Nazca: Think Outside the Lines

When you think of Nazca, you think of the famous Nazca Lines right? Those mysterious geoglyphes crossing the desert plateau that can only be seen by air? I’m here to tell you – think outside the lines!

Don’t get me wrong, they are amazing and seeing them from the air is an experience like no other, BUT, there is more to see in the desert surrounding the city.

What is there to see?

The Nazca desert is full of surprises and people either don’t know this amazing stuff exists, or they just overlook it completely.

Now, you don’t need to spend long in the city. We stayed for one night, arriving by bus from Lima at midday and leaving by bus again the next day at 4:30pm and it was plenty of time to check out the area.

Cahuachi Pyramids:

Located about 40 mins from Nazca City in the middle of the desert, there are 36 pyramids – only 4 of which have been excavated. The rest are covered by sand and are unlikely to be excavated any time soon.

Originally it was thought to be the capital of the Nazca people, however, extensive study of the site over the last 30-40 years has revealed that is was actually a major ceremonial centre. People would make a pilgrimage to the complex at certain times of the year to participate in rituals and ceremonies though the actual religion and ideologies are not known at this time.

It was also used for burials for people of all classes. It appears that the wealthy or elite were buried in proper underground tombs with everything they may need in the afterlife while poorer people were just buried in shallow graves in the sand; while others were found buried in cylindrical shafts or large vessel urns. Many burials have not yet been discovered and this leaves them open to looters, which is an ongoing issue for the site.

It’s best to arrange a tour to see these, or at least a taxi as they’re near impossible to reach alone. I can highly recommend our guide – Julio, he knows his stuff and is clearly passionate about the history of his country.

Museo Arqueologico Antonini:

The museum contains approx. 300 artefacts from the excavations conducted by the Nazca Project. They include artefacts, art objects, a scale model of the Nazca lines and replicas of tombs.

One of the coolest displays at the museum is the trophy heads – human skulls that have been mummified and ropes tied through their forehead. Thought to be the remains of human sacrifices made to the Nazca sun god, Inti.

Unfortunately, the information is solely in Spanish so we were unable to read about the items on our own but Julio helped to translate and explain them to us. It’s open everyday, 9am – 7pm.

Chauchilla Cemetery:

Located in the middle of nowhere, the Chauchilla Cemetery has been pieced back together for the public to see after the graves were ransacked by looters. Unfortunately, bits of bone, cotton and other grave goods can still be found spread through the sand surrounding the area.

The cemetery was in use between 200AD – 900AD and is an extremely important source of information for anyone studying the Nazca people as the burials have been preserved really well in the dry desert sand.

There are several burial pits open to the public to look into but remember that each one has been recreated so the mummies and/or grave goods may not have been originally interred in that particular spot. This is due to the looters that have scattered the remains around in an attempt to get to the valuables.

Swaddled in bundles of cloth that have been painted with resin, they remain so well preserved that you can see mummified flesh and hair on some – and I mean A LOT of hair! Some of them have dreadlocks that would have fallen to their knees at least!

Cantalloc Aqueducts:

Only 4km from the city centre, the Cantalloc Aqueducts are easy to get to via taxi – we combined it with a tour to Chauchilla Cemetery to make it easier.

The aqueducts are a series of stone spirals that get steadily deeper until they reach the stream at the bottom which is bringing water down from the puquios (origin points) in the mountains. Deep trenches are dug between each spiral to ensure the flow of the water and the curved design helps slow the flow of water to prevent flooding.

Scholars theorise that the spirals may have played a symbolic role in the quest for water, the resource that the Nazca built the aqueducts to access. These canals, just like the Nazca lines, are believed to have served some sort of religious purpose, outside of their practical work making the soil more welcoming to crops.

I know most, if not all, of you will be heading to Nazca to see the lines from the air, but hopefully this post has given you some inspiration to stick around for a night to check out the other sites the desert has to offer. It really is an amazing place with such a mysterious culture!

Chel xx

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