One of the world’s most colourful and mesmerizing travel destinations, Central America is a photographer’s dream. – read on to discover how to best capture your experience
Central America is world-renowned for its exquisite colours, be they of the locals, the wilderness or the magnificent wildlife. We often say that if you’re not an avid photographer by the time you travel to Central America, we bet you will be by the time you come home, the Latin American region really being incredibly inspiring. So why not take the bull by the horn and prepare for the inevitable? You WILL fall in love with Central America and you WILL want to take a crazy number of photographs on your journey.
Here’s how the experts say you ought to do it:
Take useful camera gear that you know how to use
If you’d love to take more than an i-pad or smartphone along on your Central America trip then your best bet is to choose a compact DSLR with a couple of lenses. A wide-angle lens will satisfy all your landscape photography needs whilst a longer zoom, like a 200 or 400mm, will allow you to take close up photos when out wildlife-spotting in Central America’s premier reserves. A regular 50mm lens is ideal for your everyday photography and should be compact enough to fit snugly in your backpack.
The great thing about separate lenses is that you can determine which one not to take when out exploring. You can safely leave the wide-angle and 400mm zoom behind in your hotel, for example, when you’re out and about checking out the best street art in Mexico City or on an architectural tour-de-force through Cartagena or Havana’s old town centres – and leave the smaller zoom when out hiking Semuc Champey in Guatemala.
But don’t forget the everyday basics
A small point-and-shoot (or your smartphone) is good enough to have with you at all times and given the quality of either nowadays, actually good enough if you don’t want the bother of a DSLR anyway. Most tourists to Central America primarily take photographs as mementos and to show their friends and family: unless you’re looking to print canvas prints of your photos, the quality will be more than fine with smaller, compact cameras.
Whatever you do end up packing, don’t forget to also pack enough SD cards and camera batteries to last you a few days just in case you don’t have the chance to recharge/download on a daily basis. An external memory bank is a great choice if you’re not planning to take along a laptop.
Pack gear in small padded bags inside your everyday backpack
One large and cumbersome camera bag won’t just be annoying to carry but it also advertises the fact that you may be carrying thousands of dollars’ worth of photographic equipment. In Central America – or anywhere that’s not quite so developed – that’s just asking for trouble and it’s particularly inconvenient when you actually don’t need to lug everything around with you for the day. Pack each piece of equipment in its own dedicated padded bag instead and put the lot in a daypack and leave the remainder of your gear in your hotel safe.
Sunsets and sunrises will soon be your fave times of day
You could spend an hour on the shores of Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan at sunset, gobsmacked at the intensity of the sun’s reflections on the glistening water. In a part of the world where the sun shines resplendent almost all year-round, sunrise and sunset quickly become the photographer’s favourite time of day.
When planning to explore archaeological sites or wildlife reserves, it pays to get up early anyhow as both lighting and animal activity will be ideal in the early morning. Whether you’re headed to the breathtaking Mayan city of Chichen Itza in Mexico or to spot sloths in Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park, you’ll want to be off at the crack of dawn to capture the best photos of all.
Be respectful of Central America’s indigenous population
Mexico and Guatemala are home to some of the largest indigenous communities in all of Latin America and although they are simply magnificent to photograph, it needs to be done with the utmost respect. After all, imagine you’re going about your daily business on a shopping spree to Aldi, and a tourist shoves a camera in your face because they think your ‘outfit’ looks so adorable? Exactly.
Always ask for permission for close-up photography and do respect their wish should they refuse. There are countless chances to capture those glorious images, none of which need to be offensive. You should also be aware that photographing children is a huge no-no in Central America so, unless you gain permission from parents, avoid this altogether.
Having a guide with you makes the whole lot easier
If it’s a particular place you want to photograph – be it an ancient ruin or biding reserve, it is always easier and safer to have a local guide by your side. Not only can they take care of the logistics (where to go and what to see) and the history (knowing about a place can really bring it to life) but it adds a safety aspect that’s not to be dismissed. This is particularly true of either remote destinations or touristy ones outside the busiest hours. To be honest, we’ve guided guests through bustling outdoor markets for a few hours so as to give them a chance to photograph freely (these are some of the most photogenic places in all of Central America), all the while gifting them a sumptuously delicious excursion – because every market here is a foodie paradise. Having a guide by your side can be a real win-win in Central America.
Fight the urge to experience Central America through your viewfinder
It can really be tough to not pick up the camera and take the cap off at some breathtaking moment but, sometimes, that’s precisely what you should do. Photography is truly amazing (not for Instagram but for you) but it can also dilute your personal experience, it can take you away from the moment and it can also distract you. We’ve had guests trip in the Amazon rainforest and face-plant the mud because they just weren’t looking down at the trail, slip and fall on the Inca Trail because they didn’t stop moving to take a photo and miss a spectacular wildlife sighting because they were too busy changing lenses/batteries/memory cards.
We all dream of capturing that ‘perfect shot’ when we travel but, let’s be honest, most of us won’t snap a National Geographic-worthy frame…but we’ll still love the photos we take because they’ll remind us of our amazing experience for the rest of our lives. So, perhaps, shooting less and enjoying more could also be an invaluable photography tip for Central America.
Visit Chimu’s Central America Tours page for fantastic multi-country itinerary ideas and contact us when you’re ready to start turning your dreams into concrete travel plans!
Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 15 years. She’s tour-guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and has completed a 6-year motorbike trip from Europe to Australia. What ticks her fancy most? Animal encounters in remote wilderness, authentic experiences off the beaten trail and spectacular Autumn colours in Patagonia.”