Nazca Lines vs. Sandboarding Cerro Blanco

Natural mirador in Nazca, Peru

The natural look-out point in Nazca

We were told that visiting Nazca without seeing the Nazca Lines is like visiting Cuzco and not seeing Machu Picchu.

Or for a more Canadian reference, it’s like visiting Toronto and not seeing the CN Tower (But that’s actually very difficult to do since the CN Tower is pretty impossible to miss if you visit Toronto, so that’s probably not a great analogy).

Anyways, Jason and I have indeed managed to visit Nazca and not see the Nazca Lines.  Which we did not regret at all.

One of the little plazas in Nazca, Peru

Little plaza in Nazca

Nazca is a small, sun-baked town in Peru’s southern coastal region.  Its star attraction is the Nazca Lines, a series of mysterious lines forming various animal and geometric shapes (like the monkey, spider, or hummingbird) – some as big as a football field.  You can only really see them clearly from the air, and the town is full of airline companies waiting to take you on a 40-minute flight over the lines.

View of the Nazca desert from the PanAmerican Highway

Panorama of Nazca desert

During the high season, the cost of a flight over the Nazca Lines is about CDN $90/pp.  While Jason and I both share the belief that, when traveling, you shouldn’t let costs prevent you from doing something you really want to experience – after weighing the benefits vs. costs of seeing the lines from the air, we both came to the conclusion that we were totally okay with skipping the Nazca Lines flight.  We did some additional research that confirmed our suspicion that, although the sight of the lines during optimal conditions are pretty amazing, there were a lot of discouraging stories of crowded planes, poor context-setting by the guides (if any), crazy motion sickness on the tiny aircrafts, and just a general let-down after seeing the lines.

Mirador viewing tower in Nazca, Peru

Mirador viewing tower

We found out that you can catch a (slightly askew) glimpse of three of the Nazca line figures from the Mirador viewing tower just 20 minutes out of town, so we caught a local bus and paid 2 soles (CDN $0.70) to climb to the top of the tower.

Mirador viewing tower in Nazca, Peru

Mirador viewing tower – the next best thing for viewing the Nazca Lines

Nazca Lines from the Mirador Viewing Tower in Nazca, Peru

Our view of the Nazca Lines from the top of the Mirador Viewing Tower.

The view of the lines wasn’t that great but we could definitely appreciate the enormity of the shapes.  The landscape of the desert itself was worth the trip to the Mirador viewing tower.

On the natural mirador in Nazca, Peru

Awesome desert scenery

The next day, we used the money we saved on something we both really wanted to try: sandboarding on Cerro Blanco – the world’s largest sand dune!  Standing at an impressive 2078m, it’s just roughly 100m shy of Whistler Mountain in British Colombia, Canada.

Cerro Blanco in Nazca, Peru

Near the peak of Cerro Blanco

Our trip started at the ungodly hour of 5:30am, where we were driven to the edge of the mountains that surround the sand dune.  Inaccessible by sand buggies, we would have to hike at least 3 hours to get to the top of the behemoth.

Cerro Blanco in Nazca, Peru

On our trek to Cerro Blanco. You can see the Cerro Blanco, the highest sand dune in the world, far off in the background.

Combine searing desert heat with the high elevation, it’s quite a dizzying hike up to the top.  It takes about 1.5 hours just to get to the base of the sand dune and as you look up to the top of monster sand dune, it takes every effort just to not turn around and go home.

Approaching Cerro Blanco

Approaching Cerro Blanco. Trust me, it’s a lot bigger in person! (TWSS – for you, Kpoo)

At the foot of Cerro Blanco

Cerro Blanco looks like a small pile of sand behind us. To accurately picture its size, imagine a sand-covered version of Whistler Mountain in the background.

But as we neared the top and starting taking in the eye-popping views, we were glad to have soldiered on.

Climbing up the sand dunes on Cerro Blanco

Climbing up one of many sand dunes

Climbing up the sand dunes on Cerro Blanco

Climbing up one of many sand dunes

The smooth sand dunes against the dry Andean mountain ranges made for some surreal landscapes.

On top of Cerro Blanco in Nazca, Peru

Gorgeous view from atop the sand dune

On our way to the top, we practiced on some smaller dunes.

Sandboard practice on Cerro Blanco

Trying not to fall

Sandboard practice on Cerro Blanco

Trying not to eat sand

When we finally reached the top, we strapped in for the crazy vertical drop.

On top of Cerro Blanco in Nazca, Peru

Finally! We made it!

Our guide quickly made the sign of the cross with his hands before dropping off (what seemed like) the edge of the earth.

At the top of the highest vertical drop on Cerro Blanco

Smiling to hide the intense fear!

We had no choice but to follow him.  From the top to the bottom, it takes 25 minutes going at top speed.  We took over an hour to get down 😛

From halfway down Cerro Blanco

The view up  from halfway down Cerro Blanco. It was so steep!!

Sandboarding is not at all similar to snowboarding (with the exception of strapping a wooden plank to your feet).  The wooden board sticks to sand like ‘a fat kid on cake’.  Our guide gave us a piece of candle to apply wax  to the bottom of the board.  Every couple of minutes, we would come to a standstill – requiring us to unstrap our boards and re-wax the board.  The clunky board is also pretty difficult to control.

Re-waxing my board halfway down Cerro Blanco

Spending more time sitting on top than cruising atop the sand

We also had to constantly remind ourselves to keep our mouth shut, lest we wanted mouthful of sands when we fell.  It’s pretty difficult to remember to keep your mouth shut though, when you’re screaming your lungs out as your hurtle down the monster sand dune.

I half-expected to be a superstar sandboarder (you know, since I’m a superstar snowboarder back in Canada..haha), but my expectations were quickly quashed  when I realized that I would be spending more time rolling around in the sand than cruising atop it.  I got sand in places I never thought possible (and continued to discover bits of sand days later!)

Sand dunes near the top of Cerro Blanco

Love the contrast of the sand dunes against the clear blue sky

Regardless, it was a really fun (albeit grueling) experience.  In total, we spent 3 hours trekking up, 2 hours sandboarding, and another hour trekking out of the desert to where a car picked us up and dropped us back at our hostel.  I’m glad we tried sandboarding, for our first and likely last time.  At least until they install ski lifts that take you to the top.

To mend out aching muscles, we decided to gorge ourselves on protein and ordered a monster platter of meat and a couple litres of beer when we got back in town.

Huge meat platter in Nazca, Peru

Our pile of muscle-healing protein

Ok fine, the litres of beer had nothing to with mending our muscles.  It was more for rinsing the sand out of our mouths.

Sandboarding on Cerro Blanco in Nazca, Peru

Our last time sandboarding 😉