The enigmatic Nazca Lines of southern Peru have always been something that has fascinated us, so we knew it was somewhere we definitely wanted to visit on our travels. We’d like to be writing this post about what an incredible experience flying over the Nazca Lines was and how it had exceeded all our expectations, but unfortunately it would be an outright lie. Never on our journey so far have we ever felt so disappointed or scammed.
The Nazca Mystery
For those unfamiliar with the Nazca Lines, they are a series of ancient symbols etched into the Nazca desert. They were created by the Nazca culture between the period 500BC-500AD and due to the dry climate of the arid plateau, the lines have been naturally preserved for the most part. There are literally hundreds of examples ranging from simple geometric shapes to complex zoomorphic designs.
Despite extensive archeological investigation, their exact purpose still remains a mystery, however they are believed to have had a religious significance for the Nazca culture. Some theories speculate that they were markers on the horizon to show where the sun and other celestial bodies rose; or geometric designs to display the flow of water; irrigation schemes; or designs to ‘summon’ water.
But whatever the true intention, one thing is for sure … the symbols required a monumental effort to construct. Each symbol required teams of hundreds of men, women and children to clear a path of stones and rubble under the ferocious desert sun. It was a task that many paid the ultimate price for, dying of starvation and dehydration along the way.
Although the Nazca Lines can be seen by land tour, the best way to really appreciate their design and scale is to take a flight over them. A typical flight lasts 30 minutes and it is highly recommended to go in the morning between 9-10am, when visibility is best and air turbulence minimal.
We decided to go with Movil Air after reading an article by another blogger about the high standard and safety of their planes and pilots. Given we only had one day we could see the famed lines and wanted a morning flight, we decided to make an online reservation in advance of our arrival.
Upon booking we were assured a mid-morning flight would not be a problem but that our flight time would be confirmed by phone 48 hours prior to departure. So we paid US$100 each using online credit facilities which, while it was more than we expected, we thought it was the price you pay for safer aircraft, experienced pilots and better service. Boy, were we wrong!
When we hadn't heard from Movil Air 24 hours beforehand, I called them to reconfirm our booking and once again was promised a flight time of 10am. I told them we were coming from Ica by bus (2½ hours away) and would proceed to book our bus tickets to meet this time.
Later that evening I received a phone call from Movil Air to tell us our flight had been moved to 7:30am. When I explained again that we were traveling from Ica and that it would be impossible for us to get there by 7:30am, they confirmed once more that 10am was fine.
So we awoke early the next morning and travelled 2½ hours to Nazca by local bus and caught a taxi to the airport arriving at around 9:30am in time for our scheduled flight. You can imagine then how surprised we were to hear our booking had been moved to 12:30pm, when viewing can be obscured by heat haze and turbulence has kicked in creating a bumpy ride! They could tell that we were disappointed and when we asked the reason for the late change, we were given some vague excuse about air traffic in the morning.
When another airline offered to fly us at the original time of 10am in their aircraft for a cheaper price (US$70), we were assured by Movil Air ground staff that their aircraft was better equipped and safer, besides we had already paid them in advance for it. So we held out for the rescheduled Movil Air flight - if push came to shove we'd kick ourselves for not waiting and risking our lives for the sake of a clear photo!
Tomb Raider Territory
Our taxi driver was still hovering nearby and promptly offered to take us on a tour of some of Nazca’s other attractions including Chauchilla Cemetery, an Incan aqueduct and Cahuachi temple. After some negotiation, the price was set and rather than wait around the airport we were off in the hope of filling in time with some bonus sightseeing.
Our driver took us to the Chauchilla Cemetery, an ancient necropolis dating back to the period 200-800AD. Scattered across the arid landscape are thousands of tombs, most of which were long ago looted of valuables by grave robbers, leaving them open to the harsh elements. The ground was still littered by bones and shards of broken ceramics in their aftermath.
The Nazca bodies were wrapped in cotton and coated in a special resin and this, along with the harsh dry conditions and sandy soil, has helped to preserve the remains. They were then buried in the traditional Incan way, sitting upright in the fetal position facing the sunrise, with their valuables and the tools they would need to work in the next life laid out before them. Now they sit in their open graves with tattered robes, matted dreadlocks and hollow eyes, grinning eerily at you from some place in the afterworld. Just a little bit disturbing!!
Our driver repeatedly assured us that the mummies in the tombs were the original remains. But we couldn’t help but think it strange that the mummies still weren’t properly secured and sat exposed in the open desert as they had for centuries before.
So we wandered around under the scorching sun of the desert, taking photos of dead people in the somewhat macabre site for a while. This is Justin’s impersonation of the walking dead …
It wasn’t until we reached the tiny information centre that we discovered two other mummies in protective display cases, their skin still coated in resin, that we realised perhaps the other mummies weren’t so authentic after all?!
Scam numero uno (#1)
So we jumped into the taxi ready for the next stop on our impromptu tour. When we appeared to be speeding back toward the airport, we enquired about the other sights and were told by our driver that there was now not enough time to see them all. Clearly our price negotiations had also affected the number of stops included on our itinerary!
We were a bit surprised and disappointed, but rather than argue in our dodgy Spanglish, we thought we’d give him the benefit of the doubt, thinking that perhaps we had misunderstood the initial proposal.
Scam numero dos (#2)
Cleared for take off
Back at the airport we gave our passport details to Movil Air check-in staff, paid the additional 'airport tax' and settled in the departure lounge to watch a National Geographic documentary on 'Decoding the Nazca Lines'.
Our flight was called early at 12:15pm and we made our way to the tarmac, where we were astonished to learn that we were flying with a different airline! When we questioned the pilot he told us that Movil Air didn't have enough passengers to fly and since we were the only two, they had offloaded us onto them. We asked other passengers how much they had paid and were told US$70 each.
So we boarded the plane anyway, not wanting to wait any longer or be told another bunch of rubbish by Movil Air, but we were angry that we had been repeatedly lied to and now it seemed ripped off US$30 each to boot!
Scam numero tres (#3)
Flying the Nazca Lines
The small plane took off and as soon as it had stabilised its altitude banked hard toward the first Nazca Line. We had been given a map to assist with the identification of the symbols and as we flew by each, the guide would direct us (in English) where to look.
First off the mark was the ‘Whale’ and as we peered out the tiny portal window neither of us could see anything. The pilot banked around hard and came back over the ‘Whale’ so the people on the other side of the plane could get a clear view. We still couldn’t see anything down there! By the look of confusion on the other tourists faces, they couldn’t either … was there something wrong with our eyesight? This flight was not off to a promising start!
The next symbol was the ‘Astronaut’ and we had much better luck spotting this one as it was carved into a red tinged mountain.
It was unlike any of the symbols we’d seen before with their precise design and intricate lines, in fact it looked like it could have been drawn by a child with thick wobbly lines, googley eyes and was it really waving at us?! It made us wonder how much the Nazca Incas knew about space exploration in the first century? Hmmmm, could this perhaps be ...
Scam numero cuatro (#4)?!
Next up was the ‘Dog’ and as we flew by there was no missing this one, it was huge - its perfect symmetry, straight lines and consistent design resembled what we had imagined to see.
We had mixed luck spotting the remainder of the symbols, some were smaller in scale than we thought they’d be and were difficult to distinguish in the dust with a fleeting flyover.
To be perfectly honest we thought the Nazca Lines were somewhat underwhelming and we could identify more by watching the National Geographic documentary in the airport lounge!
In the end we were satisfied with the aircraft we flew in, it was perfectly comfortable and at no point did we feel unsafe or at risk. The pilot did his best to minimise turbulence and the guide spoke English well and was easily understood. With all the hard banking and circling we both felt a little queasy by the end but managed to keep our breakfast down.
Once back on the ground we returned to the Movil Air counter to question why we'd been repeatedly mislead and were offered no good explanation. When we asked for a refund on the difference we paid in fare to the other airline passengers, we were told that we had paid the 'Internet price' and weren't entitled to a refund!
Justin took a seat and waited patiently while I attempted to battle out the logic of this with the ground staff in my best Spanglish. I even asked to speak to their manager in head office who told me it was my bad luck for booking online with them ... No kidding!!
Despite my protests we weren’t given a refund or an apology. Their staff were rude and indifferent when questioned, highlighting the need for a major customer relations overhaul.
Scam numero cinco (#5)
So if after reading this you are still interested in visiting the Nazca Lines, we would make the following recommendations ...
- Don’t fly with Movil Air! Despite all their promises, they mislead you and rip you off for services they can't/don't provide without any explanation. Perhaps if they had offered us an apology and did the honourable thing by refunding the overcharge for services they didn't provide, we wouldn't be writing this.
- Don't book in advance - Upon arriving at the Nazca bus station, we were inundated with offers of flights from other airlines to fly the same day, at our preferred flight time for less money. Perhaps there would be more need to book ahead in high season or if travelling in a large group but it’s doubtful.
- Don't book online - Clearly in the case of Movil Air at least there is an 'Internet price' markup, which rather than encouraging business by allowing their customers to book in advance and secure their preferred flight time, is aimed at wroughting the unsuspecting traveler of extra money without any additional value or benefits. We were consistently offered flights for US$70 per person by all other operators on the day.
So it turns out that something we'd both been looking forward to and had been one of the more expensive splurges on our trip left us feeling underwhelmed, ripped off and pissed off! Maybe we set our expectations too high? We're not sure, but we know that given the choice we wouldn't do it again. Do yourself a favour, save the inconvenience, frustration and expense and watch the National Geographic documentary instead.