The Nazca Lines

View from bus ride to Nazca

The Nazca lines are a series of straight lines and figures carved into the desert.  They are large, some up to 1,200 ft.  You can only see all the lines by air, in small planes.  Going to Nazca has been on Janet’s must do list for many years as was the Macho Picchu trip. 

It  is a short bus ride from Paracas of 4 hours. In the rural area, at street level traveling at 89km/h you can see cut outs in the flat, flat valley plain with mountains far off. You can’t make out shapes, just the cuts evidence a process; deep gauges (2—3 ft.)in the plain. Occasionally you can see round or curving cuts that appear manmade, not natural. We passed an observation platform 2-3 stories high; Costs S/1.00 we found out. 


City square - Nazca

We arrived at our hostel,  Nazca House B&B in a city that was larger than expected with 22,000 pop, about the size as the beach town Haunchaco. But here there is no beach, in fact no water—just desert in every direction with distant grey mountains. The city square was very large with polished tile and fountains bordered by 2 churches and a school. Described in books as:

“Bone dry and baking hot, Nazca was a desert scorched dead town until 1939 when American scientist Paul Kosok did a flyover and revealed the Nazca Lines.” This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Later, German scientist Maria Reiche opined the figures were an astronomical calendar. Who knows—could be Aliens!  Especially when you see the kooky, so-called “Astronaut” figure. It looks like a spacesuit—or could be a walking squid. Take your pick.

We were picked up at 7:15 by our transport Alex. He drove us to a small air field lined with propeller planes, most that were six passenger plus pilots. Our plane was a shiny, two passenger Cessna with pilot and co-pilot from Air Santos. Cost: $155 pp @ S/580 pp. for a one hour flight over 17 figures. We paid our Airport tax of S/25 pp., went through a metal detector and showed passports. It is a perfect day; the wind socks are limp. Our plane was ready and we were called-- “Frank & Janet”—so we pressed by a group of Dutch who awaited a larger plane. This was going to be “mucho/muy distracion”= “very fun”. However, we did forego breakfast and we both did take ½ pill of Dramamine just in case. In fact, our Hostel mothers insisted we not eat, but would have food ready when we returned. They were sisters who came through for us when Movil Air emailed a cancellation.  We picked Movil Air by recommendations as the safest company to fly, but when our plans fell through we just needed a plane and with the help of our hotel attendant (the sisters speak no English) in Lima we called our Nazca host and ask if they could help and they got it for us, the hell with what the safety record is, find us a plane!!

The Flight:

The co-pilot reminded me “ladies first”, so Janet stepped into the backseat first, stowed her backpack behind our seat, and then I stepped in and sat in a comfortable, but small space next to her. We greeted the pilot and co-pilot again. We were given maps of the site and flight plan.

We were to see the Nazca “prehistoric” lines and the Nazca classical lines, about 17 figures. When I say lines this include figures and geometric shapes miles in size and diameter. The pilot winds the engine of our little plane and we taxied.  We are looking over his shoulder at the instrumentation. At the launch point he increases the throttle to a roar—vibrating the plane. Then he throttles back, gets on line and increases power—down the runway (will we rise?). When we took off, it was as smooth as a pillow. We gained altitude gradually, observing the town fall away and the surrounding mountains rise up. It is really beautiful flying over the desertat a higher altitude.

You cannot overstate the magnificence of the Nazca lines and figures:

  •  The chiseled stripes of rock and the clear geometric shapes extending miles look like runways to me.
  • The mathematical precision is amazing, emphasized by the many quadrangle shapes. Imagining Ancients creating these figures in this desert land is hard, but then again we do have the Egyptian pyramids and Greek Acropolis.   
  • On the side of a smoky grey hill is a figure that appears to be waving or saying hello. But to who? The figure is the so-called  “Astronaut”. It looks like a road side welcome sign.
  •  Some configurations on top of flattened mountain ranges, look like a heliport.
  •  The many other giant figures sit between the mountains on flat plans. In fact, there is a striking network of 800 +lines, 300 geometric figures and 70 animal and plant biomorphs. Some of these are described as classical forms which are simpler, more like drawings then the mathematical figures.
  •  The most famous figures we saw, and we saw them all, are named: Lizard, frog, tree, monkey, spider, condor, flamingo, parrot, whale, dog, snake and others! We did our best to provide some photos and video, but it was difficult with the angles, lighting and flight path. 


Our view from the plane

The vastness of it all. We flew from one end and back in our one hour trip—very inspirational.

So inspirational in fact that after our breakfast we walked to the city museum, “Museo Didactic Antonini” to learn more. This museum focused on the results archeological teams from Europe that investigated this area.  The Nazca lines are given relatively brief mention. The current Nazca’s believe the Lines were formed by ancestors as a way to track the seasons and the path of the sun for both religious and farming purposes. The earlier figures this tribe drew were less sophisticated than the “Lines”, and possibly they just got bigger and better at it. The tribe had some unusual customs of note: They re-shaped and elongated the form of the skulls of royalty infants with wrapping, and the strangest—they cut a small circular hole in the forehead of the infant and inserted the ends of several one foot strands of rope/twine into the hole which are secured by the healing skull bone and flesh.(Is this a caricature of an astronaut space helmet with O2 hose?)  The Nazca’s were a very early tribe of Peru, 500 BC to 500 AD and were accomplished in mathematics, textiles, and war.

The day was ending and we hung out in the sister’s hostel most of the afternoon to rest, make notes, and do some blogging until 5:00 pm. It would not be F&J around the planet if one weird thing didn’t happen that day. We wanted to pay for the flight by credit card, but our driver and apparent expediter, Alex, who did in fact step behind the counter with the sales rep at Santos Air says: “Our visa machine is broken, can you pay in cash?” We didn’t bring that much cash, i.e. S/ 1160.00. Alex says: “You can pay me after the flight--FOR ME--later”. I do look around and see all these other airline desks with VISA signs, but see crowded lines everywhere and I know we got closed out with the other airline for lack of space.  Janet and I huddle together; we don’t care if its cash or charge as long as the price is the same as quoted by the Sisters; If the plane seems old or beat up we will bail on this deal before we pay anything.  So as we said before, the plane looked shiny new, we jumped the line, and we had a great flight. Alex drove us back to town and straight to an ATM as requested. As I paid him I said: “You’re going to pay the pilots—right!”. “Oh yeh”! Alex says, then he drives us back to the hostel for breakfast. Mission accomplished for all of us, I guess.

 We settled our bill and left to walk to the bus station. On the way, we passed the open central church and stopped in for the 6:00 pm Mass and communion. We reached the rather shabby bus station at 7:15 pm (especially for Cruz Del Sur standards), but our bus was over 2 hours late so we didn’t get on board until 10:30pm for a 14 hour night trip. The only thing that made the wait less than miserable was meeting up with Janet’s friend, Marie from Quebec, Canada, who was going in a different direction but had to sit around too. She did get motion sickness on her flight and was given smelling salts. She was in a six passenger plane and the pilot rolls the plane so people on each side can see the Lines. We had other laughs and stories, showing photos of our families before we parted.     


The Saturday local market across from our hostel

Last note on the Nazca lines.  We could not capture high quality photos to share.  If you want to read more about the lines or see some great pictures we suggest: as a good resource