Katie and her husband Tom had been wanting to visit Machu Picchu and the Nazca Lines in Peru for many, many years. The birth of not only one but two children within a year meant though that the trip had to be postponed. When they decided that it was finally time to tick off that box, it did bring practical difficulties – as in trying to see as much of the country as possible within just over a week!
As for any first-timer to Peru, seeing Machu Picchu was high on their list – but it was the second part of their trip that took them completely by surprise!
So seeing Machu Picchu wasn’t enough?
There is a reason why Machu Picchu is one of the world’s most famous travel icons – its setting is simply breathtaking. Whether you decide to see it as part of the Inca Trail (or one of the less crowded alternative treks) or if you pay a whirlwind visit taking the bus up from the pueblo (Aguas Caleintes) we found it, just like everyone else, stunning – but for us, after planning this trip for so long, going to Peru and not seeing the Nazca Lines was inconceivable.
How easy is it to combine Machu Picchu & Nazca Lines in Peru?
If you look at the map and you are not familiar with the geography of Peru, Cusco and Nazca do not seem that far from each other; in reality, however, they are separated by the Andes, which means that although there is a road connecting the two, it is through narrow winding paths on top of the mountains and takes about 18 hours. The alternative is to fly back from Cusco to capital Lima and from there drive down to Nazca, as there are no commercial flights. Luckily for us, World Expeditions offers a short 3-day/2-night trip from Lima, which does exactly this!
What was the most surprising element of your trip?
As spectacular as Machu Picchu is, seeing the ruins of Pachacamac just south of Lima was one of our trip highlights. Admittedly I knew nothing about it before we went to Peru and, if I’m totally honest, at some point we considered asking our guide to skip it, as our flight from Cusco was delayed… but I am so glad we didn’t! What makes it so special is that it is a ‘living’ excavation site – how often do you get to see archaeologists at work?! Not many people have heard of it, we saw just a handful of other tourists when we were there, but apparently work is underway to build a new National Museum opposite the site so I’m sure the secret will be out soon.
What else did you see along the way?
Admittedly the Galapagos is nowhere high on my wish list but even for someone like me I was pleasantly surprised by the cruise to the Ballestas Islands, also known as the ‘mini Galapagos.’ Those sea lions are one funny lot! Luckily our guide Daniela went above and beyond to ‘enrich’ the long drive to Nazca. She included stops that weren’t officially part of the itinerary, such as the Paracas Nature Reserve (the desert landscape is purely sublime, especially along the coast) and the oasis village of Huacachina (where Tom went sand-boarding). We also visited a local winery, Queirolo Vineyards, to find out more about how pisco is made. Our three-course lunch at its restaurant was one of the top meals we had during our trip… and who would have thought Peruvian wine would taste so good?!
Did the Nazca Lines live up to your expectations?
Absolutely! I must confess that, as everything was so beautifully organised from the first moment we dealt with World Expeditions, we had done very little research ahead of our trip, so hearing that there is an observatory tower just before you arrive into Nazca was a very welcome surprise. We got there just as the sun was setting and getting a glimpse of the petroglyphs under the hazy light was magical… though nothing compares to the experience of actually seeing the Nazca Lines from above on the plane!
Any advice for anyone who wants to see the Nazca Lines in Peru?
Looking back, I am so glad that Daniela had given us in advance a ‘map’ outlining all the different petroglyphs. I thought there are only a handful but in fact there are more than a dozen! I knew of the most famous ones such as the hummingbird or the monkey… but the whale? And there’s a dog too! Although as you’re getting closer, the pilot announces which petroglyph you are about to see, some are not as easy to spot unless you know what they look like! It’s also worth bearing in mind that the plane makes lots of twists and turns to ensure all passengers get to see the Nazca Lines – so if you are prone to motion sickness you may want to take one of those little anti-nausea pills before the flight. It is all very worth it!