Peru’s Nazca Lines are an enduring ancient mystery



photos by julia dimon for metro toronto


An airplane used to take visitors over the Nazca Lines proved to be an adventure in itself.


A sucker for a good unsolved mystery, I booked an early morning flight to see the Nazca Lines of Peru. A UNESCO world heritage site, these strange geometric designs have become a popular tourist attraction in the southwestern part of the country. Every year, curious tourists visit the dusty town of Nazca to fly over the desert and catch a glimpse of the mysterious doodles.

Living in limbo between the Andes Mountains and the Peruvian coast, these ancient geoglyphs are best appreciated by air.

I walked towards a small plane parked along the airstrip. It certainly didn’t look like the safest form of transportation. It was’the kind of plane that could be hijacked by a gust of wind.

Despite a few nagging safety concerns, I climbed in the backseat and nervously bucked my seatbelt. The pilot hopped in, pushed buttons and flicked switches but the plane didn’t start. The battery was dead. A man in a bright orange uniform found a pair of rusty jumper cables, clamped one end under the hood of his car, the other end to the plane’s battery.

True, I don’t know much about planes but this wasn’t the type of aviation protocol I was use to. I sat there concerned and blathering, “Is this safe? Are we ok? Will the engine fail mid-air? Should we be flying? Um, excuse me, Mr. Pilot ... hola, señor?”

The pilot, oblivious to my anxiety, secured the plane and sped full-steam down the runway for take off. Once safely in the air, I forced myself to relax.

A whale.

A monkey with a curly tail.

From this bird’s eye view, you see massive triangles, trapezoids and animal figures carved in precise patterns on the desert floor. They look like kindergarten sketches, doodled in chalk on a sandy canvas — a hummingbird, a condor, a whale, a monkey and, what some say looks like a googly eyed astronaut.

Despite years of scientific research, the Nazca lines remain a mystery. No one knows for sure how they got there, or what they were used for.

Ahighway cuts through the mysterious ancient drawings of Peru’s Nazca Lines.

Were they part of an astrological calendar? Ancient art? A way to communicate with the Gods? Or are these mysterious lines evidence of alien activity? Is this where space ships landed? The Nazca Lines have spawned many theories but few conclusions. While many of the designs were easy to spot, others required a Where’s- Waldo-style scanning technique and lots of patience. For sure, they’re not as awesome as the Pyramids, Machu Picchu or Stonehenge, but you still find yourself asking — how’d they do it?

The “Candelabra” is an awe-inspiring design carved in rock near a town called Pisco.

And just outside of Pisco, a Peruvian town not far from the famous Nazca lines, tourists can find another unusual design, this time carved into rock. It’s called the Candelabra, and it’s so big it can be seen from almost 20 km away.

Though the 45-minute flight is the only way to see the Nazca Lines, it isn’t the smoothest of rides. It was a bumpy flight, with tight turns and that Tilt-A-Whirl carnival feel.

My stomach turned queasy. I closed my eyes, breathed deeply and tried not to vomit. The pilot handed me a brown paper bag. Clearly, I wasn’t the only tourist who’d experienced the warning signs of air sickness. Some tour operators will warn clients about the bumpy flight, maybe even recommend a little Gravol. My tour operator forgot. Luckily, but just barely, I was able to keep my breakfast where it belonged.