You can’t go to Nazca and not see the Nazca Lines! Can you really even go to Peru and not visit the Nazca Lines?? This is something we asked ourselves while we were planning our trip but at the end of the day – we had to go. Even if it meant going out of way (which it did!), we had to make the effort to get there.
History of the Nazca Lines:
For those of you who don’t know what they are – the Nazca Lines are giant geoglyphs formed by shallow depressions made in the desert sand of the Nazca Plateau. They were created between 500BC – 500AD and cover an area of 50 sq/km (19 sq/miles).
Most of the geoglyphs are geometric shapes or simple lines but approx. 70 of them are plants and zoomorphic designs of animals such as a hummingbird, spider, monkey, whale and the “astronaut.”
Nobody really knows why there were created but most scholars agree they have religious significance. Although, how there were made has been a lot easier to figure out! The Nazca people would have used simple tools and surveying equipment to construct the lines. Archaeological surveys have found wooden stakes in the ground at the end of some lines, which supports this theory.
The “astronaut” (originally named the owl-man) is fascinating as it doesn’t appear on the flat desert plateau like the others, but it was made on the side of a mountain in the middle of the emptiness. It really does look like an astronaut and some have suggested it confirms alien visitation but in my opinion, this is pretty far-fetched! Some Czech scholars theorised it was actually a depiction of a fisherman, complete with fish and net which is much more believable!
Getting to Nazca:
The easiest and cheapest way to get to Nazca is by bus. We took a bus from Lima to Nazca (4am start!) which takes approx. 6-7hrs, then spent the night in Nazca so we could do an early morning flight the next morning before heading back to Lima in the afternoon.
The best bus companies to use are: Cruz del Sur and Oltursa. Neither of them have amazing reviews on TripAdvisor but we went with Cruz del Sur and found them quite good. There are a couple of different options for seats on their double-decker buses and we chose the semi-reclining option that also provided a snack, drink, blanket and pillow.
If you’re taking the Peru Hop bus, there are a few different starting points (including Lima, Cusco, Arequippa and La Paz in Bolivia) that will take take you through Nazca. They also offer multi-night tours that include a flight over the lines.
Not everyone chooses to take the flights from Nazca airfield as there are flights available from surrounding towns (Ica, Pisco, Paracas, Lima etc.) but personally I think you should go to Nazca. The flights are cheaper and shorter – this is good thing if you get nervous in small planes, or sick from the steep banking! There is also more to do in the surrounding desert (you can check out my post about it here) that is worth visiting so try to spend at least one night in the town.
For those of you that don’t want to stay in Nazca, or simply can’t fit it into your already over-packed itinerary – there are options for 1-day private tours/taxi’s leaving from Lima that include a stop at Ballestas but they’re not cheap (approx. 900 soles per person) and generally include the cost of the flights as well.
So there are a number of different airlines to chose from – the ones that are recommended in Lonely Planet are Aerodiana (we went with them), AeroParacas and one more that I can’t remember. Plus Movil Air which has been recommended by Alex over at Career Gappers (you can see their post about the Nazca Lines here).
As you’ll read on a number of other blogs – years ago there were a number of issues with safety and there are horror stories about planes of tourists crashing into the desert but as with all flights, the risk is minimal. That being said, if you’re worried, you can check out the Aviation Safety Network website which shows all crash records in the region.
Expect to pay around $100USD per person + $30 Soles per person airport tax. The airport tax can only be paid at the airport and it’s up to the airline you fly with how they take payment – with AeroDiana, we were told to pay at the desk before our flight but didn’t realise they meant cash only so when our driver took us back to our hotel we had to make a detour to an ATM to get cash for him! Apparently we looked trustworthy enough to fly without paying first 😉
Flying over the lines:
This is the most exciting part – unless you’re afraid of flying or small planes! Then this might be the most terrifying part haha.
Our flight was booked for 7-9am and the airline emailed me the day before our flight to confirm and advise we would be collected from our hotel at 6:40am – this was it! We were on our way! My husband was a little nervous as he’s never been in a small plane, but having grown up in the Air Force and having a pilot for an uncle, I’m used to flying in all sorts of aircraft and not much worries me.
We didn’t eat breakfast before our flight, they recommend you only have something light as some people suffer from motion-sickness but it was too early in the morning for us to eat anyway. When we arrived at the airport, we were met with a small building that is full of kiosks for the different airlines and little planes dotted all over the air-strip outside.
We had to check in with our passports, no stamp unfortunately – you can get one at Machu Picchu but not at Nazca, I think they’re missing an opportunity!). Then we had to get weighed (eeek!) before being sent to a different kiosk to pay our airport tax of 30 soles per person, then we were given our tickets and told to wait.
Fortunately for us, we only had to wait approx. 5 mins before we were lead out to our plane. We were flying on a Cessna Caravan – one of the bigger planes parked out on the airstrip, all the rest are the small Cessna 210’s which only carry 6 passengers, whereas ours carried double that. And a few minutes after boarding we were taxiing along the runway and up into the air!
The first of the geoglyphs is the whale with a horn on its head (maybe it’s a Narwhal!) and it’s not too far from the airport. This is where it can be a little nerve-wracking if you’re an anxious flyer or suffer from motion sickness – in order for all passengers to see the whale, the plan banks steeply left and right while circling to get good views from different angles.
After the whale, it takes a few mins to get to the area where most of the zoomorphic geoglyphs are but you’ll be able to see a lot of the different geometric shapes and lines crisscrossing the desert. Seeing it from above really does bring home what a monumental effort was made to create these and I still can’t really believe how exactly they managed it without being able to see it from above – how did they know the image was correct when they finished??
Most flights only last 30-45 mins and you’ll see 12-15 different glyphs, plus all the lines and shapes. I felt this wasn’t enough time and I would have liked to have seen more but unfortunately, we weren’t able to. If you get motion sickness though, 30 mins might seem like a long time. One of the girls on my flight was sick as we came back into land, poor thing! She’d done so well to last that long though, we could tell she was struggling!
After we landed we were driven back to our hotel and that was it! An incredible experience was now a memory and it only took about 2hrs of our day. It was definitely worth making the time to visit Nazca though, and as I have already mentioned a number of times – there is more to see in Nazca so make sure you check out the sites surrounding the city!
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