The Nazca Lines
The Nazca Lines, 22 km north of Nazca, were made by removing the darker sun baked stones and piling them on either side of the line, exposing the lighter soil. Although why the lines were made is still open to much debate, scientists have a fairly strong idea of who made them. The Paracas and Nazca peoples are believed to have created the lines from 900 B.C. to 600 A.D. It is also believed that the Huari settlers from Ayacucho made some additions in the 7th century. There are literally hundreds of lines and geometric shapes that stretch for miles, but most well known are the animals such as a monkey, dog, spider, whale, and several birds including a hummingbird with a wingspan of over 100 meters. There are also the images of a tree, hands, and what is considered an astronaut.
Theories Behind the Nazca Lines
No one is exactly sure what purpose the lines actually served, but there are plenty of theories. First off, Maria Reiche, who studied the lines for 40 years, much longer than anyone else, maintained that the lines were an astronomical calendar. In the 1960´s Gerald Hawkins supported her claim by computing that the two mounds on the Pampa were aligned with the Pleides constellation, however, he believed that the occasional alignments with the sun and moon were mere coincidence. Several scientists such as Von Breuning and Sawyer have claimed that the lines represent running tracks. Author Tony Morrison (Pathways to the Gods: the Mystery of the Nazca Lines, Michael Russel, 1978) thinks the lines were ritual walking paths linking huacas, or sites of ceremonial interest. Isla and Reindel of the Swiss-Liechtenstein foundation mapped the lines for six years using aerial photographs, believed the lines to be offerings to the worship of water and fertility, two important elements of coastal culture.
Far stranger theories are in abundance. Due to the fact that the lines are best seen from the air, that there are local legends of flying men, and pottery has been found with balloonists, American Jim Woodman, believed that the Nazcas flew in hot air balloons. Most recently, the BBC series “Ancient Voices” supported the claim that lines are believed to portray the flight of the Shaman who consumes psychoactive substances such as San Pedro or Ayahuasca (still practiced today) and enters the world of spirits, being physically free like flying. In this way the Shaman can rid the sick of evil spirits. In other words, the lines are not meant to be seen from the sky, but from the minds eye. Erich von Daniken believes the lines to be extraterrestrial landing sites, and believe it or not, many support his claim. There are many theories, each with their own followers, however, despite what any one person may say, there has yet to be any definitive evidence that divulges the secrets of the Nazca Lines.
Seeing the Nazca Lines from the Ground
The lines can be seen from the mirador (lookout) paid for by Reiche, which stands just beside the Pan American Highway 22 km north of Nazca. It is also possible to view from a nearby hill (500 meters from the mirador). From either place it is only possible to see a few of the lines, notably the lizard, the tree, and the hands. The view is difficult to make out. To get there take a taxi guide who can take you to both places ($4.50 per person).
Seeing the Nazca Lines By Air
Several companies in Nazca, as well as in Ica and Paracas, offer flights over the lines from which they are best seen. This is the only way to really appreciate how vast an area the lines are spread and how much work must have been involved in their creation. The planes are small, seating 3-5 people. They take tight turns and can be turbulent. Authors Tip: It is best not to eat just before the flight. The flights last about 45 minutes from Nazca, offer extraordinary views of the desert, mountains, more than a dozen creatures carved on the ground, and countless other lines. Everyone gets a window seat and the pilots who are fluent in English, make loops around every figure to make sure everyone gets the best view. Flights from Nazca average $45 and can be booked just hours in advance. Most leave in the morning from 8 a.m. – 10 a.m. or the afternoon from 3 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. Other hours are windier and planes are usually not able to take off. Every flight includes the BBC film on Nazca beforehand and includes a signed certificate of completion. Every hotel or tourist agency in Nazca can book flights or you can book on the phone or online. Alas Peruanas (523-400, www.nazcalinesperu.net) and Aero Paracas (667-231). Aero Condor also arranges flights from Lima ($260) with a stop for lunch in Nazca.
Did You Know? The Nazca Lines, although they have lay undisturbed for thousands of years were forgotten for some time. It wasn’t until the beginning of commercial aviation came to the area and the pilots reported seeing strange lines in the desert. By this time, however, the Pan American Highway had already been constructed and happens to cut right through one of the lines.