Peru’s desert coast is the setting for the mysterious, ancient Nazca lines, a vast series of furrows in the earth that depict stylized human and animal forms as well as geometric shapes. The full impact of their 193-square-mile expanse sets in only when they are seen from the air, which is how they were discovered in the 1920s. Faithful to the motifs of the Nazca culture, some of these simple, perfect triangles, trapezoids, and crisscrossing lines run for miles across the desert. There’s also a 540-foot-long lizard, a 360-foot-long monkey with a tightly curled tail, and a condor with a 440-foot wingspan. The geoglyphs are believed to have been “etched” by the removal of rocks and topsoil to reveal lighter soil underneath between 2,000 and 5,000 years ago.
So what, exactly, are they? Though every theory from extraterrestrial landing strip to astronomical calendars has been postulated, these extraordinary pre-Inca culture artifacts remain veiled in mystery. But a visit to the Italian-run Museo Antonini may shed some light through its archaeological displays, trophy skulls, textiles, and artifacts that have been found in the area.
From 1946 until her death in 1998, the German-born mathematician Maria Reiche dedicated her life to researching the lines and the Nazca culture. The simple room in the village of Pascana, where she lived for much of that time, is now a tiny museum. Reiche spent most of her last decade as a guest in the Hotel Nazca Lines, about 5 miles from the site. Today, this Colonial hacienda’s 32 rooms are modest yet comfortable. It has a pleasant patio and welcoming pool, and the staff present nightly lectures. For a more luxurious stay, there’s the newly reincarnated seaside Hotel Paracas, which has the excellent bonus of access to the amazing Ballestas Islands, promoted as Galapagos-in-miniature for their enormous populations of sea lions, pelicans, and penguins. The parent company’s private plane, which trumps local competitors for newness and comfort, offers flight over the Nazca lines.