We think that most of you heard about the famous Nazca lines. “Drawings on the ground” proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site, whose meaning was never clearly confirmed. To be in Peru and skip it? It was our “must see” 😉
City of Nazca
When after an overnight trip, at 6.00 in the morning you leave the bus, there is probably nothing more annoying than touts offering everything you might be interested in – taxis, hotel rooms, wonderful excursions. We got circled by crowds of such people in the minute we stepped out of the bus in Nazca.
What’s can you hear from them? Depending on their form of “attack”:
- “Where are staying? Oh, this is a very bad hotel…”
- “This is a very good hotel, but it’s already full because there’s a conference in the city. I know that because my [wife/sister/brother…] works there. But do not worry, I know another good hotel, where they still have rooms available!”
- “My father runs the hotel, my brother is a pilot flying over the lines, and I work in the agency – you’ll get everything in one place!”
- “This is the best offer – you’ll not find cheaper flights over the lines anywhere in the city!”
- “I understand that you don’t want anything… I’ll just stand right here in case you want it”
They have only one goal – to get us much cash from tourists as they possibly can. It’s not a surprise – it’s touristy place so they earn money on that. On the other hand, it’s pretty annoying as they don’t take “NO!” for an answer – even after you repeat it 5 times in a row. The most important thing in this situation remain calm and ignore them! We weren’t too polite perhaps but we tried to remain calm and just left the place.
The place was just not working for our nerves – they circled like vultures around the tourists waiting to pick their bags. One of the touts literally followed us for over half a kilometer, after we left the station. When we stopped for a moment to check the way to our hotel, he didn’t hesitate – “My offer is very attractive – see for yourself. You didn’t talk to me on the station.”. We reached the limits of our tolerance but fortunately, the tout decided to flee before things went physical 😉
In this manner, the Nazca is the worst city we’ve visited – at that time we haven’t met more annoying touts. Fortunately, we’ve been relatively prepared before coming here. We booked our hotel room through the internet, and the owner warned us in the mail, that such situations will take place. He also suggested that – if we wanted – they can send their cab to pick us, but the hostel was close enough to the bus stop, so we just walked.
We also decided not to take a flight before we even arrived here. The lines are spread out on the area of roughly 500 km 2 so it’s definitely best to see them from up above. For us, however, the price of 180-200USD (for two people) for 30 minutes flying in a tiny airplane (prone to turbulence), was too high. We decided to see the lines on your own, from a little different perspective.
Museum of Maria Reiche
Our tour started with a visit to the Museum of Maria Reiche. This German mathematician and archaeologist devoted her entire life to the study of Nazca lines. With over 50 years of work spent in the desert, she measured the lines, studied their origin and took care of their security. She widely promoted the knowledge of the Nazca lines. She also wrote the book “The Mystery of the Desert”, and with the money from the sales of the book, she hired guards to protect the part of the desert where the lines are located. Thanks to her efforts, in 1995, the Nazca Lines were proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Maria Reiche is a highly valued person in Peru. The Nazca airport was named after her – she is also the patron of up to 50 schools across the country. When she died in 1998, the house in which she lived and worked was turned into a small museum, and the coffin with her body laid in the garden.
In this museum, you will find a lot of her personal things. There are also some outfits, which she used during the research, records and photographs of the progress of work on the lines, maps and plans, and small scale models of the drawings. In addition, the museum has several interesting exhibits – historical figures and vessels, textile, and even a mummy from the times of Nazca Indians.
Tower overlooking the lines
The most famous geoglyphs in the world were discovered in 1920. Why so late? Because looking at the flat plain of the desert of Nazca, it’s hard to see any drawings. They were noticed – probably for the first time – when one of the Peruvian airlines introduced flights on the route from Lima to Arequipa. Then the study of the mysterious signs on the desert began.
Nazca Lines were created between 300 BC and 900 A.D. Their authors were inhabitants of the desert – Nazca Indians. However, they have left no traces, which could clearly indicate the purpose for which these lines and symbols were created. Therefore, during many years of research, scientists came up with a number of different theories about the origin and meaning of the Nazca lines. Starting with the idea of religious symbols, through watering fields, to the theory of communicating with an alien civilization.
Most likely, however, it seems that geoglyphs were a gigantic astronomical calendar. That was the theory suggested by Maria Reiche and Paul Kosok before her. According to them, the signs were used to determine the date of sowing and harvesting, marking the periodic appearance of stars and constellations in the sky.
Geometric shapes, straight lines, and images of people, animals, and plants. At Nazca, over the area of 500 km 2 there are hundreds of ‘drawings’. The most famous include: spider, condor, hummingbird, killer whale, monkey, dog, tree, hands, lizard. They’re of course best viewed with from bird’s-eye perspective. But there is a way to see some of them without taking off the ground (on a flimsy plane…).
About 20 km north of the city there’s a steel observation tower, which was founded by Maria Reiche. From a height of about 13 meters, one can see the surrounding desert from a slightly different perspective. It’s enough to see two, or even three “drawings” and a lot of lines that cross the plateau. These drawings are the tree, the palms, and the lizard. The latter, unfortunately, is cut through by the Pan-American highway into two parts – on the side of the tower is the tail, and the remaining part of the geoglyph is on the other side of the road.
Surely photos taken from the observation tower are not as impressive as those made during an airplane flight. For us, the view was still quite impressive and we did feel the magic of the Nazca Lines. We’d love to also touch the lines or get closer to them but it’s prohibited by law.
It is also worth mentioning that in addition to the lookout tower on the plateau are also several natural hills. These are called observatories, and one can see the surrounding countryside from a different perspective. We saw at least two of these hills from the bus en route to the museum. We were tempted to check them but eventually decided not to. That day was far too hot to walk in the desert.
- As we mentioned that several times by now – traveling in Peru is very simple. There are good bus connections between all major cities. Several companies offer the purchase of tickets through the internet, including Excluciva or Cruz Del Sur, but when traveling on less popular routes just go to the bus station and buy a ticket at the box office before the departure. The cost of a ticket for a more comfortable bus is usually a much higher, but very often the price also includes a meal.
- Flights over the Nazca Lines are sold almost everywhere in the town of Nazca. On average, the price of such a flight for one person is 80-100USD for about 30 minutes of flight (of which about 15-20 minutes you’ll see the lines). You can always bargain a bit, but we still think it’s overly expensive attraction. You can take a look at some of the offers on the following websites: www.alasperuanas.com or www.nazcaflights.com.
- You can also take flights over the Nazca Lines from different places, such as Ica and Paracas, and even Lima. The price of such a flight will be higher, but if you’re short on time, you save several hours commuting to Nazca and back. Some of the deals can be found at www.huacachina.com or www.nazcaflights.com .
- Trip to the viewing tower can be arranged on our own or with the help of local guides or travel agents. Cost of the guided tour is around 70-100PEN (20-30USD). The price also often includes a visit to the Museum of Maria Reiche and the Nazca aqueducts (we didn’t go but these are worth seeing) and entrance fees.
- When organizing the trip on your own, you can take a taxi (the whole trip for about 50PEN – 15USD) or take the bus or colectivo minibus which runs on the route from Nazca to the town of Flores, Cueva or Soyuz. The observation tower is around 20 km from the Nazca city, and the museum Marie Reiche is another 5 km further. When paying for the ticket, you need only say where you want to get (lookout tower – la torre de observación or museum Marie Reiche – simply museo). For our transfers on the route Nazca-museum-tower-Nazca, we paid a total of 9PEN (2.70 USD) for two people
- The admission ticket to the Marie Reiche Museum costs 5 PEN (1,5USD).
- The entrance to the lookout tower costs 2PEN (0,60USD).
- Nazca Lines are definitely the main, but not the only tourist attraction in Nazca. You can also visit the Archaeological Museum Antonini (tickets 20PEN – 6USD), see the canals and aqueducts dating back to the Nazca Indians or see geoglyphs and the Inca ruins of Paredones. Another recommended place to visit is the Chauchilla cemetery, which over the years has been plundered by treasure hunters. Unique to this cemetery is that some of the mummies, skulls and bones are placed openly next to the graves. It’s one-of-the-kind place in the whole Peru.