Sprawled across the dusty desert plains of Nazca, Peru, there lies one of the most compelling and enigmatic archaeological mysteries of our modern age: a series of geoglyphs depicting various animals and geometric patterns, crafted between 1,500 and 2,500 years ago with unprecedented mastery, called the Nazca Lines. Today, you can visit the Nazca Lines, which remain boldly embossed on the the Pampas de Jumana due to the low-wind climate of the surrounding desert. The most common way of experiencing the lines is by flying over them in a small plane, but people often wonder if it’s also possible to see the Nazca Lines from the ground. While flying gives you a bird’s-eye view of them, it is possible to see them without getting in a plane!
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Nazca Lines from the Ground
There is a Nazca Lines viewing tower right off the side of the Pan-American Highway, which passes right through the desert where the ancient Peruvian symbols are found. It costs only 3 soles (less than $1) to ascend the tower, which is 43 feet tall. Compared to the $75-120 per ticket to see the lines from the air, it’s certainly a more economical choice.
You can also visit the nearby Museo de Maria Reiche (Maria Reiche Museum, so named for the German-Peruvian archaeologist who discovered the Nazca Lines in 1941 and conducted much of the foundational research about their origin and purpose). Near the museum, there is a natural vantage point to see some more of the shapes.
However, tourists who visit the tower often complain that with the ground view, you don’t really get to see the lines that well. From the tower, you can only see a giant drawing or two, and only portions. From the museum, you can see the full shapes, but from a skewed angle that doesn’t allow you to appreciate their grandeur. From the air, however, you get full, unobstructed views of all the geoglyphs.
Flight over Nazca Lines
As mentioned, the flight over the lines is more expensive than visiting the tower, and it also takes place in a small, single-engine plane (which some tourists don’t love). However, if those two factors don’t bother you, the flight is a spectacular way to take in the beauty and intrigue of the Nazca Lines.
Flights embark from Nazca’s Maria Reiche Airport. The airport is open from 6am to 6pm, so flights over the lines depart throughout the day. (TRAVEL TIP!: Book the morning flights for a smoother flight, and avoid the afternoon turbulent crosswinds.) Even though the airport only has one runway, it runs as many as 100 flights a day. Most flights over the lines are between 30 and 45 minutes.
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More About the Nazca Lines
The Nazca Lines consist of at least 20 identifiable petroglyphs, all of them animals or other common images, including the following:
- The Hummingbird
- The Heron
- The Condor
- The Pelican
- The Spider
- The Whale
- The Monkey
- The Dog
- The Human
- The Hands
- The Tree
- The Phytomorphic Glyphs (plants)
While there is no consensus on the purpose of the lines, most who study the lines and the culture of the Nazca and Paracas peoples have come to some variation of a conclusion related to astronomy, cosmology, religion, and calendars (many of them believe it’s some combination of those). Archaeologists disagree about why they were constructed. Until more is known about the lines and the peoples who created them, we may never know. More fanciful “ancient mystery” buffs like to theorize that they were not, in fact, made by the ancient Nazca civilization, but rather by aliens!
How do I visit the Nazca Lines?
Fertur offers a 2-day, 1 night package to Nazca that departs from and arrives back at Lima, so you can comfortably fit it into even a short stay in Peru’s capital. The trip includes a transfer from your hotel to the bus station in Lima, a bus ride from Lima to Nazca (about seven hours), lodging in Nazca, a flight over the Nazca Lines (with an English-speaking guide), and a return trip from Nazca to Lima and back to your hotel. If you’re planning a trip to Peru and can build two days into your time in Lima, it’s well worth the trip to see one of the most fascinating, mysterious sites in the world. You can find more information about the Nazca Lines tour from Lima here: Nazca tour from Lima.
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