The Nazca Lines are a series of ancient giant geoglyphs situated in the Nazca desert in southern Peru, around 400 km south of Lima, created by removing rocks from the sand and piling them up to create vast shapes. They include long, straight lines that go on for kilometres, triangles and zigzags as well as the more known zoomorphic lines, like the spider, the monkey, and hummingbird. As well as being impressive gigantic artwork in the desert, the reason for the continuing interest in them is the puzzling enigma of their origin, which has provided endless material for documentaries! The lines were started over 2,500 years ago, and the people of Nazca most likely carried on etching them for hundreds of years, though present awareness of them only came out in 1926, with the first flights over the region by Mejia Jespe. There are various theories about their origen, one of the strangest being that of Erich von Daniken, who claimed it was a landing strip for aliens! (he writes about this in his book 'Chariots of the Gods'. Other theories include the lines as racetracks for competitions, a map for the Tihuanaco empire, one hypothesis is that the region used to be very abundant and when it turned in to desert the people made the shapes to satisfy the Gods. The person who has contributed the most to the study of the lines is Maria Reiche, a German mathematician who studied the lines for 60 years from the 1930s to her death in June 1998. She had the opinion that the lines comprised of a gigantic astronomical calendar, with the animal shapes depicting the motion of the stars. She built on the work of Paul Kosok, a US scientist who examined the lines in 1941 and considered that the lines were related to the celestial bodies because some lines pointed to the sun at the winter and summer solstices. Current research argues that the lines are associated with water. Inhabiting a very dry desert, water was obviously a very urgent feature in the lives of the Nazca people. There is evidence of a drought around 550AD, a time that corresponds to a rise in line drawing and to the dereliction of close by Cahuachi temples. Alternative religious practises may have occured to satisfy the Gods and to bring rain. It is thought that the extraordinary trapezoids were developed around this time and that they were spaces in which sacrifices were made. The gigantic drawings of animals are speculated to be connected to shamanic practises. There are links between the lines and designs on Nazca pottery which dispay shaman flying. The animal etchings are represantative of the animals that are considered to possess spiritual powers. It is believed that in the times of the drought the people walked on the lines, evoking the powers of the Gods, hence ending the drought. Another current hypothesis is that the lines form a map of sources of water in the area. The theories are endless and continuing and whilst we may never know the truth behind the lines, the puzzle behind the drawings gives them an appealing attractiveness.
There is a compelling lecture every evening at 7pm on the lines at Jr. San Martin 221. Also at the Hotel Nazca Lines has recently built a planetarium with a demonstration every evening at 6.45pm and 9.45pm, explaining the relation to the lines to the celestial bodies.
There are two ways to observe the lines, the better way is by air. Many companies arrange flights over the lines, usually in small cesnas, which typically carry 5 passengers. It is a half hour flight in which you fly over the most well known lines. If there are any specific lines you want to see you can arrange this beforehand. The flight can be quite rough, so you need to be prepared for that. The best time to fly is between 8 and 10pm, and between 3 and 4.30pm, though at times you need to wait for mist to clear in order to see the lines better. Flight prices can change according to the season.
The second option, for those that do not wish to fly, some lines can be viewed from the mirador(look out) on the Pan American highway, though the view from here is not great as you can only see the tree and the hands and the platform is not high enough to see them fully. A taxi is needed to go up there as there is no public transport. The Nazca lines were named as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994.
Location: 420 km. south of Lima.
Altitude: 550 m.a.s.l.