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Subtitle: Seriously I Could Have Died, Okay?

On our final day in Huacachina, we were faced with a tough choice — have a peaceful and relaxing day lounging by the pool, or pay oodles of money to stuff ourselves into tiny planes and, statistically speaking, likely vomit all over ourselves before crashing to our deaths (data backs up the puking, not the dying, though of either).

We chose the latter. I blame Zoe.

Over the years my relationship with flying has gone on a strange roller coaster ride. When I was just a wee traveler, I had some mild flying anxiety, most likely co-opted from my mom, who couldn’t step foot on a plane without Xanaxing herself into a happy place. As I got older I shed whatever fears I had and would sleep peacefully through even the most turbulent flights, ones that would leave most passengers white knuckled and praying. Lately though I’ve felt my old nerves slipping back in, making me tense up at takeoff and give a little cheer upon landing.

So had I been traveling alone, I probably wouldn’t have sought out flying over the Nazca Lines. But I knew Zoe was pretty enthusiastic about it, and being a Yes Girl, I nodded along while grinning like an off-her-meds maniac.

The Nazca Lines are one of Peru’s — and the world’s — great archaeological mysteries. Dotting the desert, the hundreds of individual designs represent spiders, whales, trees, hummingbirds, as well as simple geographical shapes. For centuries, the lines and designs remained hidden thanks to their sheer enormity — it’s not easy to spot an intricate, 96 meter monkey carved into the desert at eye level. They were first spotted in the 1920’s by a pilot flying over the desert between Lima and Arequipa, a discovery that eventually led Maria Reiche, a German mathematician and archeologist, to dedicate her life to the study and preservation of the lines.

To this day, little is known or understood about the lines. Most are about a foot deep and made of a single continuous line, and are preserved by the lack of water (Nazca received about an hour of rain per year) and the abundance of wind (which blows collections of sand and dust away). Their purpose is debated by scholars — some point to astrological inspiration, others to theories of water and irrigation, and most to some sort of religious significance. The overlapping designs point to several generations of creators, most likely between the years 400 and 650 AD.

Our hostel in Huacachina offered a package trip to the lines for 280 soles ($100US) that included transportation from Huacachina to Ica, a bus from Ica to Nazca, pickup at the Nazca bus terminal, luggage storage at a local hostel, transport to the Nazca airstrip, the flight itself, and transport back to the local hostel after. We did have to pay a 25 sole ($9US) departure tax once at the airport, but otherwise there were no hidden fees.

Before I knew it, we were hopping into a four seater plane — just Zoe and me in the back, and two pilots up front. The pre-flight briefing consisted entirely of the pilot explicitly pointing out the barf bags.

The co-pilot handed us each a map of the lines we were about to see, though I barely glanced at it as I focused most of my energy on not being in the 60% of people who get sick on the flight — statistic provided by our own pilot. At first, I felt more nerves than nausea, as the flight was extremely bumpy and the world seemed very small below.

Despite my discomfort, I squealed with excitement when we dipped down towards the first of the many intricate, enormous designs. There is so little known about this phenomenon in the desert, but we do know one thing — we were viewing the lines the way their creators intended, in fact, the only way to view them at all — from the heavens.

For each line the pilots would twist and dip the plane so that both Zoe and I got an equal eyeful — a gesture that our cameras appreciated but our stomaches did not. As those nerves got more comfortable with the bumps and jumps the plane was making, the nausea became less so with the turns. Towards the end of the tour Zoe summed our feelings up quite well when she gave the pilots a “no more” gesture when they started to curve the plane to give her a better view — “Actually, I’m good. Saw it!”

Amazingly, we approached the landing with both barf bags still intact. Having been pretty ambivalent about whether or not we’d make it out of the whole thing alive, I was on a crazy high for the rest of the day. That feeling only heightened when we ran into another guest from our hostel in Huacachina who had been suspicious of the package deal we took and decided to do it on his own. Turns out, he had actually spent more than we did. Budget win!

I made a short film of our flight which is notable both for the “holy crap” face I’m pulling in the beginning and the wink-wink-nudge-nudge choice of soundtrack. Thanks again for the GoPro, Zoe!

After our flight, we returned to downtown Nazca where we soon became grateful that we already had our buses booked to Cusco — it’s pretty much a one hit wonder kind of town. However, we did find that the Nazca Lines Hotel gives nightly hour-long lectures on the lines in French, Spanish, and English for 20 soles ($7US). Considering this was the only local source of information that we could find on the lines — at least in English — we found the presentation and “planetarium show” to be an incredibly valuable supplement to flying over the lines itself, and the perfect distraction before hopping on our overnight bus.

Would I recommend visiting Nazca to those heading to Peru? It depends. If you have a weak stomach or a tight budget, no. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, a history buff, a collector of quirky adventures or an alien conspiracy theorist, absolutely yes. It’s a unique experience that explores a fascinating unsolved mystery — bragging rights included.

Practical Info

Where I stayed: We arrived on a morning bus from Ica and departed that evening on a night bus to Cusco — no accommodation needed.
Where I ate: Nowhere impressive.How I got there: We took local transit, arranged through our hostel in Huacachina, to Nazca. For the 14 hour bus ride to Cusco, we splurged on VIP  bus seats which set us back $63US. It was very comfortable but did not have wifi as promised.
Bonus Tip: Don’t forget to bring your passport to the Nazca airstrip — you’ll need it to board flights over the lines.

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39 Comments...
  • Sam
    November 12 2013

    I think you summed up exactly who this would and wouldn’t appeal to very well! My partner and I were in Nazca about four months ago and decided not to do the flight, but rather educate ourselves about the theories surrounding the lines at the museum and the planetarium show and then climb up the man-made mirador that yo flew over in the last photo. We found that to be enough, though to be honest, if I’d known you could get a deal for only $100, we might have reconsidered flying. There’s no doubt in my mind that I would’ve been one of those 60%, though!
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    • Meihoukai
      November 13 2013

      I don’t think I would have gone to Nazca had I not intended to fly over the lines. While the planetarium is nice, I think it’s a shame they don’t have more of a robust museum around!

      • Sam
        November 13 2013

        There is actually another museum; the Museo Didactico Antonini. It was a bit dusty and there wasn’t all that much information displayed by the artefacts, but there was a lovely garden with peacocks roaming around and a scale representation of the Nazca lines on the ground, so that was a nice overview.
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        • Meihoukai
          November 15 2013

          Ah, that does sound nice! When I asked at the tourism office if there were any museums with displays in English they gave me a blank stare and a flat “no.” LOL.

  • Nate
    November 12 2013

    Wow, these pictures are breathtaking. My favorite by a country mile was the spider. So simplistic yet intricate at the same time. This is totally going on by bucket list of “things to do when I actually have money”.

    • Meihoukai
      November 15 2013

      I have a list like that too 🙂 High on it… “Go to the Galapagos!”

  • Camels & Chocolate
    November 12 2013

    Perfect soundtrack for this (courtesy of my fellow Nashville girl!). I’m not a fan of small spaces so not sure I’d opt for flying in this kind of plane willingly!
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    • Meihoukai
      November 15 2013

      I didn’t know I was featuring another Nashville star 🙂 Got to get myself there one of these days!

  • Margy
    November 12 2013

    Thank you for doing this so that I never have to. I got the best of the experience from your photos and video and left the worst of it to you and Zoe.

  • SnarkyNomad
    November 12 2013

    You know what would be great? If a bunch of backpackers went wandering around and made their own lines, but of weird things that would be completely out of place. Though I bet Coca-Cola has already thought of this, probably as some sort of viral marketing plan. It would be weird going up and seeing a giant Nike swoosh down there.
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    • Meihoukai
      November 15 2013

      Zoe and I totally discussed the idea that someone in Nazca was like, “You know what, we want a piece of this tourism pie!” And just went out to the desert with a bulldozer and made it happen. If that story every turned out to be true, you can’t imagine how hard I’d laugh.

  • Breanna
    November 12 2013

    Being an anxious flyer I would so not be doing this however the lines are truly interesting and im glad I got to see them through your point of view

    • Meihoukai
      November 15 2013

      I’m happy I was able to share, Breanna!

  • Rika | Cubicle Throwdown
    November 12 2013

    Love this!! I totally would have done it. My dad’s a pilot though, so I’ve been in the air since I was born (including teeny scary planes like that!) I had to rewind at the end of the video – Zoe is picking up her stuff, but on first viewing I thought she was puking on the tarmac 😉
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    • Meihoukai
      November 15 2013

      Ha! I never even noticed that! Luckily we both survived the ordeal puke free!

  • Sky
    November 12 2013

    The history buff in me really, really wants to do this. My weak stomach says hell no.
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    • Meihoukai
      November 15 2013

      The Yes Girl in me wanted to say yes, the scaredy cat in me wanted to say no. Clearly, you can tell who won 🙂

  • Gaelyn
    November 12 2013

    Oh yea, I’d do this. And will when I get to Peru.
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    • Meihoukai
      November 15 2013

      Awesome Gaelyn! I hope you’ll love it!

  • Federico
    November 13 2013

    Great shots! When in Peru I thought about doing such a trip but never did, and have not really missed it that much. Might do it next time though…
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    • Meihoukai
      November 15 2013

      I think you’d love it Federico. A reason to go back!

  • Heather
    November 13 2013

    The Nazca lines are so mysterious and amazing, just that makes makes me want to see them! I am familiar with small planes, and probably gravol would be my friend in this case. What a thrilling feeling to see something so ancient that was designed to be viewed from the sky! Were humans meant to see them? Well, we can now.
    Heather recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 15 2013

      Archaeologists believe they were only meant to be seen by the gods… thats why humans missed them for so many centuries! I guess the creators couldn’t have anticipated the creation of planes…

  • TammyOnTheMove
    November 13 2013

    I am going to Nazca in January, but I wasn’t sure if I should do the flight or just go to the viewing platform. I did a lot of research re costs and most local agencies charge between $120-150 for the flight alone. So you really did get a bargain. I’ll probably be going to Ica first as well, so will check your hostel out to see if they still have a similar offer when I am there. The flight does look amazing and I am not sure the experience on the platform is as good.
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    • Meihoukai
      November 15 2013

      Tammy, I found the same when looking online. Prices are much higher when you pre-book. I definitely recommend looking into it when you get here!

  • Raymond @ Man On The Lam
    November 14 2013

    I ran out of time and didn’t get to see the Nazca Lines when I was in Peru. Would still love to take that flight though. 🙂
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    • Meihoukai
      November 15 2013

      I think it would be perfect for a certain #ManlyMoments mission going on right now 🙂

  • Zoe
    November 15 2013

    Hahaha “our pre-flight briefing consisted of pointing out the barfbags.” SO TRUE. Wasn’t it just another example of the “figure it out along the way” mantra that pretty much all Peruvian tours and guides had?

    Great tip regarding the passports, I totally forgot about that. And no one told us about that! We could’ve been un poco fucked.

    another great vid, girl!!

    • Meihoukai
      November 17 2013

      Ha yes and in this case it did nothing to ease my pre-flight nerves! But hey, we made it…

  • Pete Heck
    November 19 2013

    Brings back a lot of memories. Dalene did not fare so well in the vomit category. She was sick for the majority of the flight. I however loved it. Until the next day when a plane went down and all seven passengers were lost. Then we dug into how many times this happens here. Not a very good statistic…
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    • Meihoukai
      November 19 2013

      Wow, I can imagine that would be incredibly chilling. The day after! I’m happy you are safe and sound…

  • Eric
    May 4 2014

    Hey Meihoukai,

    Quick question: for booking hostels, should I book a few weeks in advance, or it is advised to book them the day you arrive at the location?

    Thanks!

    • Meihoukai
      May 6 2014

      Hey Eric, are you asking about Nazca specifically, or just in general? For me it depends on a couple factors. If I’m arriving late at night or traveling in high season I book ahead. If not I sometimes just wing it. Totally depends 🙂

  • Chris
    April 12 2015

    Getting ready to do this in a couple of days! 🙂
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    • Meihoukai
      April 13 2015

      Awesome! Enjoy, Chris! (And don’t forget a barf bag… 🙂 )

  • Rosa Pedemonte
    February 23 2016

    Hi Meihoukai:
    I am getting ready to go to Peru and I am planning to do Lima-Ica-Nazca-Cusco. Where did you get the online sales for Cruz del Sur tickets to Ica and at what point did you buy your Nazca-Cusco tickets and where. I am looking online but I don’t see a way to ensure I will be buying a VIP seat. 14 hours ride deserve this treat as a minimum.
    Thanks in advance,

    Rosa Pedemonte

    • Meihoukai
      March 2 2016

      Hi Rosa! I bought the tickets from Lima to Ica ahead of time directly through the Cruz Del Sur website. The VIP seats were clearly marked, so perhaps you are looking at a bus that doesn’t offer them? I can’t be sure without seeing. We bough the tickets from Nazca to Cusco in person once we were in Ica, I believe. Good luck!