Discovering the Nazca Lines: An Unforgettable Journey

Tucked away in the arid plains of southern Peru, the Nazca Lines are one of the world’s most enigmatic wonders. These ancient geoglyphs, numbering more than 300 figures (70 of which resemble animals and plants) etched into the desert floor by the Nazca people between 500 BC and 500 AD, have intrigued archaeologists, historians, and travelers alike for decades. While travelers can see a few of the mystical drawings from a viewing platform on the Pan-American Highway, the best way to truly appreciate these massive works of art is from the sky. However, the journey to get there can be a frustrating and nauseating adventure that can taint the memory of the lines themselves.

The view of Nazca Line known as The Tree as scene from the Pan-American Viewing Tower.

The Flight Experience: A Window into History

The Lizard
An aerial view looking down on the Pan-American Highway observation tower, The Lizard, The Tree, and The Toad. Notice that the road cut the Lizard’s tail off.

As the small Cessna plane ascends over the Peruvian desert, the excitement is palpable among our six passengers. Below, the arid landscape stretches out, gradually revealing the intricate patterns of the Nazca Lines. Among the twelve Lines, we will see on our 30-minute flight the hummingbird, the monkey, the astronaut, and the spider. These are the most famous of the Nazca lines and each formation stretches for hundreds of feet across the desert floor. The precision and scale of these designs are awe-inspiring, leading many to speculate on their purpose—be it astronomical, religious, or a form of ancient communication (with the aliens 👽).

As the plane tilts to offer a better view, the lines come alive against the stark desert backdrop. The sheer size of the geoglyphs, really only visible from the air, makes one wonder about the ingenuity and determination of the ancient Nazca culture. The pilot provides commentary, pointing out each geoglyph and offering snippets of history and theory, enriching the visual experience with context.

The Astronaut
The Astronaut was my favorite of the Nazca Lines. Carved into the side of this hill sets it apart from the other geoglyphs.

The Frustration of the Nazca Airport

However, the journey to see these magnificent lines isn’t without its challenges. The Nazca airport is a small, bustling hub of activity, and navigating it can be a test of patience at the best of times. The airport’s limited infrastructure struggles to accommodate the influx of tourists eager to witness the lines from above.

Checking In

Check-in is a chaotic affair, with long lines and minimal signage. Passengers jostle for position, eager to secure a seat on one of the small planes. The waiting area is cramped, offering little in the way of comfort or amenities. Delays are common, often due to weather conditions or the sheer volume of flights trying to depart. Communication is nearly non-existent and the airport taxes (there are 2) are absurd.

A Personal Nightmare

The Spider
The Spider is one of the most recognizable Nazca Lines and while it is a bit too realistic (I’m borderline arachnophobic) this isn’t the nightmare I am referring to.

Our personal experience when discovering the Nazca Lines was a nightmare. We were informed that we were good for a 9:00 AM flight the day before only to be contacted at 10:00 PM via email that our flight was bumped (no reason given) to 11:00 AM. Furthermore, we were told the entire trip from the pickup at our hotel to the return dropoff would take no more than 1.5 hours. In reality on a perfectly sunny day with little wind in the morning, our flight didn’t take off until 2:00 PM and we didn’t return to our accomodation until after 3:00 PM causing all kinds of issues with checking out of our accomodation.

Once we finally made it onto the tarmac, the noise from the planes and the heat of the desert sun added to the sense of disarray we had experienced throughout the day. Boarding the aircraft was one of the few orderly things as all passengers had been weighed on check-in and seats were assigned to keep the small plane balanced.

Nazca Flight
Even after a frustratingly long wait we were all smiles when we first boarded our Nazca Flight.

We then took off in the small tin can and at first, all the frustrations and anxiety melted away. The stunning sight of the Nazca Lines, their mystery and beauty, overwhelms all that came before. However, as the heat of the sun beats down on the tiny craft, it quickly becomes a sauna. Add to that the extreme turbulence of the afternoon desert winds and the quick banking turns of the aircraft, and the experience quickly became a nauseous ride for all on board. What at first seemed like a short 30-minute flight became a test of endurance.

Once back on the ground, we recovered from the nausea and reflected on the experience. Was it all worth it? We experienced what a small portion of the world will ever get to. We had a perspective of the Nazca Lines that the creators themselves could have only dreamed of. While the experience wasn’t what we had hoped for, it was still amazing to get to see these massive works of art with our own eyes, and for better or for worse it was a truly unforgettable experience.

The Humming Bird
The Humming Bird is arguably the most recognizable Nazca Line geoglyph.

Tips for a Smoother Nazca Lines Experience

The Monkey
The Monkey is another one of the most recognizable Nazca Lines.

1) Book Early! Book Early! Book Early!

We choose to book our Nazca Flight through PeruHop. PerHop is a great way to travel through the country but booking the Nazca Flight through them was a huge mistake. Even though we booked months in advance they don’t really secure your flight time until the day before making it easy for the company they partner with to bump you in favor of other passengers. Some of this is speculation but that seems to be how the process works as the airport was packed for the entirety of our long day there and we were the last group to fly that day.

2) Book an Early Flight!

The desert heat and afternoon winds will ruin your discovery of the Nazca Lines. Book an early flight to ensure cooler temperatures and less turbulence. The mornings are cooler and the winds are almost always calmer. Book a flight between 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM for the best chance of a smooth ride.

3) Choose a Different Airline

The Condor
The detail and scale of the Condor is truly impressive.

We flew with AeroNazca and I can’t recommend more that you choose a different provider. While the guide was very informative and upbeat, the pilot didn’t attempt to adjust to the way the passengers were feeling at all. He flew the plane as if it were a fighter jet, banking hard nearly constantly. The check-in process from the ground crew was terrible with little to no communication before or after the flight. There are several flight providers for the Nazca Lines and while I can’t say the others will be any better, I can say that AeroNazca was terrible.

4) Pack Light

The small planes have strict weight limits, so carry only essentials like sunscreen, water, and your camera to avoid complications.

5) Stay Hydrated, Wear Sunscreen, & Bring Your Own TP

The desert heat can be intense, so be prepared. Wear sunscreen and bring at least 1.5 liters of water. Bring your own toilet paper as well. It is not uncommon for Peruvian toilets to not have TP.

6) Don’t Forget Your Passport and Money

You must have your Passport to take a Nazca Flight. You will not be able to fly without it. Don’t forget Sols (Peruvian money) to pay the airport taxes. There are two taxes. An airport tax and a tourist tax. Cash only.

Cantalloc Aqueducts
In addition to the N12 Nazca Lines flights typically fly over the Cantalloc Aqueducts. Another of the ancient wonders of the area that can be toured when exploring Nazca, Peru.

7) Don’t Book Other Activities on the Same Day

Nazca Plaza de Armas
The Nazca Line geoglyphs are found displayed all over Nazca including this Hummingbird in the Plaza de Armas.

There were 6 tourists on our flight and we all had other activities planned for the day after the flight. We all lost money because of the last-minute flight changes. If you want to do other tours like The Pyramids of Cahuachi, you should stay multiple days in Nazca. The relatively small remote desert town has a surprisingly vibrant downtown area that caters to tourists with lots of cafes and restaurants. I recommend the restaurant Pepperonis Pizzas Y Más which has a large diverse and tasty selection of dishes.

Discovering the Nazca Lines: An Unforgettable Journey

Discovering the Nazca Lines
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Visiting the Nazca Lines is a journey that blends the frustration of the Purvian system with the awe of these unique ancient wonders. Despite the challenges that can arise in this remote desert town, the experience of seeing these mysterious geoglyphs from the air is a memory that will last a lifetime.

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