Inspirational, Travels

A Journey to Machu Picchu

Photo taken by Sean Chin at

A “big one” on my bucket list has always been to visit Machu Picchu. There is absolutely no question as to its status as one of the New 7 Wonders of the world. While many are able to visit it for a few hours, I was fortunate enough to explore the ruins for two back-to-back days.

Before I talk about the legendary Inca ruins, I’d like to address some questions that I have been asked quite frequently. Despite the warnings, I did not experience any significant altitude sickness throughout my stay in Cusco. However, when immediately stepping out of the airplane, I did feel the atmosphere change and feel “different”. But I acclimatized rather quickly within 30 minutes.

Photo taken by Sean Chin at

I stayed at the Taypikala hotel in Aguas Calientes, which is the town directly under the ruins. It is actually nearer to the top of the town, so there is a bit of upwards walking to do. This town is crazy, but in a good way. It is full of restaurants of pretty much any type of cuisine and souvenir shops. Every time you pass by a shop, there are people asking you if you want to eat or buy something. Any thing you need can be found in Aguas Calientes from post office, doctor’s office and internet cafe/pharmacy. One thing that I enjoy doing is trying the local delicacies from the cities and countries that I visit. Peru was no exception. For the first time, I tried alpaca fillets and cuy, or guinea pig. The alpaca had a similar texture to beef while the guinea pig was an interesting one….it did not feel like chicken or any other meat I’ve had before.

Oh yes, please make sure that you book your tickets to Machu Picchu at least a month in advanced as only 2,500 guests are allowed to explore the ruins daily. Also, make sure that you purchase your bus tickets as soon as you arrive for the following day. You do not want to take a risk and come all this way to find out they are sold out.

Photo taken by Sean Chin at

Now, if you are planning on seeing Machu Picchu, I highly recommend that you wake up incredibly early in the morning to catch the very first bus up the mountain. You can walk up at any time you want, but the formal gates do not open until 6AM. For my trip, I woke up excitedly at 4:30 AM and head to the bus terminal. The first shuttle leaves at 5:30AM and takes about 30 minutes to reach the gates and Sanctuary Lodge (a luxury hotel right at the gates).

From my extensive research for the best photographic spots, I quickly darted through the path to the “guardian house”, which is the only ruin home with a roof. The best part about going as early as possible is that only the hardcore adventurers are there in the morning so it is not as packed. Once it is 9 or 10 AM, the rest of the tourists from cruises start to flood the area. Anyways, another great thing about making your way up so early is that the scene is probably still a bit cloudy, but within a few moments, the clouds part and Machu Picchu is then revealed in all its wonder along with the sunrise. It was an amazing experience viewing the Incan ruins made popular to Westerners by Hiram Bingham III on a National Geographic Expedition. It was breathtaking to see Machu Picchu in the foreground and Hyuan Picchu in the back, all surrounded by gigantic mountains of the Andes.

Photo taken by Sean Chin at

As I stood for about an hour in the same spot in awe of this man-made structure up so high in the mountains, I noted a couple and some of their friends form a group a few feet away from me. And then something else unexpected happened. The man started talking about how this was a very special moment here at Machu Picchu. Not just because they are with all of their best friends. But then he kneeled down on one leg and then proposed to his girlfriend. She said yes on the spot! What a spectacular space to do this.

Photo taken by Sean Chin at

To keep updated with awesome content, you should follow me on Twitter here: @SeanChin

LINKS, Photography, Technology, Travels

Searching for the Perfect Travel Camera

Whether you are a travel writer, photographer, blogger or just a by-standing tourist, a camera is probably not too far away from you. We use these as a way to record our best moments and there are many to be had while traveling.

Chase Jarvis says:

 The best camera is the one that you have with you.

And it is with good reasoning this is so. Just because you have a $20K Hassleblad does not necessarily mean that you will take the best shots. Keep in mind that my primary body is a Nikon D4, which is no light lady either. You could very well miss the best shot you would have ever taken simply because your heavy-duty workhorse of a camera is tightly packed away in your carry-on. Jarvis (and I) would ideally like to have a camera permanently attached to our heads or something. We just want something that is “always there”.

However, while our iPhones or smart-phones may have a decent built-in camera, it is really not the best piece of equipment for a lot of situations. Right now, the biggest bugger is that these phones have very small sensors which result in a lot of noise and a lack of data captured in low-light or high-action situations. The technology is getting better, but for me, it is not quite there yet.

Enter point-and-shoot cameras. I recently picked up a Sony Cyber-shot WX50 for my mom. It is a decent 16 megapixel camera, but when I did some test shots in the dark, I noticed substantial noise and an odd wavy-painted look to the images. There is absolutely no way I’d use the images from this in my portfolio of work.

In recent years, mirror-less camera’s have been all the rage. I even picked up an Olympus EPL-1 back in 2011 just for something more portable. This was significantly better than a point-and-shoot solution and I actually really enjoyed using it. However, the kit lens it came with was slow and made of cheap plastic. It is a kit lens after all right? Olympus does make “pro” level micro four-thirds lenses but they cost almost as much as a Nikkor 24-70 f2.8! Also, another downfall going mirror-less, such as the Canon EOS-M, Nikon J and V etc. is that yes, they are more compact than a dSLR, but their interchangeable lenses are still pretty large. They will not fit into your front or back pocket unless you buy a pancake lens. So, I see these types of cameras has something that doesn’t really solve any problems.

Interestingly enough, the answer to the traveler’s camera dilemma might actually be point-and-shoots…that is, the high-end P&S cameras. In the last year or so, pretty much all of the big name manufactures have started selling these. The most notable of the lot are the Sony RX100, Nikon Coolpix A and recently announced Ricoh GR series.

Obviously for me, the Nikon Coolpix A stands out because it features a famility user-interface as my Nikon D4. Its has a slick design and is very compact. The killer selling-point with this camera is that it has the same DX-format (APC-S) sensor the Nikon D7000 dSLR has. That is incredibly!

Jmeyer describes:

Focusing speeds are also a little lacklustre, making it a little slow for the street photographer that this camera is so very clearly aimed at.

Another negative for the Coolpix A is that it only has a 28mm equivalent fixed lens. While decent for street photography, I really do enjoy the comfort of having a zoom. And because this isn’t an interchangeable lens system, that ain’t going to happen. A turn off from many will be the cost of this baby. The Coolpix A is priced at around $1000 USD and this amount could buy yourself a low-end dSLR! What gives Nikon? But personally, I understand who their target audience is. It’s for the professional or enthusiast like myself, who owns high-end gear and wants to maintain the same level of quality, manual control but in a pocket sized form. Nikon succeed here to an extent and I realize that this is just the first one many A’s to come.

This brings me to what I believe is currently the best camera for travel photographers: the Sony Cyber-shot DSC RX100.

Steve Huff approves:

The RX100 literally squashes any previous P&S or pocket camera. The new upcoming Leica D-Lux 6 better have something special inside because it may be tough to beat the RX100. Seriously.

David Pogue confirms:

No photos this good have ever come from a camera this small.

Quotes such as these by two leading technology reviewers really add some strong credibility to the RX100 and Sony should be given an award for its creation.

Why do I think this is the best traveller’s camera right now?

I have a list of 5 criteria:

  1. Camera should have a large sensor, at least a APC-S to allow for high ISO shooting
  2. Must have a ranged-zoom lens
  3. Must be “flat” when the camera is in the off-mode
  4. Must be able to fit in my front or back pockets
  5. Must not break the bank

So, the RX100 features a generous 20 megapixel 1” sensor which lets me be confident when shooting in low-light situations. It does indeed have a 28-100mm equivalent lens that becomes completely packed away when off and did I mention is it is a Carl-Zeiss lens? Check! How much is this miraculous camera? An affordable and worthy $649 USD.

Despite being so great, I am still putting off on investing in another camera until I at least see what the second version of Nikon Coolpix A’s turns out to be. If they can fit a ranged-zoom like how Sony did, I am all in.

In the next 3-5 years, I predict significant technological advances to be made. Manufactures might be able to fit full-frame sensors like the D4 and Canon 1DX being fitted into compact bodies.

Photography, Travels

South American Paradise

Words cannot begin to describe the paradise that is Iguazu falls. I was fortunate to be able to visit both Brazilian and Argentinian sides to gain as much perspective as possible. From my experience, I don’t think anyone could cover the complete scope of the falls with one shot. If that is what you are after, I suggest taking a video from a helicopter tour.

Let’s be clear, Iguazu falls isn’t just one, two or three waterfalls such as Niagara. It is made up of many varying in different heights and widths. And because of its astonishing geological features, it was named one of the natural New Seven Wonders of the world in 2011. I think what makes Iguazu so spectacular is just how much fresh water is pouring over the huge cliffs. As you can see from my photos, the landscape looks like curtains of white rapids hanging in the air.

There are differences between the two sides of the falls however. From what I experienced, the Brazilian side “Foz do Iguacu” features nice buses that take visitors from the entrance of the national park right to the falls with a moderate amount of walking on level terrain. On the other hand, the Argentinean side “Puerto Iguazu”, does not have air conditioned tour buses, but features a lot more advanced walking and hiking trails. Don’t get me wrong, but sides offer absolutely stunning views and when you think about it, to see the Brazilian side of the falls you have to be standing on the Argentinean side and vice versa. Thus, I would recommend exploring both sides of the falls for the full experience.

If you happen to be traveling as a family with young children or seniors, I would suggest visiting the Brazilian side for sure or just the superior circuit of the Argentinean side.

As I mentioned, the Argentinean side features a lot more walking in the form of different levels such as the superior and inferior circuits. The inferior one takes you right up and close of the mighty waterfalls and you will definitely get soaked and exhausted when the day is over. For some reason, I decided to even go the extra mile and venture onto San Martin island, which is a short boat ride to a rock formation in the middle of the falls. Warning, the climb up is extremely steep and it is not for the faint of heart. I admit that I am not the fittest fellow you will meet, but I recall being extremely tired as I have never walked or sweat so much in my entire life. But was it worth it? Y-E-S.

Photographer’s Note: I captured most of these shots of Iguazu falls with the Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8. Either leave this baby on all the time or bring a secondary body and telephoto lens. Trust me, you do not want to be switching lenses in this kind of environment. 

To keep updated with awesome content, you should follow me on Twitter here: @SeanChin

Photography, Travels

Colours in Rio

Inspired by the photos and articles in National Geographic, one of my goals on my trip to South America was to document the favelas in Rio. A favela is a pretty much a shanty town that were built in the late 19th century by people that had no where else to live.

I found that there are actually more a two dozen of these tight communities, the largest being Rocinha, housing over 70,000 people. However, I adventured into the second largest one called Complexo do Alemao. This favela is considered very safe by the BBC. One could not ask for a more safe, sophisticated and modern cable car system for such as community. It is almost awkward, but is a way for locals to get from their homes to work in the city. Otherwise it would take people ages to travel outside of the town.

The government imposed aggressive measures in the “pacification” strategy. The plan was to get all of the drug lords and gangs out of the favelas to boost the safety of Rio because the upcoming World Cup and Olympic Games.

Despite being homes for the poor, the housing structures are just so colorful and when bunched up together like they are, it just makes for an epic photograph. If you plan on traveling to Rio de Janeiro, I highly recommend that you visit a “pacified” favela. It really opens your eyes to the real Rio experience in my honest opinion.


To keep updated with awesome content, you should follow me on Twitter here: @SeanChin