In travel

Exploring Nazca Desert’s Ancient History

The Nazca Desert. It’s a place I’d never heard of before heading to Nazca, most people know of it for the oasis town of Huacachina that’s become increasingly popular, and increasingly expensive. But that’s not all that sits in the Nazca Valley. If you read the last post, you’ll have learned all about my both fun and horrifying experience flying over the Nazca lines, if not, you can catch up here.

And whilst many leave Nazca after this, there’s a boatload of other things to be found in the area, like the ancient aqueducts and the lost ruins of Cahuachi.


As with the rest of this post, this is a place you can only reach by a tour guide driving you deep into the Nazca Desert. I wouldn’t recommend going alone, honestly I haven’t a donkey of how you’d even manage that. Ask your hotel for local tour guides and companies that will take you, likely as part of a larger group, out into the desert for a couple of hours.

These ruins are still being excavated now! Decades of work has gone into this, and theories about this place keep changing. It was thought to have been the centre of Nazca civilisation between 0 AD and 500 AD, however it seems the population was actually rather small, leading experts to believe this was a place of pilgrimage. There’s a lot of conflicting theories, but these seems to be the prevailing one.

The area is made up of an array of pyramids, most of which with columns rather high up. It’s believed that different pyramids were used by different communities to sing, dance, banquet, sacrifice and perform burials.

At the time of us visiting last June, a large crew was hard at work digging up new areas. You can sorta get a feel for how remote this is from this picture, it’s in the middle of a desert, in the middle of the mountains. It’s not miles from civilisation, but when you’re used to city living, this feels so ridiculously far from ‘the world’.

One of the biggest problems facing Cahuachi is looting. Lots of burial grounds have been discovered in the last few years, and tons of grave robbers descend on the area. More on that later…

The area is a lot bigger than it seems here. You can take dedicated Cahuachi tours, however we headed into the desert to explore the dunes and sandboard, so our stop was only a short one. Still, it seemed a fascinating place.

Grave Robbers

Warning – Multiple pictures of human skeletons below.

Grave robbing truly is a large problem that archaeologists are facing at Cahuachi. As more and more of the ruins are uncovered, more people head to Cahuachi to steal fabrics, jewels and items buried alongside bodies around 2,000 years ago. But they have no use for the bodies, so they often end up dumped into the dunes, creating areas like this.

The sun has ended up bleaching the bones, so they look almost like props. When we were stood near them, none of it felt real. They all looked too real? Too perfect? It was an odd feeling to know that you’re stood over a body of someone who died centuries ago, whose grave has been disturbed and stolen from and their remains cast into the sands to be reclaimed by the desert.

Now we’re back in the desert proper, away from ruins and thieved graves. The dunes of the Nazca Desert are so beautiful, though it’s a shame the landscape is interrupted by power lines! Needs of a modern society I guess, we see this in the UK all the time with lush greenery being bulldozed for new train tracks.

Our group ended up sand boarding for a few hours and driving up and down the dunes aimlessly. It’s not something I would have usually chosen to do, but I am so incredibly glad I did. Riding through the middle of a desert and throwing myself down giant dunes ended up being one of my favourite memories of the whole trip. It felt like an otherwordly experience- it’s not everyday you find yourself lost in the middle of a desert in South America.

I’ll wrap this up before it becomes a dump of pictures of the desert looking rather beautiful in the evening sun.

Next post will see us heading to the White City of Arequipa. Amazing place where I got so drunk on Pisco Sours as it was my birthday. Ended up getting travel sickness, altitude sickness, and one of the worst hangovers of my life. Good times.

Catch up on other Peru posts here:

Nazca, Peru. You have to fly above the Nazca Lines.

Lima, Peru. What to do in 48 hours.

And all travel posts here.

Nazca Desert Gallery

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