Apart from with gap-yearing teenagers, Latin America doesn’t get much attention from our part of the world. The usual connotations are of drug gangs and dictators, massive wealth inequality, more drug gangs and dictators, football, and they all speak Spanish. Except, of course, they don’t.
Stupid stereotypes are far too easily fallen into. And with stupid stereotypes come massive generalisations, a reluctance to correct oneself, and, usually, fear.
But, again, it’s all stupid. Because the countries of Latin America are as different as England to Italy, France to Finland, and Poland to Portugal. This is, after all, a whole continent we’re discussing – a continent nearly twice the size of Europe. It shouldn’t be so surprising that there is a lot of stuff going on there.
Behind the reductive stereotypes, we find a place so beautiful, so disarmingly wonderful, that it’s just baffling that the stereotypes have stuck. Here, you have sky-scraping mountain peaks and tropical beaches. You have the largest rainforest in the world and driest desert. You have immeasurable plains and endless coastlines.
And that’s to say nothing of the people, the food, the culture, the music.
But here we’re talking about spots for landscape photography. And rest assured, if you are heading to South America, you’ll find plenty all by yourself.
Check out our piece on landscape photography in Europe.
The landscapes of Mexico
The question – what is landscape photography? – taps into an age-old discussion around the use and representation of nature, scenery, and the world around us in art and aesthetics. Transferring this into the photographic realm hasn’t changed the conversation a whole lot.
Whilst we may think that we know what landscape photographs, or a landscape photographer, might be, it’s a little more complicated than that.
The word ‘landscape’ comes from two Germanic words: ‘land’, meaning a place to which people belong, and ‘scape’, meaning, in contemporary English to shape or to sculpt. The etymology is important, because it undermines the primary sense of what landscape is and how we interact with it.
By this, we mean that landscape is often conceived in terms of a ‘beautiful landscape’, a ‘natural landscape’ – from which the human element is usually removed (unless we are talking about indigenous people or those we deem somehow primitive) and which happens in a sort of distant, pure nature.
However, these two terms that make up the word landscape both necessarily include the man-made. We humans sculpt landscapes; they don’t exist beyond us.
And this complicates our sense of what a landscape photograph can be. It isn’t just about lonely mountains or wild plains. It’s about everything around us. A cityscape or seascape is a landscape; street photography, engaging with an urban landscape, is a landscape photography. Types of photography like wildlife photography and nature photography overlap with our style – but so can portrait photography, night photography, aerial photography and even food photography.
A landscape photo can really be anything you want it to be.
Take a look at our article on landscape photography in the USA.
However, a good landscape picture is not something so straightforward. You’ll have seen the sumptuous landscapes of Sebastião Salgado or Fay Godwin, say, and really these are not things that are easily reproduced.
Anyone can put on the panorama setting on their iPhone and get a decent enough shot, and most people love taking photos of every hill or cliff top they see.
Yet, to be a professional photographer – and to make great photos – you need something else. You need a real knowledge of the range of photography skills, photography equipment, and photography techniques.
You need to understand the difference between wide angle lenses and fisheye camera lenses. You need to understand long exposure, shutter speed, and depth of field do to your landscape pictures. You need to think about foreground and background, white balance, and natural light.
And on top of this, you need to practise your compositional skills. Also, you need to be prepared to commit the time to get exactly the shot you are after – whether at sunset, sunrise, or at night.
A lot of work goes into making great pictures – so don’t take this for granted.
Check out the best spots for landscape photography in Africa.
It’s worth saying, at the beginning of this list, that part of the task of the landscape photographer is to scout locations, explore your own areas, and find, yourself, the composition and forms that you want to create.
Given this, all of South America – in the same way as all of the rest of the world – is a potentially glorious landscape photograph. Bear this in mind when you start on your photography journey: it’s not so much the location that makes a great photograph so much as the way that you represent and capture it.
However, having said this, a great location – an inspiring landscape – can be the perfect motivator for you to learn and develop your passion in photography. Because there is nothing like a beautiful place to keep you going.
So, here are some top spots across the whole of Latin America (not just the south!). It’s a beautiful continent – so there are many many more we have left out.
Read about the best places for landscape photography in Asia.
Let’s start with the Atacama Desert, the driest place on Earth. Spreading across Chile, parts of Argentina, and into the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, it has some of the most striking landscapes of on the planet.
There is a reason why one of the most famous places in the area is known as Valle de la Luna (or, ‘Valley of the Moon’). And that’s because it is a completely otherworldly place. Head up to the northern parts of the south of Bolivia, and you’ll see the likes of Laguna Verde and Laguna Colorado.
The colours are just breath-taking.
The Andes are full of stupendous views.
We have an image of Mexico that usually involves plenty of cacti. The place to go to see such a landscape would the Sierra Mixteca, which crosses the states of Puebla and Oaxaca.
The Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve is a highlight, where the collection of plants makes for a really startling experience, but the Sierra is a wonderful place to take your camera.
Everyone’s favourite wildlife haven, the Galapagos are largely off-limits without a permit. If you do manage to get there, then good for you.
Alongside the turtles for which it is famous, the landscape itself is gorgeous – a volcanic archipelago of nineteen islands surrounded by the bluest of blue seas.
Their reputation speaks for itself.
And to the Amazon, the lungs of the world. Not much really needs to be said about its beauty, its vastness, its global significance.
It’s telling that there are still areas unexplored – and let’s keep it that way. But there’s plenty of it for you to explore. And its mists, its lush vegetation, its fierce and varied wildlife are all reasons to go.
Words really are not enough. Take photos instead.
Immortalised by countless works of travel literature, the mythic Tierra del Fuego (the Land of the Fire) sits at the southern tip of South America, in Patagonia.
It’s a mix of waters – rivers, lakes, glaciers – and the most dramatic mountain peaks outside of the Dolomites. It’s an incredibly special place, with some of the most recognisable colours and landforms in the world.
The Great Plains of Latin America, the Pampas are the never-ending grasslands of the south. Once inhabited by the gauchos, the iconic Argentinian cowboys, and travelled by the legendary Butch Cassidy, the Pampas remain a sort of Wild West.
Flat but atmospheric, with mountains imposing in the distance, they are a majestic place.
The Galapagos Islands’ most famous resident.
The Andes are the longest continuous mountain range in the world, passing from the top to the southern tip of South America. Considering that it is just so damn long, the possibilities for exploring are endless.
Some of the most beautiful places along the mountain belt – although this is all totally disputable – are in Peru. Try the Cordillera Blanca, with the Huascarán National Park, which has some of the higher peaks in the Andes. Expect snow and cracking views.
For something a little different, try the Guajira Peninsula, which is shared between Colombia and Venezuela. It’s known as the home of the ethnic group, the Wayuu, an indigenous community.
On this peninsula, which sticks out into the Caribbean Sea, you’ll find the Parque Nacional Natural Macuira. It’s dominated by a desert which fades into the beaches, with dry vegetation around. Parts of it have a sort of desolate, end-of-the-world feeling to them.
Read about photogenic landscapes across the world.