Elevation: 520m / Population: 35,000 / Telephone Code: 056
On an arid plain 22km north of modern day Nasca are the world famous 'Nasca Lines'. Straight lines, abstract designs and outlines of animals are etched on the dark desert surface revealing a lighter colored soil beneath.
Images of birds predominate, some measuring up to 60m across, but there are also outlines of a whale, a dog, a monkey, a spider and a flower. The lines were not 'discovered' until spotted from above by aircraft in 1939. They are thought to have been drawn by the Nasca civilization (which reached its peak about 700 AD).
There have been numerous theories about why the lines were drawn. Maria Reiche, a German mathematician who spent most of her life studying the phenomenon, believed they formed part of a giant astronomical calendar. The more eccentric Eric Von Daniken attributes them to visitors from another planet.
As many of the lines are orientated towards water sources, many people now suggest that they are likely to be processional routes designed to be walked upon as part of the ritual worship of water (a very important commodity in the desert).
The best way to see the lines is to take to the sky. Flights over the lines leave regularly throughout the day on small planes which take between 3 and 5 passengers. The flight should last from 30-40 minutes and cost around $40 plus $2 departure tax per person. The flights can be a bit bumpy with less turbulence in the mornings.
The pre-Inca Nazca people developed a system of underground aqueducts to irrigate the dry lands. Amazingly this irrigation system is still in use and the reason why much of the region has fields of corn, cotton, potatoes and fruit. The Cantalloc Aqueduct is located just 3 km east of Nazca and can be visited as part of a 2 hour tour costing US$20-30.
A popular excursion from Nazca is to the Chauchilla Cemetery located 27 km south-east of the city. If you want to see ancient mummies, skulls and bones scattered across the desert then this is the place for you. The burial ground dates back to around 200 AD and was used over a period of around 600 years. It is an important source of archeological evidence about the Nazca Culture. Unfortunately the cemetery has been extensively looted by grave-robbers (huaqueros) but many corpses, ceramics and textile fragments were left behind.
Organized tours last around 3 hours and cost US$15-30 depending on whether the entrance fee is included and size of the group. Typical departures from Nazca are at 09:00 and 14:30 and can be booked just a few hours in advance. Remember to take light-coloured clothing, a sun hat, sun block and plenty of water as it can get very hot.
Maria Reiche (1903-1998) was a German mathematician who dedicated her life to studying the mysteries of the Nazca Lines. This small museum was actually where she lived and is a tribute to her life and works including her personal belongings, her papers and drawings of the Nazca Lines, her bedroom and even her old kombi. However nothing is clearly labelled or explained so it's best to do a little research before you arrive. Overall, if you have the time, it's worth a vist but not really a "must see" and it doesn't come with a Wow factor. Entrance fee is 5 Soles and you can take photos.
Avenida sw la Cultura 606 (follow Jiron Bolognesi about 1 km east). Informative museum about the surrounding archaeological sites. Houses a collection of textile and pottery. Entrance US$6
Reserva Nacional Pampa Galeras
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