Nasca is one of Peru’s most visited destinations and yet, still one of its most mysterious. Of course, the draw for travellers is the famous Nasca Lines, a series of ancient geoglyphs which mark the desert floor some 30 km outside of the city.
For intrepid explorers, a trip to see these lines is a must in Peru, coming only second to Machu Picchu. However, for those willing to look a little closer, there is far more to see here than just the enigma that is The Lines.
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What is the weather like in Nasca?
Nasca is a desert location so you will need to prepare for hot and humid days. There is next to no chance of seeing rain so instead make sure to bring light, cool clothes and apply plenty of suncream and mosquito repellent.
Although you can walk around in flip-flops, hardier shoes or boots are recommended for exploring areas more off the beaten track – sadly litter can be an issue in outlying spots, especially along the Pan-American Highway.
Where to stay in Nasca
This cute B&B, located just a short walk from the Plaza de Armas, is a great choice for backpackers looking for a little privacy. Offering private en suite rooms for a very reasonable price, this is a great base from which to explore the city. Owner Juan speaks four languages fluently and goes beyond what is expected to make your stay memorable and enjoyable. Trips to the Nasca Lines can be arranged directly through the hostel. A budget double room for two people comes in at just 47 soles a night!
Just three blocks from the city centre, this is a good option for backpackers looking for private or dorm options. Staff are able to arrange excursions to the Lines and also recommend other sights worth seeing around the city. There is a nice rooftop area for relaxing and plenty of food places nearby. A night in a dorm will cost from 20 soles.
Known for its social areas and good atmosphere, Nanasqa is a good choice for solo travellers. The staff are friendly and there is the option to purchase tours around Nasca through them. The hostel features a kitchen to prepare meals in although this is quite small. Both privates and dorms are available, with a dorm bed coming in from 21 soles and a single private at 45 soles.
Top Things To Do in Nasca
1. See the Nasca Lines
The number one thing to do in Nasca is, without a doubt, see the Nasca Lines. However, depending on your budget, there are different ways to do this…
How to see the Nasca Lines on a Budget
For backpackers who can’t afford to splash out on a flight to see the Lines, fear not! There is a viewing tower along the Pan-American Highway which only costs 4 soles to enter. This viewpoint overlooks the lizard, the tree of life and the hands.
Sadly, one of these geoglyphs has been damaged by the construction on the Pan American Highway but the other two remain in good condition. There is currently another taller viewing platform in construction but at the time of writing, it was not yet open.
From the towers, it is also possible to walk to the mountain viewpoint 1 km away, although the views are less impressive and showcase only straight lines. Follow the path alongside the Pan-American towards the hill which is characterised by trails.
Although it is possible to arrange a tour of these viewpoints, the cheaper alternative is by using public transport. In Nasca, pass the Cruz Del Sur office and head towards the gas station. Just past there, you will see numerous northbound buses parked up on the right-hand side. Ask them to stop at the ‘lineas mirador’. To return, flag down any bus heading back in the direction of Nasca. A journey by bus will cost 3 soles each way.
The best, but more expensive, way to see the Nasca Lines
Without a doubt, the best way to see the Nasca Lines is by arranging a flight. Although there are numerous people that will bombard you with ‘great deals’ to see The Lines (usually as you leave bus stations), resist arranging anything on the street and instead head to a reputable tour agency.
We went with Air Majoro and can’t recommend them highly enough! Be aware that the flights can be quite stomach-turning so avoid having a big meal before flying. Trips are usually around $80 USD per person and there is also a 30 soles airport tax per person that needs to be paid on top of this. It is a pricey alternative to the viewing towers but well worth the cost!
2. Visit the Eerie Cementerio Chauchilla
For a dose of dark tourism, head to Chauchilla Cemetery where it is possible to see mummified humans remains. This site has been hugely important in learning more about the Nasca culture owing to the artefacts that have been left behind. However, the cemetery has also fallen victim to grave robbers on a number of occasions which have disturbed the bodies and pottery. Luckily, most of this has been returned since.
This cemetery has been featured in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull so if it looks familiar, that may be why! For a bit of context, it is best to visit with a tour which can be arranged for around $30USD in the centre of Nasca.
To get there independently, take a taxi but remember to arrange a return trip! Depending on your haggling skills, expect to pay around 100 soles for a round trip, including the wait time in the middle.
3. See the Cantalloc Aqueducts
These ancient aqueducts were built by the ancient Nasca civilisation to provide water in what is otherwise a very dry and arid environment. The aqueducts have stood the test of time and are still used by local farmers for irrigation purposes today. Entrance ticket is 10 soles and it is easy to get there by taxi.
Expect to pay 5-10 soles one way and try to arrange a round-trip. Although there are colectivos (shared taxis) that run back to the centre of Nasca from near to the El Nuevo Cantalloc hotel, they are not always frequent. The walk isn’t far from the city but there are a number of formidable dogs that line the streets and tourists have been bitten in the past. Arrange transport to be safe.
4. Visit Cahuachi
This archaeological site was a former centre of the Nasca culture and overlooks some of the mysterious Nasca Lines. The complex itself is hugely vast and very interesting to learn about. Tours can be arranged here from the centre of the city or can be visited independently via taxi.
However, in order to understand the history behind the structures, a tour is probably the best option. There is no entrance fee and this complex is still relatively under-visited – make sure you get in while the crowds are still small!
5. Go Sandboarding at Cerro Blanco
This is one of the tallest sand dunes in the world and makes for an awesome sandboarding trip! Measuring in at a mighty 1,176 meters from base to summit, this dune is actually taller than England’s highest mountain! Trips can be arranged from Nasca city centre and leave early in the day to avoid the worst of the heat. Expect the journey to the top to take around three hours. Read more about sandboarding in Peru.
6. Check out the Planetarium
Nasca’s planetarium is located in the DM Nasca Hotel. They offer evening lectures on the Lines in Spanish, English (7.30pm) and French. Be aware that these times are subject to change so it is best to check with the hotel earlier in the day. The lecture is a great introduction to the Nasca Lines and at only 20 soles per person, a reasonably cheap way to spend an evening as well.
7. Learn more at the Museo Lineas de Nasca Centro Maria Reiche
Maria Reiche was a German-born Peruvian who is famous for her interest in the Nasca Lines. The museum is made up of her former home and research space, where visitors can learn about her work and life-long commitment to understand and protect The Lines.
Where to next?
Huacachina: Hop on any bus to Ica and then grab a moto taxi to nearby desert oasis Huacachina. Home to sandboarding, dune-buggying and a whole lot of wine tasting, this is the perfect backpacker retreat. Tours can be arranged to the surrounding desert for very little cash and there are some great happy hour deals around the clock!
Arequipa: Spend a few days in the ‘White City’ known as Arequipa, before arranging a hiking expedition around Colca Canyon to see the flight of the Condor! Peru’s second largest city is the perfect blend of Lima and Cusco and you may just find you don’t want to leave.
Paracas: Take in the beauty of the ‘Peruvian Galapagos’ with a trip out to Isla Ballestas. Here you can see sea lions and penguins, not to mention a whole other host of birds. Spend the evening eating freshly grilled seafood by the sea and don’t forget to get there early to make the most of the sunset!