The greatest concentration of lines, figures, and trapezoids collectively known as the Nazca Lines are located on the plains of San José, 440 kilometers to the south of Lima in the Ingenio valley and interestingly, there are many others in the vicinity of Pampa (north of Nazca).
In 1926, the first archaeological research was published regarding these lines, which until then had been known as “Inca highways”. It was not until 1941, however, that the lines became famous, when American academic Paul Kosok announced his discovery, describing it as “the largest astronomical calendar in the world”.
By carbon dating the organic objects found on the Nazca plains, it has been established that although most of the geoglyphs correspond to the period 800 BC to 300 AD, some of the figures were produced before that period, and others long after.
Maria Reiche, the German mathematician and governess, was asked by Kosok to begin a detailed study of the lines. She went on to become the most dedicated student of the plains and their mysterious lines and discovered many new figures and lines which she then worked to conserve.
In the department of Ica, to the south of the city, in the valleys formed by the Grande, Ingenio and Nazca rivers, an important pre-Inca culture developed between 100 AD and 600 AD, which has come to be known as Nazca.
This culture became famous after the discovery of the so-called Nazca Lines, but it has also produced some of the most beautiful pottery and textiles of ancient Peru, as well as works using exotic feathers, subterranean aqueducts and macabre trophy heads.
The Nazca people erected a series of buildings and pyramids (more than 30 in the vicinity of Cahuachi) based on elaborate construction techniques. They employed conical, earthquake resistant mud bricks. The Nazca was a theocratic society influenced by neighboring civilizations such as Paracas. They were eventually subjugated by the Wari culture of the southern Andes, and this led to modifications in the aesthetic patterns of their pottery and textiles.
The Nazca people adopted the custom of decapitating their enemies and mummifying their heads. They would sew the lips together with thorns and the hang the heads from their waists in order to benefit from the valor and strength of their deceased enemies.
Nazca cultures textiles are among the finest and most elaborate of ancient Peru and were produced using a number of techniques and an evolution in styles (experts have identified as many as five distinct styles). The Nazca people then developed embroidery, projecting images. Subsequently, their iconography became more stylized, with the inclusion of mythical beings and geometric designs. This technique is fascinating, for in the same piece the observer can distinguish varying groups of figures depending on the direction from which the textile is looked at. Later designs became increasingly more abstract and geometric until finally, the Nazca people were defeated by the Wari culture (700 AD), after which new techniques such as patchwork and batik emerged.
The pieces are made from colorful woven feathers arranged in abstract designs and depiction of mythological figures. The items made from feathers were considered sacred. Birds were associated with the Gods and clothing.
Nazca sits at an elevation of 520 meters or 1700 feet above sea level. The desert is flat until it connects with the beginning of the Andes Mountains. 20 kilometres or 12 miles from Nazca is Cerro Blanca, the world’s tallest sand dune at 2078 meters or 6820 feet.
The Nazca and Ica regions of Peru have high temperatures and a dry climate. Rainfall is nonexistent through the year except for January and February, where around 4 millimeters of rain falls between both months.
The best-known lines are found in the desert 20 kilometres north of Nazca. By far, the best way to appreciate them is to get a bird’s-eye view from a flight. Flights are taken in light aircrafts (three to nine seats) in the morning and early afternoon.
This metal lookout tower on the Pan-American Highway is about 20 kilometres north of Nazca. It has an oblique view of three of the figures: the lizard, tree and hands (or frog). If you decide to walk around the desert here, note the signs warning of landmines. These are a reminder that walking on the lines is strictly forbidden as it irreparably damages them.
Museo Maria Reiche
When Maria Reiche, the German mathematician and long-term research of the Nazca Lines, died in 1998, her house which stands another 5 kilometres north along the Panamericana Sur, was made into a small museum. Though it provides scant information, you can see where she lived, amid the clutter of her tools and sketches, and pay your respects at her tomb.
This small planetarium in the Nazca Lines Hotel offers scripted evening lectures on the Lines with graphical displays on a domed projection screen. Call ahead or check the posted schedule. These last around 45 minutes.
The most popular excursion from Nazca, this cemetery is 30 kilometres south of the city. It will satisfy any urges you have to see mummies-believe me. Dating back to the Inca-Chincha culture, around AD 1000, the mummies were- until recently-scattered haphazardly across the desert, left by ransacking tomb-robbers. Now they are seen carefully rearranged inside a dozen or so tombs.
A dirt road travels 25 kilometres west from Nazca to Cahuachi; the most important known Nazca center, which is still undergoing excavation. It consists of several pyramids, a graveyard and an enigmatic site called Estaquería, which may have been used as a place of mummification.
Cerro Blanco is the highest sand dune in the world. It resides 2078 metres above sea level and – more importantly – stands 1176 metres from base to summit, higher than the tallest mountain in England. Trips leave from Nazca at about 4:00 am to avoid the intense heat. The arduous climb to the top of the dune (buggies can’t climb this behemoth) takes approximately three hours.
Fly over the nazca lines
The only way to appreciate the full scale of the Nazca Lines is to get an aerial view in a small, low-flying plane. The usual route provides views of approximately 14 figures, including the whale, the monkey, the dog, the hummingbird, the spider and the so-called astronaut. Hiring in advance (and with an additional cost), flight operators can extend the flight time to also soar over the Palpa Lines which include 14 additional figures. Flights depart from airports in Pisco, Ica, and Nazca.
See the Nazca lines from the ground
If you do not like flying, then there are other options to see the Nazca lines without having to enter a small aircraft. On your visit to Nazca, there is much to see and learn about the ancient Nazca civilization. Just outside of Nazca on the Pan American highway, there is an observation tower where you can view the spider, the hands and the condor figures.
Sandboard Cerro Blanco
Cerro Blanco is the world’s tallest sand dune at an elevation of 2078 meters or 6820 feet, and sandboarding these dunes will give the action junkies among you the fix that you need. The dune buggies are unable to reach the top, so you will have to walk 3 hours to reach to top with the sand board in tow, the views are incredible.
The summer months are from November to March and the weather is dry, sunny and hot. Days go from around 15 to 32 C or 58 to 88 F. The winter months are June to August, the coastal fog keeps temperatures down in the cooler months with the average day being 8 to 25C or 46 to 77 F.
What to bring to Nazca
Bring light clothing for the hot days and a light jacket and pants for the cooler months and always remember to use sunscreen.
Nazca airport is only used for flights over the Nazca lines and not for flights from other Peruvian cities.
If you are short on time, travel from Lima to Pisco and take the flight over the lines from Pisco airport and return to Lima the same day.
Being such a small town, most hotels are of walking distance from the main plaza. In case you need a taxi, the fare will be around 3 soles, but remember to get the price before you enter the taxi.
- Remember to stay hydrated, Nazca is in the dry hot desert, drinking plenty of fresh bottled water all day will help you with this.
- If you plan to take the flight over the Nazca Lines, you may experience motion sickness. Being in small aircrafts with lots of turbulence and sharp turns will affect the stomach somewhat. Try not to have breakfast before your flight and only drink water. If you have a reaction to motion sickness, you may want to reconsider the Nazca Lines flight and visit the observation tower.
The Nazca and Ica regions are not dangerous for travelers. However, take the normal safety precautions with your valuables. Take extra care at bus stations and be careful not to be caught paying high prices locally for tours or with people that approach you in the bus station.
Best time to visit nazca
There really is not a best time to visit Nazca, as the city is known as the city of eternal summer. The reason for this is the great climate all year round. High tourist season is December to March when flights operate from 7:00 am to 4:00 pm daily. One tip for your flight is that the turbulence is lower in the morning.
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