Two millennia before the Inca would exist to create Machu Picchu in Eastern Peru, the Nazca people ruled the deserts 197 miles (317 km) to the West. The region is scattered with ruins, leaving behind clues to this ancient civilization. Many of these important sights have only been discovered in recent years, leaving anthropologists excited about what more remains unseen. The massive pictures that litter the flat deserts, made up of small rock placements in the ground, are the Nazca’s most famous legacy. But certainly, not their only.
My time in Nazca was a pretty straight forward travel adventure. All excursions were booked 1-2 days beforehand in a small tour agency office found close to the hostel. The only mildly bizarre experience was when I first arrived, the bus dropped us off at night on a random street. This was confusing because I did not know exactly where I was or how to get to housing. There were taxi drivers around, so it was no big deal. I did not know until later that only the two main bus companies are allowed access to the bus terminal in Nazca. If you take a different bus line (to save $) to reach Nazca, they will drop you off a few blocks from the terminal.
My “last day” in Nazca, I got totally sick. I had a fever and was puking everything. I ended up extending my stay for 5 days because I needed to rest and recover. The locals were so sweet and helpful. There was a lovely woman that made me rice and eggs several times, to try to help regain my strength. And the local pharmacist was as thorough as any doctor. She took my temperature, and pulse, questioned me about all of my symptoms and gave me medicine to break the fever. It wasn’t the most pleasant week on my travels, but I was well taken care of and everything turned out fine.
Being sick aside, I really enjoyed Nazca. Many people skip this region when visiting Peru. I honestly think I would have really missed out on something had I not visited the Ica area South of Lima. Ica is the largest city in the region where Nazca is found, about 2 hours away. Many choose to stay in Ica and take day trips to Nazca and other surrounding areas. Instead, I chose to stay in each “surrounding” area separately for a few days because I was less interested in the city.
I made another short video about exploring the Nazca ruins that I have embedded at the bottom of this post.
The first sight I explored were the Nazca aqueducts. Water from the mountains runs deep underground in this very dry climate. For the ancient culture to flourish, they first had to find water, and then create an intricate system to control and obtain it. Their perfect spirals are both beautiful and functional. They oxygenate the water and provide easy passage below to reach the running streams of clean, fresh water.
After a visit to the aqueducts our private guide showed us a handful of other ruins nearby. He gave us our first sampling of “Nazca Lines” that we viewed from the ground. We also saw an old ruin of a government building that the Inca built later, when they would eventually take up occupancy in the area.
If you have been to Peru, you may recognize in one the photos below, the spiral lines in the ground from the official “Peru” logo. I think the ancient Nazca people would be proud to know their work would inspire a nation and travelers far into the future:
Cahauchi was a pyramid built and used by the Nazca for (what anthropologists and historians believe to have been) religious and ceremonial purposes. An extensive collection of ancient Nazca pottery was found during excavation. But there is no evidence that it was a place where people actually lived.
A fun excursion was to a potter’s studio. Artisans of this studio create ceramics entirely using the materials and processes used by their Nazca ancestors 2000 years ago. Of course, it is their hope to sell their products to tourists. But that aside, it was interesting to learn about the ancient process that the modern people of Nazca have chosen to keep alive. The studio had original tools from excavation sites, and they allowed visitors to even handle fragments of 2000 year old pottery.
Chauchilla is a massive ancient cemetery that has been partially excavated to study the ancient culture. All Nazca people were mummified upon death, and placed in tombs with either family members or alone. Pottery and other worldly possessions would be placed with the deceased in their tombs before sealing them off. Today, the site is literally littered by human bone fragments.
Last, but certainly not least, a visit to Nazca is only complete upon viewing the famous and mysterious lines. There is a viewing platform for visitors preferring to save their pennies, or with a fear of small propellor planes. But the only way to get a real feel (in my humble opinion) for the full effect and full images, and to see as many as possible, is by plane.*
Scholars are uncertain about the exact purpose of the Nazca lines. Why were these figures made? Why a monkey, a hummingbird, an astronaut, a tree? Were the exact locations significant? It is generally agreed upon that there is a religious element and they were meant to be visible to the gods in the sky. They likely have a relation to astronomy. Some believe that they act as some sort of astronomical calendar. Others think the lines pointed at or ritualized water, which was such an important scarcity in the desert.
The lines were formed by moving red rocks scattered all over the area and revealing the lighter earth beneath. It is incredible that these delicate figures have survived for 2 millenniums. No group of people that have occupied this region since have chosen to destroy them (which is pretty amazing, considering western civilization was quite destructive upon most new arrivals). And in the desert there have been little extremities in weather, leaving the lines basically untouched.
*It is recommended (by me and all over the internet) that people prone to motion sickness take some sort of anti-nausea tablet 20-30 minutes before take off on these flights.