Giant Sketchpad: The Nazca Lines

History Facts

Where: Pampa San Jose, Peru
History: Giant symbols carved in the desert floor perplexing people as to their creation and meaning
Go There For: Spectacular aerial art

What Are They

The Nazca Lines were discovered by the Western world in 1927, yet questions of their purpose still puzzle scientists to this day – how were they created and for what purpose?

The lines lie in the rocky Pampas de Jumana near the desert town of Nazca in southern Peru and are so well preserved due to the dry, windless climate (and isolation) of their location. In total, there are over 800 straight lines, 300 geometric figures and 70 animal and plant designs – with the largest measuring up to 1200 feet! The most famous symbols are the spider, monkey, whale, snake, lizard, flower, man and 18 bird shapes, including the hummingbird and the condor. The lines are made by removing the dark pebbles in the desert to reveal the soft yellow sands beneath.


There are a lot of theories on who  and for what reason the Nazca Lines were constructed; some claim they were strips prepared for aliens, while others believe they were religion-based sacrifices to the Gods. The fact that the ‘giant sketchpad’ art is best appreciated from the air has led some people to believe that the Nazcans were capable of flight. (Perhaps their art was best appreciated by the birds).

Scientists believe that the majority of lines were made by the Nasca people, who flourished from around AD 1 to 700.

The most famous explanation is that of Ms Maria Reiche, who believed the lines were a kind of a huge astronomic calendar of the period. Maria Reiche dedicated her life to this research – nicknamed the “Lady of the Lines” and moved to the area until her death in 1998. Her efforts are held responsible for the conservation of the lines. Thanks to her, they are now one of the most important attractions in Peru, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Visiting Nazca

The Nazca Lines can be viewed from an observatory “mirador”, but best way to view this amazing work of art is by plane. The cost for plane hire varies from US $60 to $100 (and is usually cheaper if you book upon arrival in Nazca instead of online).

More Information

Andean Travel Web
Useful travel information to put you in touch with the best tour operators and hotels in Peru.

Mystic Place: Nazca Lines
Photos and info on the history of Nazca lines and a chance to have your say