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The Nasca Lines are one of the most visited tourist attractions of Peru, and for quite a good reason ! Drawn by the Nasca culture
throughout the dry and hot desert of Nasca
, they continue to impress thousands of visitors coming every year due to their size and complexity. The most impressive ones are the ones depicting animals such as birds (giant hummingbirds and condors) and other drawings of a monkey, a spider, a snail, a lizard or a whale.
Mysterious, enigmatic, intriguing, magical, shocking but also ... beautiful and amazing, we lack adjectives to describe the Nasca Lines ! They are found in the middle of the Nasca
desert (department of Ica
), some 360 kilometers south of Lima
, and a few kilometers west from the city of the same name. The Nasca Lines consist of several hundreds of figures and lines drawn during the Nasca culture
, a culture that developed between the years 50 and 700 on the south coast of Peru. The Nasca culture emerged as a continuing process of the Paracas culture
and developed in the valleys of Chincha
and Acari (department of Ica). Both cultures had the same traditions and used the same agricultural techniques. The Nasca economy was based on an intensive agriculture, a real challenge in this extremely barren and desert region. Just as the Paracas culture did before, they used irrigation channels coming from the Andean rivers and from underground galleries tapping the shallow groundwater.
Dating of the Nasca Lines has been complicated due to the lack of organic bodies allowing for a Carbon 14 dating technology. However, some of the figures' shapes have similarities with motifs found on the Nasca
pottery and have therefore been associated with this pre-Inca culture from the very beginning. In recent years, a new dating technique has been developped, based on a mass spectrometer technology which uses microscopic organic material trapped in the stones of the lines, allowing to date them between 550 and 650 AD.
How did they manage to survive afor about 1500 years in the open air without any protection ? This can be explained by the very special weather and geological conditions of this part of the Peruvian coast. First, the Nasca
desert is one of the driest places in the world, years can go by without rain. The lack of rain has prevented the shallow lines from being erased by run-off water over the dry soil. Second, although the lines are close to the coast and should normally have been covered by sand transported by wind from the coastline, another phenomenon typical of this part of the coast prevented this as well. Interestingly, due to the dark color of the rocks and to the specially strong sun rays of this area there is a strongly increase of the temperature at ground level that creates a cushion of air and diverts the surface winds a few inches above the lines, which have protected them from sand covering them and erosion. All the sand has been deposited several kilometers north of the plain, forming spectacular sand dunes.
Discovery and research on the lines
The first person in modern times to catch a glimpse of the lines was the American archaeologist Paul Kosok, who flew over the south of Peru by plane studying the ancient irrigation systems in the region. But the most famous figure associated with the lines is undoubtedly the German mathematician Maria Reiche, born in 1903 in Dresden, Germany. She arrived in Peru for the first time in 1932 and the first thing that impressed her was the splendor and beauty of the Andean landscape. In 1936, she returned to her country and a year later, in late 1937, came back to Peru. In Lima
, she met Kosok who told her about the lines. Ever since 1946, she began a life dedicated to the study and reasearch of the Nasca lines. For almost 50 years, she studied and looked after them fighting for their protection, sometimes even investing her own funds. Finally, she had to leave the desert and the research of the lines she so loved, blinded by the countless hours spent under the sun while she studied them. In 1992, at age 89, she was granted the Peruvian nationality. Her words at that time, were the following: "I am chola, especially now that I have Peruvian citizenship ..." She received many decorations and awards for her important work on the Nasca Lines. She died in 1998 in Ica, at age 95. Due to the amount of years spent in the Nasca
desert she was called "La Dama del Desierto" (The Lady of the Desert) or else "La Dama de la Pampa" (The Lady of the Pampa). Fortunately, she was still alive to receive the good news of the lines being declared "World Heritage Site" by UNESCO in 1994.
There are all sort of designs, from simple geometric lines to more complex ones, depicting animals, plants, human shapes, and mazes. The most famous are certainly the figures. But by far the most numerous are the lines and geometric shapes. Some of these even measure up to several hundred meters. The straight lines were drawn with a dazzling perfection, with small deviations alongside. They seem to come from nowhere and lead nowhere, yet studies show that several of them point towards astronomical milestones such as solstices and equinoxes, and others point to important hills of the region. But actually, the majority does not point to any particular direction and up to now there is no plausible explanation for their meaning.
Experts still disagree as to their use and some explanations are not to be taken very seriously : astronomical calendar, irrigation channels, religious and spiritual circuits and even ... runways for alien spacecrafts ! However, water being a very important element in the daily life of the Nasca culture
considering this arid environment, a good explanation of why some lines are oriented towards the hills could be based on their worship of mountains, which were, according to their beliefs, responsible for the water to fill the dry riverbeds. These beliefs are not, at first sight, unfounded, considering that water coming from rain and snow flows down from the mountains. Another good reason supporting the theory of their worship of mountains, is the existence of an incredibly complex system of underground aqueducts built in order to capture groundwater and carry it to the fields for their crops, as the rivers throughout the region are usually seasonal and dry most of the year. These aqueducts were an extensive network of channels and still exist today. Many of them are still operating the days and irrigate large areas of crops. Many of these channels begin within some of the mountains which would explain their attributing the water control as logical and natural step.
Technique used to draw the lines
Technique used to draw the lines
The figures, by far the most famous, represent animals, plants, human forms, mazes and geometric designs. Among them is the Hummingbird, the Monkey, the Spider, the Giant Bird, the Whale, the Hands, the Dog, the Astronaut and the Spiral. Some of them are over 200 meters long !
In order to be able to draw these lines and these large-scale figures so perfectly, the Nasca
people must have had a great command of geometry, developed over centuries to build temples, irrigation channels and other works of importance. The complex Paracas
and Nasca textiles show that their creators had an unquestionable empirical knowledge of modular measures, and of how to increase and reduce procedures. On this assumption, it has been deduced that they used reduced scale models of which they would make a larger version through a complicated rope system.
To make the lines, they simply removed a thin layer of dark reddish pebbles (caused by oxidation) covering another layer of a light yellowish color. The color difference between the two layers allows the lines to be visible from a great distance. Actually, seen from nearby, the outlines become simple shallow furrows in the soil.
The lines are best seen from the air, it is therefore recommended to take a tour in a light aircraft to fly over the lines. The flight from the airstrip Maria Reiche Nasca
can last from 30 minutes to an hour depending on the tour you have hired. You can also hire flights departing from the city of Pisco
Another option, cheaper, to see some of the lines is to climb up the 30 meters high lookout tower located at kilometer 420 of the Southern Panamericana Highway. From that spot you can only see the "Hands" and the "Tree".
To see all the agencies with tours to the Nasca Lines, you can click here
The Nasca Lines are located 25 km northwest of the center of Nasca
and 97 km southeast of Ica
. The lookout tower is located 26 km of the center of Nasca
by road (+/- 20 mn) and 125 km of Ica
by road (+/- 2h).
District : -
Province : Nasca
Department : Ica
Coordinates : -14.72660, -75.14160
How to get to Nasca
How to get to Nasca by bus :
: Between 7 and 8 hours. To see a list of bus companies, click here
: Between 2h and 2h30. To see a list of bus companies, click here
: Between 9 and 11 hours. To see a list of bus companies, click here
: Between 14 and 16 hours. To see a list of bus companies, click here
Hotels : For a complete list of hotels, you can click here
Restaurantes : For a complete list of restaurants, you can click here
Tours : For a complete list of tours, you can click here
Pubs and clubs : For a complete list of pubs and clubs, you can click here
Transporte : For a complete list of transport companies, you can click here
Nearby tourist attractions
Nearby cities :
: 26 km (by road)
: 125 km (by road)
: 192 km (by road)
: 195 km (by road)
Major cities :
: 436 km (by road)
: 591 km (by road)
: 635 km (by road)
: 891 km (by road)