We examined whether variations in photosynthetic capacity are linked to variations in the environment and/or associated leaf traits for tropical moist forests (TMFs) in the Andes/western Amazon regions of Peru. We compared photosynthetic capacity (maximal rate of carboxylation of Rubisco (Vcmax), and the maximum rate of electron transport (Jmax)), leaf mass, nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) per unit leaf area (Ma, Na and Pa, respectively), and chlorophyll from 210 species at 18 field sites along a 3300-m elevation gradient. Western blots were used to quantify the abundance of the CO2-fixing enzyme Rubisco. Area- and N-based rates of photosynthetic capacity at 25°C were higher in upland than lowland TMFs, underpinned by greater investment of N in photosynthesis in high-elevation trees. Soil [P] and leaf Pa were key explanatory factors for models of area-based Vcmax and Jmax but did not account for variations in photosynthetic N-use efficiency. At any given Na and Pa, the fraction of N allocated to photosynthesis was higher in upland than lowland species. For a small subset of lowland TMF trees examined, a substantial fraction of Rubisco was inactive. These results highlight the importance of soil- and leaf-P in defining the photosynthetic capacity of TMFs, with variations in N allocation and Rubisco activation state further influencing photosynthetic rates and N-use efficiency of these critically important forests.