Located about 7 hours drive from Lima, the small town of Nazca lies in the Peruvian desert, close to the country’s south coast. It often serves as a stopping point for travelers on their way from Peru’s capital to Cusco, or vice-versa. At first glance, Nazca may seem to be nothing more than a sleepy desert town. Yet, this land was once home to the ingenious Nazca civilization. Visitors who decide to spend a day or two exploring the rich cultural heritage this empire left behind will find a lot to appreciate.
It is impossible to mention Nazca without conjuring images of the mysterious Nazca Lines. This archaeological site, comprising around 300 of the best-known geoglyphs in the world, was named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. Carved into the desert only a few miles away from the town, the Nazca Lines span an enormous area. The only way to fully appreciate these ancient glyphs is from above, in a small, low-flying plane. The debate surrounding the significance of the lines rages on, generating more questions than answers. To this day, scientists are still scrambling to figure out exactly why the Nazca culture decided to engrave these shapes into the rocky desert. It is fair to say that this lingering mystery forms part of Nazca’s appeal.
Nazca has much more to offer than its famous geoglyphs, though. Dotted across the region visitors will find a plethora of museums and ancient burial and excavation sites. Seasoned history buffs and archeology aficionados are sure to be kept entertained.
It is said that the name Nazca derives from Nannian, the Quechua word for suffering. To understand why, visitors need only imagine living under the harsh desert conditions in the area. Due to severe droughts, historically many people suffered from thirst and malnutrition. That was, of course, until the Nazca civilisation constructed a large network of underground aqueducts. This subterranean system provided the city of Nazca and the surrounding areas with a reliable water supply.
Nazca City is the capital of the Nazca province, located in the region of Ica. It lies approximately 280 miles (450 km) south of Lima; around a 7-hour drive. The city sits on a desert coastal plain, making the immediate area very flat. This vast, level wilderness provided the ideal canvas for the carving of the Nazca Lines. Travel not too far west of the city, however, and the terrain changes, shooting upwards to form the edge of the Andes Mountains. Nazca is also home to one of the tallest sand dunes in the world, Cerro Blanco. This colossal dune measures an astounding 6,820 ft (2,078 m).
With sunny days and scarce rainfall year-round, there is never a bad time to visit Nazca. The most popular time to visit is during summer (from December to March). When traveling during the winter season (June to September), keep in mind that it is best to bring extra layers of clothing. Temperatures can plummet as low as 48°F (9°C) during winter nights in the desert. A good option is to visit during the shoulder season, as temperatures remain mild and cflex flex-wrap -mx-4ds are minimal both in Nazca and Cusco.
Due to the arid climate, the Nazca Lines remain visible from the air throughout the year. Optimum wind and visibility conditions can be enjoyed in the morning. This means that flight tours start early, with the first voyage departing at 7 am. Despite stronger winds in the afternoon, flights do continue until 4 pm.
The most popular bus company traveling between Lima and Nazca is Cruz Del Sur. Buses depart every few hours from the bus station on Javier Prado Avenue in Lima. The journey duration is between 6-7 hours, depending on traffic. Upon arrival in Nazca, the bus station is conveniently located in the city center. It is within walking distance from our top pick hotel in the area, Casa Andina Standard Nazca.
While Nazca does have its own airport, there are no scheduled commercial flights to other cities in Peru. Nazca’s Maria Reiche airport is used solely for chartered tourist flights to see the Nazca Lines. If you wish to glimpse the Nazca Lines without visiting Nazca city, consider a flight from Ica or Pisco airport. These flights circle over the lines and then return to the city of origin, Ica or Pisco. They do not land at Nazca airport.
Ask your hotel or travel agency to organize a private transfer to Nazca city from Lima, Paracas, or Ica. If visiting the Nazca Lines from Lima, it will be necessary to spend the night in Nazca, as the distance between the two destinations is too long for a day trip. If you are traveling from nearby Paracas or Ica, however, it is possible to return to either city on the same day. It will, of course, be beneficial to spend the night in Nazca if you wish to combine the Nazca Lines with other sites in the area.
Between 100 BCE to 800 CE the Nazca culture flourished. Its people set up home in the drainage basin of the Rio Grande, which skirts Peru’s arid coastline. Influenced by the preceding Paracas culture, the legacy of this civilization is impressive. Not only did it create the mysterious Nazca Lines, but it also masterminded a sophisticated aqueduct system. Made up of countless puquios, the system still functions today, providing water to the entire Nazca region.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the Nazca Lines were created during the height of the Nazca culture. It is therefore possible to date the geoglyphs back to between 200 BCE and 500 CE, well before Inca times. The geoglyphs form the outlines of more than 70 animal and geometric shapes. Over 174 square miles (450 square km) of the desolate Pampa region of Peru is covered by these geometric figures. One of the largest shapes, the monkey, measures 277 ft (84.5 m) from outstretched arm to twirling tail. This is approximately three-quarters of the length of a football field.
The immense size and intricate detail of the geoglyphs suggest highly complex calculations. Yet more complex must have been the system of cords used to trace the lines and draw the figures. While scientists have offered explanations as to how the lines were built, very little is known about why they carved them. Most experts agree that the lines relate to the Nazca culture's cosmovision, or their interpretation of the universe. As rain was believed to be a gift from the gods, many theories surmise that the mysterious drawings were intended to be observed by such deities from above. The etchings thus seem to form part of ancient summoning rituals.
Conversely, the lack of rain in one of the earth’s driest spots was in fact crucial for the preservation of the Nazca Lines. As Nazca’s parched desert receives very limited rainfall, the glyphs were not easily washed away. The awe-inspiring figures have thus been able to resist significant erosion over the centuries.
German mathematician and archaeologist Maria Reiche (1903-1998) studied the Nazca Lines intensively. Over the course of five decades, she measured and mapped a majority of the geoglyphs with meticulous precision. She was able to sweep away an accumulation of dark debris covering the lines. This restored many of the enigmatic figures to their original brilliance. Thanks to Reiche’s work, the Nazca Lines became a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
Reiche’s legacy of research lives on, as a planetarium in the town of Nazca bears her name. Her house, in the village of San Pedro, has also been converted into the Maria Reiche Museum. There, it is possible to enjoy exhibits of her sketches and other artifacts. Officials even honored Reiche’s memory by naming Nazca’s airport after her.
Many tourists flock to Nazca for the sole purpose of visiting its ancient geoglyphs. An aerial view in a small, low-flying plane is the best way to appreciate the full scale of the mystifying engravings. Admire figures such as the whale, monkey, dog, hummingbird, spider, and the so-called astronaut.
Visit the museum and former home of Dr. Maria Reiche, who dedicated her life to studying the enigmatic Nazca Lines. Thanks to the German archaeologist’s efforts, the Nazca Lines became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994. Alongside her personal belongings you will find several models of the Nazca Lines, diagrams, maps, drawings, and other artifacts.
If the idea of flying over the Nazca Lines in a small plane doesn’t appeal, take in the view from the observation tower, known as the Mirador. Ascend the steps of this 43 ft (13 m) structure to look out over several shapes etched on the desert floor. The tower boasts views of the Tree, Hands, and Lizard.
With a seating capacity of 40, the Maria Reiche Planetarium is a small venue situated close to the Nazca Lines. Visitors can enjoy informative films about the German archaeologist’s life and the history of the Nazca geoglyphs. The planetarium also boasts a powerful telescope, through which space enthusiasts can attempt to glimpse the wonders of the universe.
Constructed during the Nazca civilization, these sophisticated aqueducts are an example of the culture’s ingenious engineering. These impressive structures enabled the Nazca people to survive in an otherwise barren environment. Over 30 of them still function to this day, helping to irrigate farms in the area. Pay a visit to the countless puquios - spiral shaped entrances to the underground channels. When the aqueducts require maintenance, these entrances provide entry for engineers.
Excavations of this ancient cemetery revealed fascinating burial artifacts, as well as the famous Nazca mummies. The arid climate resulted in the preservation of the bodies of these upper-class religious figures and leaders from the Nazca culture. They even remain in their original tombs.
The archaeological complex of Cahuachi was likely a ceremonial center, in use from 1CE until the decline of the Nazca culture in 500 CE. Choose to explore the site’s geometric buildings on your own or with a professional guide. The complex includes various imposing structures, including a 490 foot (150 meter) long and 90 foot (28 meter) wide adobe pyramid. From this bustling center, the Nazca culture produced fine pottery and intricately woven textiles.
The twisting spine of Cerro Blanco’s summit reaches 6,800 ft (2,070 m). This sandy peak, which lies just outside of Nazca city, has earned itself the title of the world’s second-highest sand dune. For an exhilarating experience, embark on the 3-hour ascent to the top. Enjoy magnificent views of the surrounding desert landscape, before hurtling down the dune on your sandboard.
While the Nazca Lines are a wildly popular tourist attraction, Nazca city does not have the same reputation. Only a handful of tourists visit the town, located deep in the Peruvian desert. For this reason, Nazca city has witnessed very little development until recent years. Even today, accommodation is limited. For comfortable lodgings, we recommend staying at the Casa Andina Standard Nazca. A cozy 3-star hotel, managed by the Casa Andina hotel group, it is sure to be a reliable option.
For those wanting a more luxurious experience, consider spending the night in Paracas. There, travelers will find numerous well-established 5-star resorts and have the opportunity to see the Nazca Lines on a flight from nearby Pisco airport.
La Choza is a local restaurant serving a variety of Peruvian dishes at reasonable prices. Reserve a table in the evening to enjoy live music and a cozy atmosphere. The service is also admirable, adding to the pleasant ambiance. Open 24 hours a day, La Choza is a great option no matter the time your cravings kick in.
Bolognesi 290, Nazca
Founded by four siblings, La Maison Blanche is a family affair. As an environmentally responsible restaurant, their focus is on providing high-quality food in a sustainable way. Here, you can find plenty of delectable vegetarian alternatives, such as mushroom ceviche. They also serve locally sourced fish and meat. Top it all off with an organic cup of Peruvian coffee.
Bolognesi 388, Nazca
A sister restaurant to La Maison Blanche, Mamashana also provides an exquisite selection of Peruvian and international dishes. House specialties include fettuccini a la pachamanca, special arroz chaufa (Chinese-Peruvian fried rice), and juicy lean pork with gratin cheese. Combine any of these meals with the national drink, a pisco sour.
Avenida Bolognesi 270, Nazca
Mom’s Cafe is known by travelers for its relaxed atmosphere and delicious coffee. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a hearty breakfast before a full day of exploration. Conveniently located next to the bus stop, many visitors stop in to grab a warm cup of coffee before departing. The menu includes waffles, scrambled eggs, sandwiches, burgers, and much more.
Calle Lima 168A, Nazca
For travelers wishing to visit the Nazca Lines, but skip other nearby attractions, a trip to Nazca city is not advised. The 14 hour round-trip by car or bus from Lima is too long to be enjoyed as a full-day excursion. This lengthy journey can be easily avoided by taking a flyover tour from the much closer airports in Pisco or Ica.
Spending a night in Nazca city can, however, be rewarding for those with more time to spare. Visitors keen to learn more about Nazca culture can take a short 30-minute flight over the Nazca Lines from Nazca's Maria Reiche Airport. Pair that with other attractions in the area, including burial sites and the Cantalloc Aqueducts. See the "Things To Do in Nazca" section for more ideas.
The Observation Tower, with impressive views of several geoglyphs, is among Nazca city’s main draws. It allows opportunity for a close-up view of the lines without the turbulence of a flight. Travelers with motion sickness, who are intrigued by the mystery of the Nazca Lines, often appreciate this more grounded option.
Nazca is a small town, making it easily accessible on foot. Restaurants mentioned in this guide are within a 5-minute walking radius of the Casa Andina Standard hotel. Equally, the main square, or Plaza de Armas, is a mere 4-minute walk away.
Most of the attractions listed lie outside of the city center and must be reached by car. Most travel agencies will be happy to organize full or half-day excursions to the various monuments. Speak with one of our expert Travel Advisors and let us take care of the logistics for your vacation.
Nazca is a small, relatively safe town for travelers. That being said, take the same precautions you would anywhere in Peru.
Pilots fly at tilted angles and in tight circles to ensure all passengers get the best view of the Nazca Lines. This jerky movement, often paired with turbulence, can make some feel queasy. Travelers prone to motion sickness are advised to plan ahead with medications or remedies to suppress or reduce symptoms. Also, avoid eating a large meal before embarking on the tour.
The safety of your Nazca Lines flight depends on the provider you choose to fly with. There are several representatives offering flights for bargain prices. However, before signing up for a tour be sure to review the safety procedures of the airline. It’s better to pay more for a reputable provider than to compromise your safety.
Our recommended provider complies with the highest safety standards issued by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. All pilots must have several years of experience and complete simulator training each year. Additionally, all of the planes are modern aircraft that undergo routine inspections.
This depends on how you intend to visit the Nazca Lines. If you also wish to visit Nazca city, you will require at least two to three days. The 7-hour trip from Lima to Nazca will take the best part of a day. The following morning, be ready for your 30-minute Nazca Lines flight, as well as any other attractions you wish to visit. Then, choose to stay an extra night in Nazca or take an afternoon bus back to Lima.
Alternatively, you can see the Nazca Lines in just one day if you take a flyover tour from Pisco airport. See our Paracas guide for more information.
Flights operate daily from 7 am to 4 pm. Optimal wind conditions in the morning make this the best time for viewing the Nazca Lines. That being said, the lines can be spotted from a plane at all times of the day.
No, there are no Nazca Lines flights departing from Lima. Any Nazca Lines tour from Lima will first take you to Pisco Airport, about 3 hours’ drive from Lima. From Pisco airport, you can take a 2-hour Nazca Lines flight. In the afternoon, either return to Lima or stay overnight at a seaside resort in Paracas.
Apart from the famous geoglyphs, Nazca is home to some of the top museums and archaeological sites in Peru. Some of the most notable sites include the Cahuachi complex, the Chauchilla Cemetery, or the Cantalloc Aqueducts. Look through the “Things To Do in Nazca” section for more information.
Total flight times vary depending on the airport of origin:
Nazca lies in the Atacama desert, about 280 miles (450 km) south of the Peruvian capital, Lima. The most popular Nazca Lines are etched into the ground on a giant plain near the city. The observatory for viewing some of these lines is about 15 miles (24 km) outside the city. There is another group of lines further north, near the town of Palpa.
The Nazca Lines are a collection of geoglyphs, or ancient drawings, etched into the Nazca desert. Considered to be symbols of Peru, they are a cultural icon and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Based on archeological evidence, the Nazca Lines are thought to date back to the height of the Nazca culture. This was between 200 BCE to 500 CE, making them between 1,500 and 2,200 years old.
Geoglyphs are large, man-made designs or motifs on the earth’s surface. Positive geoglyphs are made by arranging natural objects, such as stones, to form an image. Negative geoglyphs, such as the Nazca Lines, are formed by removing parts of the natural ground. The Candelabra in Paracas is another example of a famous Peruvian geoglyph.
Nowadays it is possible to fully appreciate the Nazca Lines from above in an airplane. However, the ancient Nazca Culture that created the lines existed much earlier than the invention of the first aircraft. The exact purpose behind the creation of the lines has confused scientists since their discovery. After decades of study, historians still don’t have conclusive evidence to give a definite answer to this riddle. This mystery has spawned many wild theories, some even claiming that aliens played a role in creating the lines.
The Nazca civilization engraved the Nazca Lines into the rocky desert ground. We still don’t know the exact reason behind their creation. However, many theories point to there being an astronomical and calendrical function.
The Nazca Lines were engraved by removing the darker layer of stone on the surface of the earth. This process left behind a lighter color of stone to contrast with the darker rock around it. The size and complexity of the lines indicates that many difficult calculations were required to create the lines. A complex cord system was also necessary in order to draw the images and trace the lines.
Nazca takes its name from the Nazca culture that inhabited the area between 100 BCE to 800 CE. This ancient civilization is responsible for the creation of the Nazca Lines, aqueducts, and many objects discovered in the area. Nazca textiles and pottery are displayed in countless museums around Peru, including the Larco Museum in Lima. The decline of the Nazca civilization created a power shift from the coast to the Andes. This signaled the rise of the Wari culture that flourished from 500 BCE to 100 CE.
Yes, the Nazca Lines are visible from space. We know this because the Ikonos satellite picked up the giant spider and spiral during its orbit over the area.
There are 70 impressive animal and plant figures, which are the most popular among tourists. However, 300 geometric shapes and over 800 straight lines also exist.