Eight hours south by road from Lima—the second largest desert city in the world—sits one of Peru’s many mysteries: The Nazca Lines. This animal cracker collection of whales, monkeys, birds, and other creatures etched into the arid desert floor has baffled archeologists, locals, and tourists alike since their discovery nearly 75 years ago.
From the ground the etching are indistinguishable, and from the air they appear faded—like artwork left to hang in front of a sunny window. Which makes sense, as the 310 square miles of desert drawings have adorned the landscape for over 2,000 years, sprawled beneath a harsh Peruvian sun.
But as I peer out the window of my small aircraft, nose pressed against the window and hands clinging to my already snug seatbelt, I can’t help but be fascinated by this desert version of Peruvian crop circles. The Nazca Lines are recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but the mysteries of why they were created and for what purpose remains unknown. Theories range from road systems to irrigation paths to alien artwork.
In the decades since their discovery, experts have concluded the lines were created by the Nazca culture, which collapsed around 600 AD. And although this arid region may have contributed to the society’s downfall, the challenging climate is also to thank for the preserved aerial art we have today: the region’s dry and dusty surface made it relatively easy for the Nazca to simply scrap off the top layer of dark rock to reveal the lighter sand and stone beneath. Such creations would not have survived in a lush area, where water likely would have washed the designs away. Yet in Nazca, the art has lasted centuries.
Nazca Lines - Carsten ten Brink
The best way see the Nazca Lines (which consist of 300 geoglyphs, 70 depictions of animals and plants, and 800 lines) is of course by air. Flights operate out of the city of Nazca, but a more pleasurable option takes off from Pisco, right next to the seaside city of Paracas. This option allows you to wake up to a sea breeze, soar over the lines during the day, and return for an ocean dip in the evening.
Thanks to Pete Cable for the title image of this blog.