The south coast of Peru was home to extraordinary pre-Columbian civilizations, including the Nazca, who are best remembered for their cryptic geoglyphs: huge line pictures of animals, etched across 190 square miles (500 sq km) of desolate desert land. The Nazca lines can be seen via a plane tour, or in part from nearby hills.

South Coast, Peru, South America

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The Nazca culture flourished from 100 BC – AD 800 in the river valleys of the Río Grande de Nazca and the Ica Valley. The Paracas culture, one of the “parents” of the Nazca along with their invaders the Topará, are one of the most curious ancient civilizations, and their mark on the Nazca includes ritual trepanning (drilling holes in the head) and skull elongation. These practices produced the mysteriously altered skulls that can be seen in museums such as the Antonini Museum in the city of Nazca.

The Nazca were also a talented people, their ceramics and textiles detailed, their geoglyphs nearly impossible-seeming feats. They were also advanced in the science of irrigation, having built underground aqueducts that, amazingly, are still used today.

After exploring the south coast's history and landscape, it may be time to take a break at one of the many haciendas and enjoy some Afro-Peruvian music, dance, and cuisine. The music performed in these former slave-tilled estates, which are now hotels and clubs, is derived from the transatlantic slave trade and is an essential ingredient in contemporary Peruvian popular music: its powerful and engaging beat from the Afro-Caribbean influence is perfect for lively dancing after enjoying the local food and wine, or, of course, an authentic pisco sour.

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