How to get there
The town of Nazca - closest to the lines - is located only 8 hours away from Lima. And since buses in Peru are really cheap, a round trip Lima-Nazca could cost you as low as $22 USD. A more comfortable seat would be between $56 and $74 depending on the class. Two of the bus companies that I've personally used on this trip are listed at the end of this post.
You can make this trip even more exciting with a stopover at Huacachina.
Read about it in one of my earlier posts - How To Go Sandboarding in Peru.
How to see the lines
The best way to see the lines would be from the air by taking a flight on a small 4-6-passenger plane. A flight lasts approximately 40 minutes, and the standard itinerary includes 15 lines. Some of them are brighter and more defined than others but I'd say all 15 are clearly visible. The pilot also turns the plane so that passengers on both sides get a clear view.
There is also a lookout tower right on the highway where for 50 cents you can see two lines - the Tree and the Hands.
While at home researching the trip I couldn't settle on the company to fly with. As it turns out, I shouldn't have even bothered. Booking online in advance would cost me $30-50 more for the exact same service. It's smarter and much easier to arrange a flight through your hotel in Nazca. They also usually throw in a round-trip transfer to the airport and let you keep the room until the flight is over.
Some people show up at the airport without a reservation, hoping for the best deal. I wouldn't recommend going down this road for two reasons:
1) The better deal is not guaranteed
2) You'll have to wait longer (in some cases up to 5 hours) since they let people with reservations go first
If you have a choice, book the earliest time slot possible: if the weather is bad and the flights are delayed, you at least will be the first one in line + your other plans won't be screwed.
A flight will set you back about $100 per person (as of July 2012). We couldn't negotiate any lower than that for a small 4-seat plane. However, a larger plane for 6 passengers flying at a higher altitude could've cost slightly less. Would the visibility be as good? - not sure.
Another 25 soles ($10) is the airport tax. It's paid in cash at the airport and is never included in the flight quote.
Can you do better? During slow season you can probably fly for $80, but I doubt it ever falls any further. Unless of course you are a negotiator extraordinaire. In that case, don't be shy - tell us all how it's done!
Am I going to get plane sick?
Only if you get lucky. I cannot guarantee this extra bonus, but hey, many people get it! If you do experience this ride of passage, rest assure - there are a ton of extra bags on each plane.
1 day - doable if you are coming from a nearby city (e.g., Ica) with an early bus, doing the flight, and leaving later that day.
2 days - I'd say ideal amount of time; you'll even be able to squeeze an additional activity- like a trip to Chauchilla cemetery or Cantalloc Aqueduct.
Cruz del Sur- the bus company that connects the major cities within Peru. It's considered one of the best ones in terms of service and the fleet, hence it's more expensive than other companies. It's recommended to use Cruz del Sur for long hauls, for example between Lima and Nazca.
Are you planning a trip to Peru? You may also find useful:
Peru Trip Itinerary, Budget, and Resources
How To Go Sandboarding In Peru
Pets With Benefits: Eating a Guinea Pig
The Inca Trail: Practical Tips