nazca Lines among other highlights. Because so much of the wildlife photography in Peru and cultural photography in Peru is found in the Peruvian Amazon or high up in the incredibly scenic Peruvian Andes, many people often forget that Peru has a huge coastal desert.
The very dry conditions of coastal Peru made the Nazca Lines possible and have also preserved them for centuries. Although some Peruvian photography itineraries may include flights above these enigmatic glyphs for photography of the Nazca Lines, the stony plains, shadowy ravines, and windswept dunes that are backed by huge distant mountains make for abundant photography opportunities in the Peruvian coastal desert.
Photography at Paracas and Pisco, Peru
The Paracas Peninsula is the most prominent peninsula on the coast of Peru and has been set aside as a national reserve to protect the huge numbers of birds and marine wildlife that live in the area. Located just 120 miles south of Lima, near the seaside town of Pisco, the beautiful landscapes of seaside cliffs, sandy desert, and ocean with distant rocky islands on the horizon make Paracas a popular destination for photography in Peru.
In addition to the abundance of seabirds and occasional sightings of whales and dolphins, Paracas is also famous for a strange, huge, chandelier-shaped series of lines that were scraped onto a large, sea-facing sand dune. Known as "El Candelabro", they are easily viewed and photographed on boat trips to the Paracas Peninsula. Such boat tours can be arranged through travel agents in Pisco but are included in most photography tour itineraries to Paracas, Peru.
Photography at the Islas Ballestas, Peru
The Islas Ballestas, Peru are a series of small islands near the Paracas Peninsula that are often called "The "Galapagos Islands of Peru" because of the large numbers of birds and sea lions that live on them. Such a huge number of cormorants, penguins, pelicans, and other seabirds of the Peruvian coast have nested on the Islas Ballestas for so many centuries that most of the "soil" is actually "guano" or accumulated bird droppings.
A visit to these rocky outposts is a must for any photography trip to Peru because not only are they one of the easiest sites for fantastic wildlife photography in Peru, but the arched rocks with the ocean as a backdrop also make for stunning background scenery.
Photography at the Islas Palomino, Peru
Situated just off the coast of Lima, Peru, the Islas Palomino provide another opportunity in coastal Peru to photograph sea lions and a wealth of seabirds in their natural habitat. One of the nicest things about making a photography trip to these Peruvian islands is that it can be easily done as a day trip from Lima. This is very convenient for photographers with one day left on their Peruvian tour, or for folks who wouldn't mind ending a day of memorable, fantastic photography in Peru with some amazing Peruvian ceviche washed down with a pisco sour at one of the many excellent restaurants in Lima.