The doodles of aliens

Why are these enormous drawings in the middle of Peru’s desert? It could be an ancient astronomical calendar… or perhaps they were made by aliens!

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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Nazca Lines, Nazca, Peru

It’s possible that I’m about to throw up. I’m certainly feeling a little bit queasy. Perhaps it’s the motion, or perhaps the heat, or perhaps the stuffiness.

Most likely it’s a combination of it all… but seeing as there are only six of us in this small plane, the others would probably appreciate it if I kept my breakfast to myself.

We’re above the Peruvian desert – but not nearly high enough to get some relief of cool air. The sun is beating down on the small metal can and there’s certainly no air-con. I guess the windows open but I don’t think that’s a safe thing to do.

How do you see the Nazca Lines, Peru
How do you see the Nazca Lines, Peru

The reason we’re not very high is because we’re here to see what is on the ground – the famous Nazca Lines.

The enormous markings in the desert here in southern Peru are eerie. They were made between 400 and 650AD by the Nazca culture. While there are hundreds of straight lines and geometric shapes, what are most interesting are the recognisable figures of things like animals.

How do you see the Nazca Lines, Peru

From up here in the plane, they are so clear to see. There’s a spider, a dog, a monkey and a hummingbird, for instance. The largest figures are about 200 metres long. To give you some scale, have a look at this photo with cars and a truck near some of the smaller designs.

How do you see the Nazca Lines, Peru

You wouldn’t notice them if you were walking along the ground, these lines. They are too large to notice any pattern from where humans walk. They point upwards. They’re meant to be seen by the gods… or by aliens?

There are many theories about why the lines were created. Aliens is probably the most ridiculous of them all.

Some conspiracy theorists will tell you that they are clearly either made by aliens (because how could such primitive men have done this?) or for extraterrestrials to see.

It’s fun to believe it, though. Especially when there’s an image on a mountain like this one, that some say looks like an astronaut!

How do you see the Nazca Lines, Peru

But, among the more realistic theories, there is still no consensus. Some researchers believe that the markings were an astronomical map – that the animals represent constellations in the stars and the straight lines point to where important celestial bodies rose during specific times of the year.

Another popular explanation is that they were simply religious markings and were the Nazca’s way of worshipping the gods. The animals were calling for favourable weather and the lines led people to where ceremonies were held.

How do you see the Nazca Lines, Peru
How do you see the Nazca Lines, Peru

Regardless of the truth (and, in some ways, it’s more enjoyable that there’s a mystery about them), everyone agrees that it was a remarkable feat to make them.

The actual mechanics of it was quite simple – the Nazca people just dug a shallow trench about 10cm deep, taking away the reddish pebbles on the top of the desert, revealing a light clay earth beneath that contrasted with the red on either side.

Exactly how they managed to make the shapes so perfectly is another matter. But you have to remember that this is 2000 years after the Egyptians had made their temples and at a time when Romans ruled Europe. The shapes are impressive, yes, but humans were proving themselves very ingenious.

How do you see the Nazca Lines, Peru
How do you see the Nazca Lines, Peru
How do you see the Nazca Lines, Peru

How to see the Nazca Lines

Nazca (the city) is on the route between Lima and Peru’s second largest city, Arequipa, so it’s a popular spot for travellers to stop on their way through – although it’s still a long bus ride from both.

It’s much closer to Lima, though, so some people get up early and make a (very long) day trip to Nazca from Lima.

If you’re interested in doing that, then I would recommend this tour from Lima.

There are a few other options here (which go to similar places):

If you’re self driving, there is a platform on the highway which you can climb up and see a couple of the shapes but the way to truly appreciate the designs and the scales of the Nazca Lines is from a light aircraft, like the one I’m in.

How do you see the Nazca Lines, Peru

There seem to be almost ten companies that offer flights and it’s possible to just turn up at the small airport and book yourself onto one. There are also agencies in the city and most hotels or guesthouses will also be able to book for you.

But you may prefer to book with a international company online, in case there are any issues. If so, I would recommend booking this flight.

There are a few other decent options here as well:

However, it really is the main industry in town so if you’re staying in Nazca and you’re not in a rush, it’s easy enough to shop around and find the right price and time that suits you.

How do you see the Nazca Lines, Peru
How do you see the Nazca Lines, Peru

In the end, I don’t throw up on the plane. We’ve dipped to the left and then to the right and back and forth the whole time so every design on the ground could be seen from both sides.

I understand why I feel queasy and why there are plastic bags in easy reach for everyone. But when we land back on the small airstrip and open the windows, everything feels good again.

It was just a short flight – only about 30 minutes. But it was like travelling to another world.

While you’re in Nazca, I also recommend you visit the nearby Chauchilla Cemetery to see some very scary ancient mummies! There’s a good tour that combines the cemetery and the flight, which is a great way to explore the area.

THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN NAZCA

There are quite a few places to stay in Nazca but most of it is quite simple accommodation.

BACKPACKER

For a hostel with a bit of atmosphere, the best option is Nanasqa Hostel en Nasca.

BUDGET

It’s quite simple but I think Hospedaje el Telar is the best value in Nazca.

BUDGET

While it’s still got a budget price, Hostal Hellen Ross is a bit nicer than most of the other hotels.

LUXURY

In a renovated farmhouse just out of town, Hotel Majoro is a beautiful luxury option!

UNESCO logo

This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
I'm on a mission to visit as many World Heritage Sites as I can. Only about 800 more to go... eek!

6 thoughts on “The doodles of aliens”

  1. Just wanted to take a minute to comment on those photos: Wow.

    That’s really interesting. They put some meep-looking character in a mountain. That’s pretty awesome.

    Reply
  2. Can confirm, made my aliens. I am an alien.

    😀

    Fantastic viewpoint, if not the ONLY way to see these incredibly important parts of Peru.

    Reply
  3. This is so high on my life list it isn’t funny…. although I really don’t like the idea of going up in one of those little planes….

    Reply
  4. Wow.. these drawings are stunning. I don’t think that alien made them (but who knows?), but the Nazca did something incredible. I’d really like to see the nazca lines and of course visit Peru! I’ve been to South America once, but to Brazil. Next time I’m there, I’m going to visit different countries. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply

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