The Nazca Lines, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, sit within the Peruvian Desert, about 200 miles south of Peru’s capital city, Lima. They occupy a 37-mile long and one mile wide plain, which lies between the Inca and Nazca Valleys.
The area is known for its intriguing assortment of images drawn in the sand, depicting plants, animals and imaginary beings. Others display a series of geometric figures. Experts at the UNESCO World Heritage site have described the Nazca Lines as one of the “most impenetrable enigmas of archaeology,” based on their size, quantity and continuity.
These depictions are featured in two distinct forms: Biomorphs and Geoglyphs:
“We’re not really sure” is the only honest answer to this question. Despite the ability of scientists and archaeologists to classify the different types of Nazca Lines, they can only offer speculative answers to questions such as “how did they do that?” and “what in the world prompted them to do this?”
The strange appearance and uncertain origin of the Nazca Lines has made them the subject of some unorthodox theories. For example, Erich von Däniken, author of Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past, believes that the Nazca Lines were created as landing strips for alien spacecraft. Scientists have not come across evidence that lends credence to this theory but it is one that gets a fair amount of attention.
When British explorer Tony Morrison researched the folk traditions of the indigenous people of the Andes Mountain Range, he came up with a logical theory about the raison d’etre for the Nazca Lines. Morrison discovered that these indigenous groups had a tradition of building wayside shrines, which were linked by straight pathways. Worshipers moved from shrine to shrine as they prayed and mediated. Morrison argues that the Nazca Lines served a similar purpose on a grand scale, and that the symbolic images along the lines served as enclosures for specific types of religious ceremonies.
Archaeologists have found wooden stakes, which were buried at the end of the Nazca Lines. Logic suggests that these stakes were probably the tools used for drawing the biomorphs and geoglyphs. As for the drawing method, most theories suggest that the Nazca Lines were made by brushing away the iron oxide pebbles that scattered across the desert floor, thereby exposing the white colored sand underneath. If you’ve ever drawn a picture in the sand, you know that within a few days, rain, wind and erosion would destroy your masterpiece. Fortunately, two important factors prevented this destruction:
The Nazca region’s inherent dryness might offer clues about the reasons behind the creation of the geoglyphs. Researchers David Johnson and Steve Mabee discovered that ancient aqueducts, known as puquios, are connected to some of the lines.
Travelers on our tour of Peru can view the enigmatic Nazca Lines during an over-flight excursion in a small prop plane. We recommend spending at least one night and ideally two down in the area of Ica and Paracas, just north of Nazca, from where you can start the over-flight tour. There is a lot to see in this area beyond the Nazca lines, such as the very interesting Ica Regional museum (home to artifacts and mummies from the ancient local cultures, including some of the most exquisite textiles created in the Pre-Columbian Americas), the Paracas Marine Reserve (a mini Galapagos, including the opportunity to see Magellanic penguins), Pisco vineyards, and massive sand dunes (sandboarding is an option for the adventurous). Ica is a 4 hour ride from Lima either by private transfer or first class bus.
It is possible to fly down to Nazca from Lima on a commercial airliner, and then do the over-flight of the lines and fly back to Lima the same day, but this is a lot of travel as a day-trip from Lima and not what we recommend.