Known by professionals as “geoglyphs,” the Nazca Lines always provoke a strong reaction in visitors to the area. Giant illustrations of plants and animals spread out over 280 square miles (450 km) of desert plateau in Peru’s southern lowlands. No one has yet proposed a compelling explanation for their placement or their location. There are approximately 70 designs—the most famous and frequently photographed of these designs are the monkey, the spider, and the hummingbird. Other illustrations depict fish, killer whales, lizards, and sharks. Some of the designs have dimensions as large as 660 feet (220 m).
Surrounded by shifting dunes, it may seem odd that such ancient designs would have remained intact, since their creation sometime around the 5th century. They owe their preservation to the windless conditions in the desert. The lines aren’t very deep, created by simply removing the reddish upper crust of the terrain. Below the red rocks is a much paler layer of rock, creating a striking contrast.
On your visit, you’ll probably hear the theory that the Nazca Lines served as landing strips for alien space crafts. It’s easily laughed off, but the fact remains that we have yet to discover the designs’ true purpose. Some of the other discoveries in the areas – of altars and clay flutes – have prompted some historians to speculate that it served a religious function.
Maybe you won’t come up with a prize-winning theory, but try to get a good look at the lines anyway. Hike one of the nearby dunes to see the lines from a distance—Cerro Blanco is an enormous dune with a great view of the glyphs. You won’t be able to see the designs in their entirety, but as far as we know, neither did the Nazca. This adds to the mystery – how did the Nazca make such geometrically precise designs, without ever seeing them in full?
Luckily, you won’t have the same disadvantage. It has become popular to see the lines by plane, so you can see all of the designs in about 30 minutes. To get a closer look at the area from the ground, visitors often incorporate sandboarding, biking, and dune buggies into their exploration of the desert surrounding the Nazca Lines.