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Epic Drives: The Death Road in Bolivia

This post is part 3 of 3 in the series Epic Drives

This 23 mile (37 km) stretch of dirt road in the mountains north of La Paz, Bolivia may be the most notorious death road in the world.

Beginning of North Yungas road, Bolivia's death road.

The North Yungas Road, aka the Death Road, in Bolivia was once the most dangerous road in the world.

Driving the Death Road in Bolivia

Right out of La Paz, the paved highway climbs to 15,260 feet (4,651 meters). After cresting La Cumbre pass, we traveled 19 miles (30 km) down the highway to 10,433 feet (3,180 meters) and the beginning of the North Yungas Road, also known as Bolivia’s Death Road.

Driving north yungas death road Bolivia

The entrance to Bolivia’s Death Road.

There are two entrances to the Death Road and they’re very close together. They both get you there, but the first turn off you come to when traveling from Lima (you’ll see a beat up old sign) seemed slightly less rough.

Check out our video, below, taken with our Brinno camera mounted on the dashboard of our truck as we drove Bolivia’s Death Road.

The 23 mile (37 km) road drops about 6,820 feet (2,080 meters) and ends in the valley below the town of Cocoiro where the dirt North Yungas Road rejoins the paved highway.

Vehicles in both directions are required to travel on the left hand side of the Death Road so that the driver is on the outer edge of the road instead of the center-line. This allows drivers to more safely maneuver as close as possible to the cliff-edge or mountain wall when passing another vehicle. If you’re traveling from Lima toward Cocoiro you will be driving on the cliff side of the road.

North Yungas Death road Bolivia

The scenery is stunning along Bolivia’s Death Road.

The road is all dirt but it was in very good condition when we were there. It’s single-lane in many places, there are some blind corners, and there are areas were water is cascading onto the road from the hills above.

However, the road also has guard rails now and we saw just two other vehicles during the 1.5 hours we were on the road. There are a few tiny settlements along the way and there’s a 5 BS (about US$0.72) fee per car to drive the road. 

Our receipt for the 5BS per car fee you have to pay when you drive Bolivia’ Death Road.

A new paved highway to Cocoiro was built in 2007 which greatly reduced the number of vehicles on the old Death Road. This means that Bolivia’s infamous Death Road, where hundreds of people died in traffic accidents, is really not all that dangerous anymore. 

Before the new highway was opened in 2007, the North Yungas Road, aka the Death Road, carried a lot of traffic and was the most dangerous road in the world. Photo: Wikicommons

The Death Road is now used almost exclusively by travelers who’ve signed up for a downhill biking adventure. A dozen or so bikers still die on the road each year and if you drive the Death Road in the morning there will be bikers on the road along with your vehicle. Most bikers are gone by the afternoon.

Biking Bolivia's death road.

Travelers on a guided downhill bike trip make up the majority of traffic on Bolivia’s Death Road these days.

A chilling Death Road back story

Bolivians we’ve spoken with say that the Death Road is called that not because of the substantial number of fatalities from accidents on the road fatalities but because opponents of the government were thrown off the road in to the gorge to certain death below during Bolivia’s bloody revolution in the 1950s.

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Behind the Lines – Archaeological Sites in Nazca, Peru

The overwhelming majority of people who travel to the town of Nazca, Peru come to see the famous Nazca Lines. We did too, exploring the Nazca Lines from the air and on the ground. But the area also has many archaeological sites that helped us understand a little bit about the Nazca people who were the ones behind those famous lines in the first place.

Nazca lines hummingbird colibri picafloe

The Hummingbird, one of the most famous of the Nazca Lines.

The archaeological sites in Nazca, Peru

There are tour companies in Nazca (spelled Nasca in Peru) who will take you to the archaeological sites around the city, but we drove our truck (as usual).

Grave Chauchilla Cemetery Nazca

Incredibly well-preserved mummies like these can be seen in situ at the Chauchilla Cemetery archaeological site near Nazca.

The Chauchilla Cemetery site (8 PEN or about US$2.50), in the desert about 20 miles (30 km) from town down a sand road in good condition, is a remarkable spot. Here more than 30 extremely well-preserved mummies can be seen in situ, still resting in their graves which have been excavated and opened for viewing.

Mummies Chauchilla Cemetery Nazca

The mummies at the Cahuchilla Cemetery still have hair and skin and many have long ropes of hair or fiber draped over them as well.

Mummies Chauchilla Cemetery Nazca

Mummies with pottery burial objects at the Chauchilla Cemetery archaeological site near Nazca.

A winding path connects the burial chambers where the skeletons of men, women, and children sit in a crouched position, their remains still covered in the textile shrouds they were buried in.

Researchers believe the cemetery was established in 200 AD and bodies were buried here over the next 600-700 years. Most of the bodies still have hair on their skulls and some are draped in what looks like long dreadlocks, but which may be twisted fibers. Many also still have skin on their bones thanks to the dry conditions and what may have been expert mummification work by the Nazca.

restoring tomb Chauchilla Cemetery Nazca

A worker restoring a tomb at the Chauchilla Cemetery.

There’s a small museum here as well which displays pottery and more mummies (Spanish only).

Museum Chauchilla Cemetery Nazca

The mummified remains of a child in the small museum at the Chauchilla Cemetery archaeological site.

The Cahuachi archaeological site is about 20 miles (30 km) from Nazca. There are two routes to the site and both require nearly 10 miles of driving on a bad road. If you turn at the Mojoja Hotel sign you’ll be on a road that’s less washboarded, but much rockier than the other route. Pick your poison. Once at the site (free) you will likely be met by Pablo, the man who has been the caretaker of this remote site for more than 15 years.

Cahuachi archaeological site Nazca

Excavated building foundation at the remote (but worth it) Cahuachi archaeological site.

For a small tip Pablo will explain the basics about the more than 30 structures here (in Spanish) which are spread over a vast area which was believed to have been a ceremonial site or a pilgrimage site that flourished until it was abandoned in 500 AD. Then you’re free to walk around the excavated foundations and some re-constructed areas. Pablo believes the Nazca Lines point to the Cahuachi site.

Not far from Cahuachi is the Estaquieria site (free). There’s not a lot to see here except the jagged remains of more than 200 wooden posts which remain stuck in the ground at evenly spaced intervals. Did the posts support a massive roof? Were they used to chart the movement of the sun or the stars? Or were they, as some speculate, used to begin the mummification process?

Estaquieria archaeology site Nazca

Hundreds of wooden poles remain planted in the earth at the eerie Estaquieria archaeological site. Their use remains a mystery.

Grave Robbers Estaquieria archaeology site Nazca

Looters around the Estaquieria archaeological site have dug up the earth, revealing bones, pottery shards, and even textiles.

Grave robbers have pillaged the area around the wooden pillars and bones, pottery shards, and pieces of fabric can be seen littering the ground. It’s an eerie site with a burned-out and deserted feeling. We saw no one else out there. 

Just a few miles out of Nazca, the Aquaducto Cantalloc site (10 PEN or about US$3 which also gets you into the nearby Los Paredones and Las Agujas sites) is both beautiful and astounding.

Cantalloc Aqueduct- Nazca

These spiral constructions combine form and function at the Aquaducto Cantalloc site near Nazca.

Here the Nazca people meticulously engineered and built 21 spiral holes which descend into the ground. They look like the art of Earthworks artists like Robert Smithson and Andy Goldsworthy, but they served a very serious function.

Cantalloc Aqueduct- Nazca

Part of the ancient aqueduct system at the Aquaducto Cantalloc site.

Researchers believe these stone and earth spirals were part of an elaborate irrigation system along with a network of flumes and aqueducts. The system is still being used to irrigate nearby fields.

Aquaducto Cantalloc Nazca

Karen at the bottom of one of the spirals at the Aquaducto Cantalloc site.

This aqueduct system is even more impressive from the air so check out our drone travel video footage, below.

One of the most accessible archaeological sites is Los Paredones (The Walls) which is near town on the side of the highway leading from Nazca to Puquio. Here a trail leads up and around a hill past some rebuilt structures and many low walls (hence the name).

Los Paredones was built by the Incas, not a Nazca site, in the 1400s and is thought to have been an administrative site between inland areas and the sea. The same 10 PEN (US$3) ticket also gets you into the nearby Aquaducto Cantalloc and Las Agujas sites. 

Los Paredones archaeological site Nazca

Structures at the Los Paredones site were built by the Incas.

Just a few blocks from the central plaza in Nazca you will find the well-curated Museo Didactoco Antonini (15 PEN or about US$4.60). Inside is a great collection of pottery and textiles created by the Nazca people, much of it from the Pueblo Viejo, Estaqueria, and Cahuachi sites. Descriptions are all in Spanish. Visit the back garden to see sections of old aqueduct and some peacocks.

 Museo Didactoco Antonini

Part of the pottery collection at the Museo Didactoco Antonini in Nazca, Peru.

 

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Eating Our Way Through Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants (Part 2)

When we published our first post about eating our way through Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants we included a hit list of ranking restaurants that we hoped to visit soon. We’re delighted to report that our travels have taken us to three of the heavy hitters on that wish list including Maido which is the #1 restaurant in Latin America according to the 2017 list.

Eating our way through Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants

When the 2017 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants was released we were happy to see Colombian chef Leonor Espinosa’s Restaurante Leo continued to rank high. She also took home honors as the Best Female Chef in Latin America for 2017. Harry Sasson Restaurant, also in Bogotá, moved WAY up the list and in Lima, Central dropped one spot to #2 to make room for Maido to rise up to #1.

Maido restaurant Lima Peru

Maido – Lima, Peru

We were excited to finally get a tasting menu reservation at Maido just a few months before it took over the #1 spot (and #8 on the list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants). Unfortunately, that excitement didn’t last long.

We’ve had a lot of tasting menu meals in Lima and around the world and they’ve all had one thing in common: a story that’s subtly told as the meal becomes a journey guided by the hand of a chef with a point of view. Sadly, our 13-course tasting menu at Maido (one of the most expensive in Lima) was little more than a long series of small plates (you can see some of them above) brought quickly and mostly without much explanation, context, or a sense of Chef Mitsuharu Tsumura or his vision.

Don’t misunderstand. The food was very good. The famous fish hot dog was playful and satisfying and the raw fish courses (toro nigiri topped with a quail egg, for example) were so outstanding that we wished we’d skipped the tasting menu and booked two seats at the bustling sushi bar instead. The skill and top-notch ingredients in the kitchen were very apparent. What was missing was soul.

Even great restaurants can have a bad night and we’re willing to attribute our disappointment at Maido to an off night and, perhaps, a touch of over hype.  But no customer should leave one of world’s most highly acclaimed restaurants feeling rushed so they could turn the table. 

 

Casa do Porco - Sao Paulo, Brazil

A Casa do Porco – Sao Paulo, Brazil

This place rose to #8 from its debut last year at #24. That’s a big jump but we’re not surprised. When we ate at A Casa do Porco we were blown away by the porky goodness being created by Chef Jefferson Rueda (pictured above with some of his plates) who cooks a pig (porco in Portuguese) like no one else.

Pork sushi rolls (yes! raw pork!), pig foot soup, his take on steamed pork buns, meaty deep-fried chicharron cubes topped with guava pepper jelly and micro greens, succulent whole-roasted pig served chopped with grilled greens, polenta, and creamy beans…We could go on and on.

Insider tips: Go for lunch in the late afternoon for the best chance of getting a table (A Casa do Porco does not close in the afternoon like many restaurants do and they do not take reservations). And though all menu prices are remarkably reasonable, if you’re on a tight budget, grab a fantastic pork sandwich on a homemade ciabatta roll from the restaurant’s to-go window on the street. At R$15 (about US$4.50), it’s a delicious steal.

And find a way to save room for dessert. Saiko Izawa, the pastry chef at A Casa do Porco, was named Best Pastry Chef in Latin America for 2017.

 

La Mar – Lima, Peru

This chicly casual cebicheria, created by Peruvian celebrity chef Gastón Acurio, is an institution in Lima. And for good reason. The ceviche we ate at La Mar puts all other ceviches on notice. The Tiradito Andino (sliced marinated raw trout with artichokes, bamboo sprouts, and avocado), sizzling huge shrimp in clarified butter, grilled octopus…it was all amazing (as you can see, above).

The inventive chilcanos (a classic Peruvian cocktail made with pisco and ginger ale) were fun without being foofy. The restaurant, #15 on the 2017 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, only serves fresh and sustainable fish and seafood sourced from like-minded fishermen and co-ops, so chef Andrés Rodríguez’s menu changes based on what’s available. The sommelier was amazing and the waiters were knowledgeable and proficient in English (if you need that). We would eat at La Mar every day if we could.

 

Astrid y Gastón – Lima, Peru

Gastón Acurio is the only chef with two restaurants on the 2017 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. In addition to La Mar, his flagship restaurant, Astrid y Gastón is ranked at #7. This place is an enduring classic for a reason: historic building, eclectic design, great people watching, and impeccable Peruvian favorites. Standouts from our nine-course tasting menu (some of which you can see, above) included guinea pig Pekinese, confit suckling pig, and a ceviche made with sour orange.

It’s a lot of rich and complex food and at one point we were so stuffed that we took a break and wandered around the 300-year-old mansion to marvel at original tiles and breezy gardens. Then came an avalanche of desserts created by Gastón’s wife Astrid (the box in the photo above is bursting with chocolates). This is not a complaint, just fair warning.

 

Gustu - La Paz, Bolivia

Gustu – La Paz, Bolivia

The #14 restaurant is in La Paz, Bolivia and is that country’s only ranking restaurant. Gustu is almost militantly Bolivian, using and serving only ingredients grown or made in Bolivia. This is not a limitation but a challenge to the talented staff, many of them trained at culinary schools opened by the philanthropic arm of Gustu.

We ate at Gustu twice, first for their 10-course tasting menu (many of those courses are pictured above) which featured raw llama, quinoa, dry aged beef, amaranth “caviar”, and much more in dishes that were somehow rustic and polished at the same time. We later returned for lunch which offers a choice of three appetizers and three mains including meat, fish and veg options, then dessert for 95BS (about US$14). It’s an incredible value. Eat lunch at the bar to be closer to Gustu’s excellent selection of Bolivian craft beers, spirits, and wines.

 

Rafael restaurant Lima

Rafael – Lima, Peru

It took us a strangely long time to get to Peruvian chef Rafael Osterling’s eponymous Rafael restaurant, even though there’s one in Bogota and one in Lima. Rafael in Lima is #24 on 2017 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants and during a recent dinner visit we fell in love with the casual, modern decor including a pleasingly rambling collection of modern art (loved the 1960s canvas folding beach chair folded and hung on the wall in all it’s graphic and utilitarian splendor).

The bar (where a tapas menu is available) has an impressive selection of libations including a number of bourbons (a rarity in much of Latin America). This inspired us to order a Wonder Woman cocktail with Buffalo Trace bourbon and smoky Laphroaig Scotch. It was splendid. The menu is wide-ranging with something for everyone and a long list of daily appetizer and main course specials. The eating started with a basket of chewy bread with topping choices including organic butter, goat cheese cream, and thin slices of mild pastrami pork.

With so much choice, placing our meal order took some time, but wait staff was patient and helpful (including English) and we never felt rushed. We shared a tuna tiradito started that came already split onto two beautifully presented plates. The sauce was lively and the sliced, raw fish nearly melted in our mouths. The most beautiful plate we ordered was cloud-like gnocchi (the pastas are homemade too) in a goat cheese sauce with cherry tomato halves and thin-sliced radishes. Confit pork came in two luscious squares on a bed of creamed cauliflower. The confit grouper on squid ink rice with scallops and shrimp was the most surprising and satisfying dish – essentially an elegant deconstructed paella.

The extensive dessert menu is full of temptations. Go for it, but leave room for the small bites of elegant sweets brought before your check.

 

Next up: Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants hit list

We’re still hungry. Here are some of the restaurants on the 2017 list that we’re looking forward to visiting soon.

Lima has 10 restaurants on the 2017 list – the most of any city in Latin America. We’ve eaten at seven of them. Other Lima restaurants that are squarely in out sights: Amaz (#47) and Malabar (#30), both from Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, and Fiesta from Chef Hector Solís (#46).

Sao Paulo, Brazil has six restaurants on the 2017 list and we’ve only eaten at one of them. On the top of our Sao Paulo hit list is D.O.M. at #3 on the Latin list and #16 on the 2017 list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. But we’ll be saving room for Maní (#9), Mocotó (#27),  Esquina Mocotó (#41), and Tuju (#45) as well when we return to Sao Paulo.

 

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Our Latest Work: Manaus, Lima, the Galapagos, Machu Picchu & More…

We just realized that we haven’t published a post about Our Latest Work in a really, really long time. We can fix that. Our most recent freelance travel stories are about Lima, Peru for the Delta Sky Magazine, Manaus, Brazil for CNN Travel, and the Che Guevara trail in Bolivia for the website for the Biography channel.

Delta Sky Magazine - Lima

If you’re on a Delta Airlines flight this month, check our first story for Delta Sky Magazine which where to eat, sleep, and enjoy in three great neighborhoods in Lima. Or read it here

CNN Manaus

This guide to the best things to do in Manaus, Brazil is our first story for CNN Travel. 

 

Bio.com che in Bolivia

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the death of Che Guevara, Bio.com published our story about touring the tiny Bolivian town where he was secretly buried

 

T+L Guide to galapagos Islands

Here are some favorite stories of ours which were published earlier in the year, including our all new Travel Guide to the Galapagos Islands for Travel + Leisure

 

Good - Peruvian chef Ocampo

We were delighted to write about Peruvian Chef Palmiro Ocampo and his quest to reduce food waste and hunger for Good magazine. 

 

T+L Guide to Machu Picchu

We also updated Travel+ Leisure’s Travel Guide to Machu Picchu, Peru’s most famous (and most complicated) destination. 

 

Afar - Travel Fails

Then there was our quick and funny (we hope) piece about real-life Travel Fails for Afar magazine. 

 

And if going green (er) is your thing, check out our story about cutting-edge eco measures in the Galapagos which was published in newspapers across Canada. 

 

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Exploring the Nazca Lines on the Ground – Nazca, Peru

The Nazca Lines, which were made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, are best seen on a Nazca Lines flightseeing tour because the mysterious man-made figures and designs are so big that you need get high above them to see the whole picture. However, there are a bunch of ways to explore the Nazca Lines on the ground too.

Nazca lines Peru

Welcome to our ground tour of the Nazca Lines.

Exploring the Nazca Lines on the ground

Heading out of Nazca on the Pan-American Highway you will pass through a toll booth. About 10 miles (16 km) past the toll booth you’ll see a dirt road to the left. Take it, then  walk up a low hill from which you can look down on a massive plain full of straight lines and geometric shapes. The spot is spectacular at sunset. 

Nazca lines at sunset

Try to be at this hill, with views over geometric Nazca Lines, around sunset.

Get back on the PanAm and continue about one more mile away from town and you’ll reach a viewing platform on the side of the PanAm (3 PEN or about US$0.90). A steep flight of stairs leads up to a top deck where you can look down on The Hands and The Tree. The view of these glyphs from the platform is not as spectacular as it is from a flightseeing tour, but it does give you a different perspective.

Nazca lines tree from observation tower

The Tree seen from the observation tower on the side of the PanAm Highway just outside of Nazca.

Nazca lines hands from observation tower

The Hands seen from the observation tower on the PanAm Highway just outside of Nazca.

Continue 2 miles (3 km) further down the PanAm to reach the small Maria Reiche Museum (10 PEN or about US$3) which tells the story of the German mathematician who studied and protected the Nazca Lines for decades, following on from work done by Peruvians which began in the 1920s. Pictures of Maria in the museum, which is in her former home, show a woman who looks tough as nails even as she’s mapping the decorated desert in a skirt.

Maria Reiche Museum

This van was used by Maria Reiche, aka the Lady of the Lines, as she mapped and advocated for the Nazca Lines. We love that the van has “Nazca Lines Security” painted on the door.

Maria, who some people call The Lady of the Lines, also built the viewing platform over The Hands and The Tree. She is credited with mapping the lines and fighting for their protection right up to her death in 1998. She’s buried on the museum grounds.

Maria Reiche Nazca lines observation tower

A still from our drone footage over the observation tower overlooking The Tree and The Hands.

Head about 3 miles (5 km) north of Nazca on the road that goes into the mountains toward Cusco and you’ll find a group of glyphs called Telar de Nazca (The Loom of Nazca). After walking up a small rise at this site (10 PEN or about US$3) you can look down on a formation called Las Agujas (The Needles), but the best part is the view of the massive Cerro Blanco in the background.

Cerro Blanco is said to be the world’s highest sand dune at 8,884 feet (2,708 meters), though a dune in Oman and another in Namibia have also been called the world’s tallest. Guided trips take travelers up the dune (about a three-hour hike) before sand boarding down.

The Needles Lineas telar Nazca

The Needles.

Cerro Blanco sand dune Nazca, Peru

Cerro Blanco, near Nazca, is said to be the world’s highest sand dune at 8,884 feet (2,708 meters).

Not Nazca

Nazca isn’t the only town with massive, mysterious glyphs. Continue past the Maria Reiche Museum on the PamAm away from Nazca and you’ll see a turn off to the left that leads to another viewing platform. This one is positioned over a configuration of glyphs on a hillside called The Family (2 PEN or about US$0.65). This set of glyphs was not included in our flightseeing tour at all and was not made by the Nazca people but by the Paracas people.

Oaracas Royal family Palpa lines Nazca

The Family glyph, part of the Palpa Lines made by the Paracas people, as seen from an observation tower.

Additional figures Paracas Royal family Palpa lines Nazca

Additional glypsh near The Family.

Return to the PanAm and keep traveling away from Nazca to the nearby town of Palpa to find more of the so-called Palpa Lines made by the Paracas people. Follow the signs that lead you out of town and down a short dirt road to arrive at a hilltop viewing platform over a glyph called The Sundial.

Sundial Palpa Lines Nazca Reloj solar

The Sundial, as seen from a hilltop observation tower in Palpa.

Palpa is also known for its oranges, so be sure to stop for a glass of fresh squeezed juice at on of the roadside stands.

Our drone video, below, will give you a look at The Clock, along with The Hummingbird, The Tree, The Hands, The Family, and The Spider.

The Nazca Lines under threat

New glyphs are still being discovered in Nazca and despite protections, all of the glyphs are still threatened. When the PanAm Highway was built it bisected some glyphs and we can’t help but wonder what the Nazca spirits (or the aliens) think of this new never-ending line among their own. Wind continues to erode the glyphs and humans are still doing damage as well. In 2014 Greenpeace, for example, apologized for damage done to the The Hummingbird glyph by activists who unintentionally walked over it to install a message about climate change.

Where to sleep in Nazca

It must be said that the dusty, ramshackle town of Nazca is pretty grim, but thousands of travelers come anyway to see those famous lines. That means there are a lot of hotels in town from extremely basic hostels to higher end offerings catering to organized tour groups.

Somewhere in the middle is B Hotel Nasca Suites (doubles around US$40). Opened in 2017, this place is right across the highway from the airport (convenient for morning flight seeing) but about a mile from town. There’s a pool and full breakfast included, along with Wi-Fi, and more style than most mid-range places in Nazca.

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Flightseeing Over the Nazca Lines – Nazca, Peru

People travel to the town of Nazca (spelled Nasca in Peru) to see the famous Nazca Lines and marvel at their mass (up to 1,200 feet / 370 meters long) and their mystery (why were they made and who was meant to see them?). Here’s what we saw (and wondered) during our flightseeing tour to see the Nazca Lines from the air.

Nazca lines hummingbird colibri picafloe

The Hummingbird – 305 feet (93 meters) long

To fly or not to fly?

We were surprised when some fellow long-term travelers said they thought flying over the Nazca Lines, which were made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, wasn’t necessary. True, there are a few viewing platforms over a few of the lines around Nazca (more about them in our next post about exploring the Nazca Ines on the ground), but the Nazca Lines are so enormous that they’re virtually impossible to see except from the air.

For example, despite existing in the desert for hundreds and hundreds of years (most researchers agree that the glyphs were made by Nazca people between 500 BC and 500 AD), yet the lines and designs weren’t really discovered by modern science until someone spotted them from a plane.

We decided to fly.

Nazca lines flightseeing

The Cesna 206 that took us on our flightseeing tur over the Nazca Lines in Peru with Alas Peruana.

Flightseeing tour over the Nazca Lines

There are many fight tour companies in Nazca. Alas Peruanas took us up for their 30 minute flight (US$80 per person) to view 13 different figures in a Cesna 206 four passenger plane with a pilot and co-pilot. All passengers got headphones to cut out some of the engine noise and allow us to hear the running commentary about the shapes we would be seeing (in Spanish) from the pilots.

Spider Nazca lines araña

The Spider – 151 feet (46 meters) long

These tourist flights travel in a set circuit over an area with a high concentration of geoglyphs (man-made designs in the earth). To ensure that everyone gets a good look at each of the images, the planes dip their wings on one side, then circle the glyph and dip their wings on the other side.

Nazca lines from above flight

The Nazca Lines include about 700 straight line formations and 300 geometric shapes, human forms or animal forms with more being discovered all the time.

Seeing the glyphs, including The Hummingbird, The Spider, The Tree, The Dog, The Monkey, The Flamingo, The Parrot, The Astronaut, The Frigatebird, The Hands, The Condor, The Baby Condor and The Whale, in their entirety was undeniably powerful.

Nazca lines flightseeing landing

Coming in for a landing after our 30 minute flight over the Nazca Lines.

After half an hour of dipping and circling, we were ready to be on solid ground. Small shops selling sodas at the airport do a brisk business to travelers (including us) anxious to settle wobbly post-flight stomachs.

Frigate bird, Flamingo Nazca lines

The Frigatebird (bottom) and The Flamingo which is 984 feet (300 meters) long but is still hard to see.

Wear sunscreen and sunglasses for the flight and you must show your passport before boarding. Flights are often delayed if it’s cloudy or foggy (we waited for more than an hour for our take off), so be prepared to wait. Also, there’s also a 25 PEN (US$10) airport tax that’s not included in the price you pay the tour company.

flying over the Nazca lines

The skies about the Nazca Lines are crowded. Note the plane under ours in the lower portion of this shot we took as we flew over The Frigatebird, The Flamingo, and The Parrot.

Naza Lines flightseeing safety

While we felt safe during our flight, on any given day there are a lot of small planes in the air flying close and low and accidents do happen. Many, many people have died. The worst year was 1986 when 28 tourist aircraft crashed into the Nazca Desert, killing 130 people.

Safety and oversight have improved since the cowboy days pre-1999. However in 2016, there were still reportedly 19 tourists death in Nazca Lines flightseeing accidents.

Monkey Nazca Lines

The Monkey – 295 feet (90 meters) long

Get a glimpse of the Nazca Lines from the air in the video we shot from our flightseeing tour, below.

Nazca Lines mysteries

Seeing some of the glyphs from the air only amplified our questions about them: How were the Nazca Lines made? And why? Many people far smarter than us have been pondering those questions for a very long time.

Condor Nazca Lines

The Condor – 443 feet (135 meters) long

The easiest question to answer is about how the glyphs around Nazca were made. There are about 700 glyphs composed of straight lines plus another 300 or so that depict geometric shapes and stylized animals. Researchers say dark pebbles, which exist naturally on the surface of the desert, were removed to reveal the light-colored sand beneath, thus creating shapes in the ground (which is the basic definition of a geoglyph).

Astronaut Nazca Lines

The Astronaut – 115 feet (35 meters) long

Crude surveying tools, like wooden stakes, have been found around the glyphs hinting at how the precise designs and straight lines might have been mapped out and achieved.

Nazca Lines Whale ballena

The Whale – 213 feet (65 meters) long

That leaves the trickiest question of all: Why were the glyphs made and who was meant to see them?

The lines were created long, long before humans had the ability to travel through the air so the Nazca people may never have seen the images in their entirety since many of the hills in the area aren’t high enough to provide a vantage point. Some theorize that the Nazca made the designs for their Gods to see. Others think the designs might make up some sort of astrological map used by the Nazca people. Or perhaps the glyphs marked ceremonial areas.

Nazca lines Parrot loro

The Parrot – 213 feet (65 meters) long

Also, aliens. You can’t have a proper archaeological mystery without someone suggesting that aliens were involved. Recent controversial alien theories in Nazca inspired this necessary-read in The Atlantic.

Nazca lines baby condor or dinosaur

Baby Condor – 115 feet (35 meters) long

Frigate bird nazca lines

The Frigatebird – 443 feet (135 meters) long

The Nazca Lines under threat

New glyphs are still being discovered around Nazca and despite protections, all of the glyphs are still threatened.

When the PanAm Highway was built it bisected a huge glyph called The Iguana and we can’t help but wonder what the Nazca spirits (or the aliens) think about this new never-ending line in the midst of their own. Wind continues to erode the glyphs and humans are still doing damage as well. In 2014 Greenpeace, for example, apologized for damage done to The Hummingbird glyph by activists who unintentionally walked over it to install a message about climate change.

flying over nazca lines tree, hands, iguana observation tower

The observation tower where you can look down on The Tree (213 feet/65 meters long) and The Hands (213 feet/65 meters long). You can also see the PanAm highway bisecting The Iguana.

Random Nazca lines flower spiral

Random Nazca Lines that we liked…

Where to sleep in Nazca

It must be said that the dusty, ramshackle town of Nazca is pretty grim, but thousands of travelers come anyway to see those famous lines. That means there are a lot of hotels in town from extremely basic hostels to higher-end offerings catering to organized tour groups.

Somewhere in the middle is B Hotel Nasca Suites (doubles around US$40). Opened in 2017, this place is right across the highway from the airport (convenient for morning flight seeing) but about a mile from town. There’s a pool and full breakfast included, along with Wi-Fi, and more style than most mid-range places in Nazca.

Here’s more about travel in Peru

 

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