The Nazca culture, which developed in the valleys of the current department of Ica in Peru between the 1st and 7th centuries AD, is famous for the impressive lines of the same name, made in the Pampas of Jumana, and which represent gigantic figures of animals, humans and geometric motifs.
But the Nazcas also stood out for their advanced technology and hydraulic engineering, building an impressive network of aqueducts, canals and wells that allowed them to permanently supply croplands with water.
This set of aqueducts, canals and wells are called puquios (from the Quechua pukyu, which means source, spring or well) and more than 40 have been found, most of them currently in use.
They were used to bring fresh water for irrigation and domestic use to desert settlements, and although their dating is disputed, their construction has been estimated around the year 500 AD. Some aqueducts and puquios in other parts of Peru and northern Chile (where they are called sinkholes) may have already been built after the conquest of the Inca empire in the 16th century.
The water holes that exist in the Peruvian desert are not natural. On the contrary, they were intentionally built to irrigate the most important cities of the Nazca culture, approximately 1,700 years ago. Thanks to this ancient system, human settlements were able to flourish. Otherwise, they would have gone out in this region, which is one of the driest in the entire country.
Although the Nazca aqueducts were functional in their time, they could only provide water from December to March, explains the Peruvian Ministry of Culture:
“[The nazca aqueduct system] was characterized by being a hydrographic system that was born solely based on the precipitations that occur in the mountains of the upper part of the basin,” documents the institution.
The cultures that failed to prosper were precisely due to the scarcity of water in the area. However, the Nazca culture not only managed to channel water artificially, but also created a complex natural filtration system. They achieved this through filter galleries, which took advantage of the subsoil’s water tables.
In addition to providing drinking water to the population, according to the Peruvian World Heritage Sites platform, the water was mainly used for agriculture. Otherwise, they would not have had access to irrigate their farmland. With all of the above, UNESCO classified the Nazca aqueduct system as a World Heritage Site in 1972.
The ancient inhabitants of the Nazca culture built wells, canals and underground galleries to irrigate their most important cities. This feat of engineering, according to BBC correspondent Guillermo D. Olmo, had vents to receive water from melting mountain snow or rain. Locally, they are known as Ojos de Agua:
“[They were] the water collection points of the aqueducts and the spiral-shaped vents about seven meters deep that allow the water to be perceived in some points of the network,” the journalist writes.
This system managed to irrigate up to 3 thousand hectares of crops, according to the Ministry of Culture of Peru. And not only that: this complex network of channels was closely related to the cosmogony of the Nazca culture. Archaeologists think that they also had a ceremonial function, due to the proximity with which they were built to the ancient Nazca Lines.
In addition to being a unique hydraulic system in the Andean world, in terms of functionality, it seems that they were also spaces of worship. Beyond their religious and historical value, the Nazca aqueducts are so well built that they still function, and are a fundamental part of the agrarian dynamics of the region’s inhabitants today.
It can be visited throughout the year. Visiting hours are Monday to Sunday, from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
The climate in Nazca is warm dry, with sunny days throughout the year. The average annual temperature is 23°C, although in summer it exceeds 30°C (January-March).
It is 149 kilometers from the city of Ica, a journey that takes 2 hours and 45 minutes. If you travel from Nazca you must take the road to Puquio, it is 4 kilometers or 15 minutes by car.
Bring sunscreen, light clothing, sneakers, a hat, sunglasses and water during the visit.
Many are the routes that take you to Machu Picchu, but none is like the Inca Trail Tours, the most famous pedestrian path in the Americas. After flying from the capital of Perú, Lima, you will arrive in Cusco to walk for four days along a path through forests and dense fog, millenary stone steps and discovering the ruins of ancient fortifications and Inca cities, and all the time enjoying majestic views.