Before you take a flight over the Nazca Lines, a few things will probably cross your mind. Will you get airsick? Will the tour be worth the money? How much will you actually see? Will you be able to take some respectable photos?
Well, it’s definitely worth the money. The flight itself is great fun, as long as you don’t suffer from airsickness or severe vertigo. As for the aerial views of the geoglyphs, they are nothing short of stunning.
Taking photos, meanwhile, is slightly tricky. The pilots try their best to give their passengers a good view of each major geometric shape or zoomorphic design, but you need to concentrate -- and stay sharp -- if you want a good shot. The lines seem to float by your window all too quickly, especially when your pilot is pointing them out and all you see, at first, is desert.
There are hundreds of lines, shapes, and figures laid out across the Nazca Desert. The following photos are of the most notable geoglyphs, those that determine the course of your flight from the Maria Reiche Airport and back again.
The Whale is often the first geoglyph you’ll see after taking off from Maria Reiche Airport. It is one of the simpler designs and easy to make out from the air, offering a good chance to train your eye to the desert landscape below.
You’ll see a number of spiral-shape designs as you fly above the Nazca Desert, both as standalone patterns and incorporated into zoomorphic geoglyphs. One such spiral forms the Whale’s eye. The whale was a central god within the religious beliefs of the Nazca civilization, as were other animals that appear as Nazca geoglyphs. You might see a second whale, known as the Killer Whale, as you fly over the Nazca Lines.
This anthropomorphic figure, commonly known as the Astronaut (or the Giant), is one of the most famous Nazca geoglyphs. As you can imagine, it’s also a major talking point in more fanciful Nazca Lines theories -- think Erich von Däniken, ancient astronauts and alien runways (and, sometimes, giants...).
The Astronaut is a Paracas-era geoglyph, predating many of the other famous designs. Its hillside location is a common trait of geoglyphs from this period (many of which can be seen from ground level). The figure is approximately 105 feet (32 meters) tall. Your pilot will loop around it before heading on to the Monkey geoglyph.
The spiral-tailed Nazca Monkey is approximately 328 feet (100 m) long and 190 feet (58 m) tall. Similar monkey representations appear on Nazca ceramics. The Monkey, like many Nazca geoglyphs, is a single-line drawing -- if you step onto the Monkey’s hand, for example, you could walk all the way to the center of its tail without stepping off the line.
The Nazca Lines Dog can be hard to spot from the air at first glance, partly due to separate lines that cross through its upper and lower parts. At about 167 feet (51 m) long, however, you’ll soon recognize the Dog once you have found part of the outline.
It’s possible that this particular dog represents an ancestor of the modern-day Peruvian Hairless dog, a breed that was kept by pre-Inca cultures living along the Peruvian coast (and later by the Incas themselves).
The 440-feet long (134 m) Condor is one of the largest zoomorphic geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert. The geoglyph is also known as El Chaucato, the local name for the Long-tailed Mockingbird that lives along the southern coastal regions of Peru.
In 1982, Joe Nickell of the University of Kentucky successfully recreated the Condor in a field in Kentucky. Nickell and his team used tools and technology that were available to the Nazca people, proving that the geoglyphs could be made without any outside -- or extraterrestrial -- assistance.
Despite being smaller than most of the main geoglyphs, the 150-feet long (45 m) Spider is easy to spot as you fly over the Nazca Lines. It was one of the first figures seen by Paul Kosok in the 1930s. Kosok, from Long Island University, is regarded as the first historian to fully study the Nazca Lines (Maria Reiche, arguably the most famous Nazca Lines researcher, joined Kosok in the 1940s).
Another researcher, Phyllis Pitluga of the Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum, claimed that the Spider was an anamorphic representation of the Orion constellation. Her star alignment theory gained some traction but remains well within the “alternative theories” category.
The Nazca Lines Hummingbird is one of the most famous of all the Nazca geoglyphs. Hummingbirds are among the smallest birds in the world; the geoglyph, however, is about 318-feet (97 m) long with a wingspan of 216 feet (66 m).
The Hummingbird is located on a raised plateau, making it easy to spot from the air.
Measuring 935 feet (285 m) in length, the Nazca Lines Alcatraz is one of the largest zoomorphic figures in the Nazca Desert. Its winged body, trailing legs, and tail feathers sit at the end of an impressively long, zigzagging neck.
The Alcatraz geoglyph is also known as the Pelican (and occasionally as the Phoenix, the Flamingo or the Cormorant). “Alcatraz” is an archaic Spanish word for “pelican” -- Alcatraz Island, home to the infamous Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, was originally named “La Isla de los Alcatraces” (Island of the Pelicans).
The Parrot is one of the less obvious Nazca Lines geoglyphs you’ll see during your flight. It’s not too hard to spot, despite the presence of a number of interfering lines, but you could be forgiven for thinking “that doesn’t look like any parrot I know.”
The beak is the easiest detail to look for, with what appears to be a wattle (perhaps a crest) hanging from its underside. The final quarter, perhaps third, of the Parrot appears to be hidden beneath later lines.
The Tree and Hands
The Tree and Hands geoglyphs will probably be the last designs you see before returning to the Maria Reiche Airport. The two geoglyphs sit side-by-side, just off the Panamericana (Pan-American) highway. The tower in the photo above is a Nazca Lines mirador, or observation tower.
The Tree consists of a central trunk with radiating branches and a series of roots. The Hands geoglyph presents a more mysterious sight, with one obviously human hand (four fingers and a thumb) connected to a four-fingered hand (which appears to have three fingers and a thumb). Exactly what this design represents remains very much open to interpretation (you might hear the Hands referred to as the Frog).