To say I was uncertain about taking a flight over the famous Nazca Lines in Peru was an understatement. These planes are renowned for being somewhat unreliable, with several cases of engines stopping working and aeroplanes falling from the sky.
So much so that many travel advisories suggest proceeding with extreme caution and often recommend skipping these flights altogether. Just days before we were due to arrive in Nazca I was researching (scaring myself) on Google, and found that a plane had experienced issues landing that week and the tourists on board were recovering in hospital.
So yes, if you’re planning to take one of these flights bear in mind there’s a not insignificant chance that you may experience some issues – although it’s also far more likely that you’ll be involved in a bus than a plane crash in Peru. Reassuring or what.
Anyway, I’m not here to put you off, so assuming that you decide to go for it – this decision was rather taken out of my hands when Rob definitively agreed with our tour operator to add two tickets to the bill – this is how it works.
We booked our flights with our tour company in Cusco as we knew them pretty well by then and felt we could rely on them to work with decent operators over in Nazca, but you can also book in almost any other tourist destination in Peru. It’s typically cheaper to book in Nazca and even on the day, but we sacrificed a few dollars for taking some time to make sure we were happy with the flight that we booked.
A few years ago, after a run of bad luck and plane crashes, the Peruvian government intervened and many companies running flights were shut down or had some of their fleet declared unsafe. I think there are now around 8 airlines that operate out of XX airport. We decided to get in touch with our G Adventures CEO and with the guys we’d travelled with on this tour who were with a new CEO in Peru to find out which airlines they typically recommend. This combined with some Trip Advisor research left us with a choice between Aero Paracas or Movil Air – and as our tour company work with Aero Paracas this is who we went with.
As well as choosing your airline, you also have a couple of different options of flight length – the first and most popular is a 30 minute flight where you see around 12 of the iconic line figures, and if you’re really keen you can take a 60 minute flight and see 20+. We chose the shorter flight, as I wasn’t convinced we would survive that let alone a full hour in the sky in a tiny plane, and paid $110 each for our tickets plus the mandatory $10 airport tax that’s payable on arrival at the airport.
They have a fleet of newer and better maintained planes than some of the other airlines – from 2 seaters up to 10 seaters – although tbh, given the plane we ended up with, I question whether the brochures are 100% reflective of the aircraft they have!. We were picked up from their head office in Nazca town, next to the Cruz Del Sur bus station and taken to the airport, where we had a quick safety briefing and were weighed to ensure the correct distribution of weight on the plane. It’s then a case of waiting until there are free spots on an aircraft, I think we waited around 45 minutes.
Once your plane is ready, you head through ‘security’ – an ancient looking scanner – and wait to meet your pilot for a more detailed safety briefing. At this stage you can also get your passport stamped by the guys at the security area, so don’t forget to do this if you fancy another addition to your passport from Peru!
Our plane didn’t quite match the shining white Aero Paracas branded and new looking aircraft that feature in the brochure… it was a 1979 Cessna that looked like it had had a tough 36 years in the sky. But nevertheless, after taking some pics and pleading with our pilots to return us in one piece, we hopped in and got ready for take off.
I’ve read a couple of accounts that suggest that the earlier in the day your flight is the better, so as to avoid excessive turbulence as the heat picks up, we flew at around 11.30am and didn’t have too many issues. It’s definitely not a smooth ride, but it was nowhere near as bad as I was expecting. We’d met a few people on our way through South America who were really sick, and many of the reviews we read advised not to eat breakfast, but I’m not one for skipping food when it’s on offer and the flight wasn’t so bumpy.
So what’s all the fuss about seeing the Nazca Lines anyway? Probably should have covered this earlier in the post, but that’s pretty much what was going through my mind as we started our ascent in a tiny, rickety 4 man propellor plane that I was fully expecting to drop out of the sky at any minute.
The lines are located a couple of hundred miles south of Lima and date back to between 500 BC and 500 AD when the Nazca culture were resident in this area. There are several hundred geoglyphs included in the UNESCO world heritage site (another one to add to our list!), and the area covered is an enormous 170 square miles. Many of the figures are huge – up to 370 metres at their largest – meaning they can be seen really well from the air.
What’s really interesting though, is that even now scientists aren’t 100% sure why they were created or what their purpose was. There are many theories on what the lines are for, from communication with aliens to representations of the constellations, but the most popular is that they were in some way linked to the community’s need for water. The Nazca desert is extremely dry and arid, so water was essential to the survival of the Nazca people, and many researchers believe the figures were created to ask the Gods to provide water or that they suggest where water flows in the area.
Whatever the purpose of the lines, it has to be said that it’s seriously impressive seeing them from the sky. Putting to one side my fears of crashing, we flew over and around 12 of the main geoglyphs, seeing them from some incredible angles. It’s hard to get good pictures, so we didn’t take too many in favour of concentrating on making out the figures in the desert below us in real time. The pilots do a great job of ensuring that all the figures are seen from multiple angles so everyone in the plane gets a good view, and also provide great instruction on how to spot them and what they represent.
We were lucky enough to see all the figures pretty clearly although it does take a bit of focus to get your eye in and get used to spotting them. They’re also quite far apart in some cases and in one example a road actually passes through the middle of the lines so don’t expect it to be completely obvious when it comes to catching sight of the different lines.
On our flight we saw the heron, condor, monkey, dog, hands, hummingbird, spider, tree, whale, astronaut, parrot and trapezoids. Some are clearer than others – the easiest ones to see being the astronaut, heron, hummingbird and parrot, but we managed to see all of them so it was really well worth it in our experience.
Finally, after just over 30 minutes, we headed back in to the airport for a surprisingly smooth landing, ready for our onward journey to Ica. I’d definitely recommend the Nazca flight to anyone considering whether or not to do it – it felt safer than we’d expected and whilst it’s fairly expensive on a backpacking budget it really is the only way to see the lines properly.