Nasca is a small and sleepy town in the middle of the desert. But if you take a short flight over the desert nearby, you soon realise why it is a must visit! Spread over this region are more than 70 gigantic geoglyphs. Geoglyph is a design made in ground, using durable items like stones, visible only from above. Ancient Nazca people made these designs more than 1000 years ago. They moved the red pebbles to expose the white-grey sand beneath, creating a contrast with the surroundings that could be distinguished as forms. These magnificent formations were discovered less than a century ago, when the first airplanes flew across this region and pilots noticed them from the sky!
So, the only way to view and appreciate these ancient artforms is to fly over them! Just outside the town of Nazca lies the Airport, where many tour agencies offer aerial tour of the lines. A decade ago, they were infamous for safety standards, as the planes were old and pilots inexperienced, leading to many accidents and fatalities. Recently the government intervened and now it is strictly regulated, making it more reliable and safe to enjoy this wonder.
We opted for Aero Nasca, which was one of the more reliable and trusted Tour Operator here. Actually, the tour includes a pick up from the Hotel, but as it was Mother’s Day (Important holiday in Peru), the team forgot about us. So after waiting for a while at the hotel, we hailed a cab and went to the airport, where upon presenting ourselves the agents became apologetic. They promised us to lengthen our flight and include some additional sights to compensate!
After making payment, you are “Checked-in”. This involves being weighed and allocating seat accordingly.
The planes are small 6 seater Cessnas. Post the security check, we wait for the remaining passengers. It is best to take the flights in the morning, when the air is clear, so we were going in the second flight in the morning!
Once 6 passengers are ready, we are escorted to our Plane by the Pilot and First Officer. First Officer also serves as the Guide. Once strapped in as per allocated seats (basis weights), we wore headphones, that cancelled the noise and opened channel to listen to our guide. We were also given a sheet which indicated the designs.
It was our first ride on a 6 seater airplane. Take off was quick and smooth and we soon flew over the city and entered the desert!
The instructions were simple. When a Geoglyph is about to appear, the guide will tell us when it will come (next 30 seconds), where it will come (left side or right side), and how to easily identify it (say focus on the shadow of the plane on ground). And when it does come, the pilot banks the plane sharply to that side so people can take a look and take pictures. Then he goes ahead and makes a turn so that people on the other side can see. Now this is not easy on the stomach!
The next 30 minutes was the most acrobatic flight we had ever experienced, but it also presented some dramatic views!
This regions is so arid that for over a millenia these forms have survived. There is hardly any wind or rain to disturb them.
We also saw umpteen lines and trapezoids, smaller figures like dog and parrot as well. To this day there is no definite answer why the Ancient Nazca people created these lines. With no technology to view this from the air, how did they create so accurate figures ? Why do some resemble landing strips found in current airports? So many unanswered questions!
The Nazca people were not just experts at creating Geoglyphs in the desert! They were smart engineers too! The following wells is an example of how they managed to get water supply in such an arid place!
They were also experts in Mummification. There is a mummy kept in museum in town. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit the same.
Had the flight been any longer, we too would have puked on board. Fortunately, they brought us down safely! Afterwards, the team dropped us back at our B&B!
Tips for Photographing the Nazca Lines
Before I left in the morning to board the flight, I was totally confused on what equipment to take with me. The flight is extremely short and challenging. So there is no possibility of changing lenses and all in flight. So basis my research and experience, here are some tips.
- Zoom Lens works best : Almost all the pictures above were taken with help of 18-50mm Kit lens. This is a versatile option as it provides Zoom and Wide view. If you have a 18-135mm, that would be even better. The figures are huge but from up in the air, they look small. Sometimes you fly up close, and they appear larger. So it is best to have a lens with variable focal length
- Carry a Point and Shoot Back-up : The close up of the humming bird was taken with a Point and Shoot Nikkon camera by Swati. Keep a back up option if the DSLR settings are not working.
- Lines are hard to spot in Unprocessed images : You might see the image all brown or grey in your LCD Screen after clicking a picture. This is normal. You have to enhance the contrast and adjust brightness to see the lines. All images above are enhanced.
- Watch out for glare : There would be the glass window of the plane between you and the ground. Just ensure that the camera angle is such that the glare is reduced – or use a Polaroid Filter.