Nazca Lines & non-Inca ancient sites, Peru

The Pan-American Highway passing Nazca Lines high tower, the Tree lines and the Hands lines, Nazca, Peru

Nazca Lines: the Pan-American Highway passing Nazca’s watchtower, the Tree lines and the Hands lines. Photo by Unukorno.

What are the Nazca Lines?

Sunset and the Tree seen from the watchtower, Nazca Lines, Peru

Sunset and the Tree seen from the watchtower by Unukorno.

The celebrated ‘Nazca Lines’ are over thirty huge, clearly drawn images – for example a monkey, a spider, a humming bird, a whale, and a humanoid that Eric Von Danniken swears is alien – as well as more than a hundred geometric patterns that are cut into the desert’s stony crust. Sizes vary from 4 metres to 10 kms and all are perfectly drawn. The lines were discovered in 1927, by plane.

The big mystery is that a) they can only be seen from the air, no problem these days if you have $40 to spare, but how many aircraft were there 1, 000 years ago? b) why did the advanced civilisation in Nazca collapse?

Viewing Nazca Lines

The Nazca watchtower, Peru

The watchtower beside the Pan American Highway. Photo by Unukorno.

Even from the ‘watchtower’ beside the Highway 1 the view of the small drawing of ‘The Hands’ is poor, though you do get a good idea of how big the lines are. The lines – drawings and geometric patterns – cover an area of about 450 sq kms.

Nazca Lines and hard desert crust, Peru

Nazca’s Lines dug out of the hard desert crust that sees almost no rainfall. From ground level the lines are unimpressive, though interesting when you know what they look like from way above.

The Nazca Humming Bird seen from 1,000ft, Peru

The Humming Bird seen from 1, 000ft by Unukorno.

To make the trip to this World Heritage Site worthwhile tourists do need to get up in the air at a cost of  at least $50, not to mention putting your life on the line of course. Warning: these light planes crash occasionally, fatally.

Nazca Lines theories

The Nazca Astronaut, of great interest to NASA apparently, Peru

The Astronaut, of great interest to NASA apparently but this photo is by Unukorno.

The most credible theory, propounded by dedicated scientist Dr. Maria Reiche, is that the lines were drawn by the Paracas-Nazca civilisation to match stars, constellations and astronomical cycles, not only as a kind of offering to the gods but also acting as an agrarian calendar. e. g. when a certain drawing was perfectly aligned to a certain constellation it was time to reap the harvest.

Why did the sophisticated Nazca civilisation collapse?

The Monkey, Nazca Lines, Peru

The Monkey with useful visible human bottom left (I think! Could be an alien) to give scale. Photographed by Leupold-Lowenthal.

Fundamentally the expanding Nazca nation were successful farming people who cut down too many trees – especially the unique and desert adapted  huarango tree – for buildings, firewood and to clear space for crops. Large forests of huarangos were cleared, leaving no wildlife habitat and exposing the fragile desert ecosystem. Droughts became severe and when rain came the desert flooded. Flooding was particularly catastrophic and probably terminal due to the El Nino effect around AD500.

The Pan-American Highway

The Pan-American Highway, Peru's Highway 1, south of Lima en route to see the Nazca lines.

The Pan-American Highway, Peru’s Highway 1, south of Lima en route to see the Nazca lines. Photo by Schr.

The Pan-American Highway is about 30, 000 miles (48, 000 kms) of road from (North America) Alaska to (South America) Ushuaia in Argentina, with but one break of 54 miles at the heavy rainforest of the Darien Gap of Panama/Colombia.

This is the desolate but frequently scenic road travellers will find themselves on, driving to another of Peru’s main attractions, the enigmatic engravings of the Nazca Lines.

Getting to Nazca from Lima

Getting efficiently from Lima to Nazca (aka Nasca) and perhaps on to Arequipais a four-wheel job as there is no commercial airport at Nazca, just small-plane flights for a spacey view of the other-worldly lines.

If you can afford it and don’t mind a certain element of risk then hire a car with driver so you can stop on the way at several spectacular locations and go directly to the location of the lines.

Nazca town is small but has plenty of facilities for a comfortable stay of a night or two.
Energetic travellers could head from there on to Arequipa, but ensure the driver is capable of handling the tiring haul from Nazca up to the ‘White City’ in the Andes mountains. Alternatively drive back to Lima and fly to Arequipa.

By Bus

Lima-Nazca town: 446 kms south; 6 hours by bus.

Lima-Arequipa: 1, 010 kms south; 16 hours by bus, commonly overnight, or 45 minutes by plane.

Nazca-Arequipa: 566 kms east; 8 hours by bus.

Nazca-Cusco: 705 kms east; 12 hours by bus.

Paracas-Nazca civilisation

A spiral access path to underground irrigation tunnels in Nazca, Peru

A spiral access path to rain collection and underground irrigation tunnels in Cantalloc. Photo by Yuraqsiki.

The Paracas-Nazca people lived in this part of coastal Peru from roughly 300 BC – 1, 000 AD and developed sophisticated irrigation methods based on hyraulic engineering, with networks of wells, undergound aqueducts and resevoirs. These sophisticated systems offer another modest attraction to entice tourists to the area.

Other Peruvian sites related to Nazca culture

The pre-Inca Nazca cemetary of Chauchilla, Peru

The pre-Inca Nazca cemetary of Chauchilla. Photo by Peter van der Sluijs.

Chauchilla is 17 miles (28kms) south of Nasca town and attracts some interest as grave robbers (huaqueros) have opened up various tombs, though the bugcrew felt that certain locals might have been involved in order to create a tourist ‘attraction’,

Other sights in the area that are just about worth a look depending on your interest levels are the very worn remains of the Cahuachi ceremonial centre and sacred destination for pilgrims (imagination required) 17 miles (28kms) from Nasca town, and the Estaqueria solar observatory archeological complex near to Cahuachi.

Wildlife: Punta San Juan de Marcona Marine Nature Reserve, a peninsula west of Nazca town, is home to large numbers of seals, sea lions, penguins and birds.


Cajamarca is a sizeable, pretty, colonial  city of cultural and commercial importance in the northern Andes. The Incas lost the Battle of Cajamarca here which ultimately led to the complete destruction of the Inca Empire by Spanish conquistadors. The Spanish general Pizzaro displayed a distinct lack of moral compass as he captured the Inca emperor Atahualpa, ransomed him for a room full of gold, then killed him (and not in a nice way) as soon as their demands were met.

Tourists visiting this baroque gem are relatively rare.

Kuelap, Amazonas

Kuelap fortress wall, Amazonas, Peru. Photo Martin St. Amant

Kuelap fortress wall, Amazonas. Photo Martin St. Amant

There are over 550 circular structures in the site, though only the foundations/walls remain. Occasional walls have friezes of geometric shapes, some of which have been restored.

In the south of the site there is a very tall structure known as Templo Mayor in the shape of an inverted cone, in the north a wall 11.5m high and a tower reaching 7m high.