The Nazca Lines of Peru have puzzled scientists and archaeologists for decades since their discovery. People travel from all over the world to see the mysterious ancient geoglyphs in the desert. We took a trip to see them for ourselves on a flight experience, and in this article we’ve compiled everything you need to know about Nazca Lines flights, including safety, how to book tours, and what else you can do while you’re in town.
Also see our Peru itinerary also suggests how you can fit the Nazca Lines into your travel plans.
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What are the Nazca Lines?
In 1939, American professor Paul Kosok was flying over the deserts of southern Peru when he noticed something unusual. Below, he spied a figure carved into the ground that appeared to resemble a giant bird. He had unwittingly stumbled upon the ancient legend of the Nazca Lines.
Following the discovery, hundreds more of these geoglyphs were uncovered around the Nazca Desert, some over a thousand feet long. Many resembled simple geometric shapes; others animals, birds and humans; some, trees and flowers. Kosok dedicated much of his remaining career to unravelling the mystery of the Nazca Lines.
Studies revealed the lines were most likely created by the indigenous Nazca people some time between 500 BC and 500 AD. But the real puzzle – one that continues to baffle academics – is their purpose. Why were they made in the first place?
Kosok and another scientist, Maria Reiche, proposed a theory that the figures were used for some kind of astronomic calendar. Archaeologists have speculated that the lines have a religious significance and were used for the worship of gods. More outlandish theories have suggested they were created to communicate with visiting aliens. Nobody is sure of the truth.
The Nazca Lines have become an international fascination and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Peru.
Where are the Nazca Lines?
The Nazca Lines are spread across a vast area of the Nazca Desert, close to the city of Nazca. The city is located directly on the main road between Lima and Cusco, convenient for backpackers to stop en route while travelling through the country.
Nazca is about 450 kilometres by road from Lima, and about 900 kilometres by road from Cusco.
Is it safe to fly over the Nazca lines?
Today, it is generally very safe to take flights over the Nazca Lines, and there have been very few accidents in recent years. But that hasn’t always been the case.
Before we visited Nazca ourselves, we heard various scary stories and rumours about the dangers of the flights. According to some of the most dramatic stories, airline safety records were terrible and fatalities not an uncommon occurrence. But it was difficult to discern what was accurate and what was just rumour and legend.
So, as you would expect, I decided to investigate further before we committed to stepping on board one of these planes. And I did find a few disturbing tales online. One website claimed that in 1986, 26 crashes claimed a total of 130 lives. Another said that 19 people were killed as recently as 2016.
Further research, however, revealed this particular information to be false. As always, you have to be careful what you read on the internet! Now let’s take a look at the reality of Nazca Lines flight safety according to verifiable records.
Nazca Lines flight accidents and new safety measures
It is true that there have been issues with flight safety in the past on the Nazca Lines. In February 2010, seven people were killed when a light aircraft carrying tourists crashed.
But after this tragedy, the Peruvian government made a swift response and halted all flights over the Nazca Lines. After rigorous safety inspections, only four flight agencies, and 7 out of 48 planes, were permitted to resume their services. There have been great improvements in standards since.
There have been two further tragedies since these measures have been put in place. In October 2010, four British tourists and two Peruvian pilots died in another crash. Then, after more than a decade of no fatal crashes, a plane carrying five tourists and two crew crashed in February 2022, with no survivors.
What the official records say
If you are still skeptical and unsure which information to believe, the best place to look is the official records. The Aviation Safety Network keeps a record of flight incidents all over the world. A quick glance through its records on Peru shows a total of eight incidents in Nazca since the 1930s. Five of these were fatal, the worst of these in August 1997 when two planes collided, killing 12 people.
To put this into some perspective: most of the world’s roads have worse records than this. With more than tens of thousands of tourists visiting the site every year, the chances of being victim of an incident are vanishingly small. Reassured by this verifiable data, we felt plenty safe enough to take a flight over the Nazca Lines.
As we would advise with any tour that has an element of risk, however small, it’s still best to check up on the safety record and standards of flight companies before booking, and that they are fully licensed (see our recommendations below). This is in line with the advice of the UK Foreign Office on travel in Peru.
Can you see the Nazca Lines without flying?
Several information sources suggest that the only way to see the Nazca Lines is from a plane. This is, in fact, not true. It is possible to see some of the shapes from a 13-metre-high observation tower, ‘Torre Mirador de Las Lines de Nasca’.
Furthermore, there are various little-known spots around the surrounding hills where you can see the lines from the ground. You can experience this on a Nazca Lines land tour with a reputable local company booked via Viator. There’s a bit of walking involved and you get some glorious views of the Nazca valleys as well as secret vantage points for the geoglyphs.
All said and done, however, the tower and hills only provide a limited view of the Nazca Lines. To see the full extent of them, the best option is to take a flight.
How to book a Nazca Lines flight tour
While it’s not always necessary to book a Nazca Lines flight tour in advance, it’s best to do so if you know when you will be in the area. Booking ahead enables you to make sure you fly with a reputable company and get a good time slot.
One of the best ways to book in advance is through a reputable international tour agency like GetYourGuide, which only works with local providers who have outstanding safety measures in place. For example, you can book a 35-minute Nazca Lines flight that has a 5/5 safety rating and great reviews.
If you do arrive at short notice, there are agencies all around Nazca that operate tours to the lines, and it’s often possible to book through your accommodation (which is what we did).
The three airlines we recommend for Nazca flights are AeroNasca and Movil Air. These both have a very good safety record, a modern fleet of airplanes and a good reputation for customer service. Check the airlines’ websites for their latest deals on inclusive tour packages, such as buggy tours, Paracas trips and direct transport from Lima.
While it may be possible to find a cheaper price with a different company, safety should be the first consideration. It’s just not worth risking it for the sake of a few dollars.
Note that you will need to pay an airport tax of 77 Peruvian soles on the day, which is not included in tour package prices.
Tips before you book a Nazca Lines tour
All ready to get your flights booked? There are a few final things to bear in mind first:
- It’s best to book your flights for as early in the morning as possible. Visibility is generally better earlier in the day.
- It’s not unusual for bad weather conditions to cause flight cancellations. When we visited Nazca, all flights were cancelled on the day we’d booked, and we had to go the day after. If possible, allow some flexibility in your travel dates in case this happens.
- Make sure you have travel insurance booked for your trip. This can cover you in the case that tours are cancelled at short notice, for example. We recommend SafetyWing for travel insurance – you can read more in our review of SafetyWing insurance policies.
Tips before you fly over the Nazca Lines
When it comes to the day of your flight, there are a few things you can do in preparation to make sure your experience is a great one:
- The Nazca Lines planes are small, light aircraft that bank quite heavily when flying over the geometric shapes. This can be very uncomfortable if you suffer from motion sickness. If you’re worried about this, bring some nausea medication along to take beforehand.
- Bring your original passport to the airport. You will need to show it when checking in and filling out the necessary forms.
- The check-in process is quite extensive, and among other things you have to be weighed. The airlines have a general policy that anyone weighing over 95 kilograms needs to pay for an extra seat.
- Make sure you have a camera with you to capture some photos of your flight.
- When you arrive at the airport and check in with the airline, it’s worth letting them know that you are only willing to fly in one of their planes. On busy days, the airlines have been known to share planes to get as many people through as they can (this happened to us). Make it clear this won’t be acceptable beforehand.
- Don’t forget to bring your 77 Peruvian soles for tax. You may not be able to withdraw cash at the airport, and you won’t be allowed to fly without paying it.
- Finally, be prepared to wait around. The airport can be chaotic and disorganised, and it’s not unusual to be delayed for several hours. We were booked in to fly at 9am, and didn’t take off until 2:30pm.
Lessons from our Nazca Lines experience
Our visit to the Nazca Lines was not without hitches. We had booked to stay in Nazca for two nights, and to take the flight on the morning of the full day in between.
However, the day before we arrived, Lisa was struck down with food poisoning. Completely bedridden on the morning of our tour, there was no chance she would be up to it. Plus, as it turned out, the weather was too bad to fly anyway, and so our hostel host managed to rearrange our flight for the next morning.
It was still touch and go whether Lisa would be ok, but a day in bed and a good night’s sleep ridded the worst of the bug. Off we went. After a light breakfast (we heard the flights could be a little stomach-churning), we were collected at 8am.
We were booked in to fly with AeroParacas, a tour operators with one of the best reputations. Their planes certainly looked in good nick – one was taking off just as we arrived, and its engine purred beautifully as it glided into the air. This helped to settle any last-minute nerves.
Inside the airport we went through a frustrating mass of procedure. We showed our passports and filled out forms at the AeroParacas desk. We paid our airport tax at a separate kiosk. With all this done, we were advised to take a seat and wait to be called for our flight.
We waited. And waited. And waited some more. After an hour and a half, everyone who had been in our minivan to the airport had taken their flight. What was happening? I asked the desk receptionist, and she told me we just needed to keep waiting.
“Was it worth the wait? Absolutely.”
More people arrived, filled out their paperwork, and were called ahead of us. A couple who we’d been chatting with arrived back after their flight. “You still haven’t been called yet?” they asked us, bemused to see us still there. We responded with a confused shrug.
Lunchtime came and went. We didn’t eat anything, still wary of upsetting our stomachs for the flight, and Lisa was still fragile. The nerves that we had dispelled previously began to creep up again. We noticed that the tourists going through were not necessarily getting into planes owned by the companies they had booked with. The flight companies appeared to just be sharing planes…
Then, finally, at 2pm, we were called through. We went through a security check and into another seating area, where we waited for another half an hour. It was 2:30pm when we were ushered out to board the plane.
As we had worriedly anticipated, the aircraft we were asked to board was not one of the shiny AeroParacas ones. It was much smaller, scruffier, and clearly older. We cast each other a nervous glance. After all the waiting, we weren’t going to turn back at this stage. We hopped on board.
A smooth and unforgettable flight over the Nazca Lines
After all the stories about motion sickness, churning stomachs, crazy pilots, etc etc etc… our flight was absolutely fine. As smooth as anything. We have taken plenty of buses and boats on our travels that were far rockier rides. The pilot did bank quite heavily to the sides at times to give us a good view of the geoglyphs, but not in a way that induced nausea or felt unsafe.
Was it worth the wait? Absolutely. Even without the spectacle of the lines, the views across the Nazca Desert scenery were stunning. The co-pilot gave us informative commentary on each of the famous figures, and we banked on both sides so both me and Lisa could see them clearly. Among others, we saw the spider, the monkey, the hummingbird, the condor, the astronaut – all magnificent from above. The mystery of their origins just added to the awe of gliding over them.
The flight lasted around 30 minutes, which seemed to pass very quickly. It was nearly 4pm by the time we arrived back at the hostel, later than we had anticipated but still in plenty of time to get some much-needed nourishment and make our night bus departure for Cusco.
More things to do in Nazca
While the Nazca Lines are undoubtedly the city’s biggest tourist draw, there are some other interesting things to see and do while you’re in the area. While Nazca isn’t the liveliest or most colourful of cities, it has a fascinating history to explore, and is within close reach of some mesmerising desert landscapes.
Check out Museo Arqueológico Antonini
Museo Arqueológico Antonini is Nazca’s archaeological museum, located on the outskirts of the city, about a kilometre east of the Plaza de Armas. Inside the museum you can browse a range of ancient artefacts and artworks hailing from the Nazca civilisation period over 2,000 years ago.
Visit the Cantalloc Aqueducts
Further outside town to the east, about 40 minutes’ walk from the Plaza de Armas, is another of Nazca’s archaeological wonders: the Cantalloc Aqueducts. This series of over 40 aqueducts were used by the Nazca civilisation around 1,500 years ago to supply water to the city and for crop cultivation. It’s possible to take a guided tour to the Cantalloc Aqueducts that also includes nearby archaeological highlights.
See the Cahuachi Pyramids
From Nazca you can take a tour to visit the Cahuachi Pyramids, some 30 kilometres west of the city. This complex of adobe structures functioned as a ceremonial centre during the years of the Nazca civilisation. Built as early as 200BC and abandoned 1,500 years ago, the pyramids are an example of unique ancient architecture and a relic of how the Nazca people lived.
Take an archaeological tour
If you want to incorporate several historic sites into a day’s visit, it’s possible to book package tours from Nazca that include the Cantalloc Aqueducts, Cahuachi Pyramids, and other nearby highlights. Tours typically include visits to the Ceramic Centre, the Chuachilla Cemetery and the Ocongalla Aqueducts.
Climb Cerro Blanco, “the world’s highest sand dune”
Cerro Blanco, a 2,078-metre sand mountain, is claimed to be the world’s highest sand dune. Just a few kilometres outside Nazca, it’s easily accessible from the city via a taxi or tour. You can hike to the top for a spectacular desert view, or even try a spot of sandboarding.
Take a day trip to Reserva San Fernando
Although Nazca is surrounded by harsh desert, you don’t have to travel too far to reach the lush national reserve of San Fernando, a large protected area that hugs the pacific coast. The reserve is home to a diverse ecosystem and terrains of forest and hills. On a day’s visit you can see Andean wildlife such as guanacos and condors, and an array of quirky coastline rock formations.
Eat in a menú restaurant
One of the best ways to eat on a budget in Peru is in the local menú restaurants. These establishments, which are very popular with locals, typically open from midday until late afternoon and serve set-course meals for ridiculously low prices. In Nazca we paid as little as 7 Peruvian soles for two courses and a drink. The quality is very much hit and miss, but that’s all part of the experience!
Where to stay in Nazca
Nazca is generally a very cheap place to visit, with a range of accommodation options available at low prices. You can browse what’s available on booking.com. We’ve researched some of the best places to stay in Nazca too, so read on below for our recommendations.
We stayed at Nanasqa Hostel during our visit, which is a solid budget option with good facilities not too far away from the city centre. It’s run by a friendly man called Roy who is always happy to help with information about Nazca and booking activities. Dorm rooms and privates are both available.
Facilities: free breakfast | free wifi | 24-hour reception and security | hot showers | kitchen | tour packages
NASCA Trails B&B
NASCA Trails B&B is another affordable option that offers dorm and private rooms on a safe site close to the bus station and city centre. It’s an intimate, family-run hostel with a friendly team of staff who can speak English, Spanish and German. The perfect quiet and convenient lodging for a short stay in Nazca.
Facilities: free airport transfer | free parking | bar and café | free wifi | 24-hour reception | hot showers | luggage storage
Anccalla Inn is a guest house with a range of private rooms in a great location, just a couple of blocks from Nazca’s Plaza de Armas. It’s a clean and comfortable hostel, run by a friendly family, who can help organising tours. A traditional breakfast with coffee is served every morning.
Facilities: free breakfast | free wifi | 24-hour reception and security | hot showers | book exchange | luggage storage
How to get to Nazca
The aerodrome at Nazca (Maria Reiche Neuman Airport) only serves the tourist flights over the Nazca Lines – there are no routes between here and other Peruvian cities. Therefore, the best and easiest transport option to get to Nazca is by bus.
There are several bus companies that cover the route to Nazca between Lima and Cusco. We used the comparison site Busbud to assess our options. Our favourite bus company to use in Peru is Cruz Del Sur, which has very comfortable buses and a good safety record.
The following table shows some examples of Nazca journey times and prices:
|Origin||Journey time||Price (US dollars)|
|Lima||7.5 hours||From $15|
|Cusco||14 hours||From $30|
|Ica||2.5 hours||From $9|
|Arequipa||9.5 hours||From $24|
Another option is Peru Hop, which offers an open, multi-stop ticket through the country. It does work out a bit more expensive than the other bus companies, but if you’re looking for flexibility and convenience it might be the best option. The ticket includes some sightseeing features as well, so you do get a bit more for your money.
Where next in Peru?
If you’re heading from Nazca on to Cusco, take a look at our recommendations on things to do and the best hostels while you’re there. For the Inca Trail, read our review of the G Adventures tour and our guide to hiking to Machu Picchu for first-timers.
If you’re heading in the opposite direction towards the capital, see our recommended 2-day itinerary for Lima and guide to the best hostels and backpacker districts. En route to Lima, you should also consider a stop in the desert oasis of Huacachina.
Finally, check out the breakdown of our Peru trip costs for help with planning your budget.
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