Sitting Dead [At Chauchilla Cemetery]

If you ever find yourself wondering around Nazca having a free afternoon before your Nazca lines flight, head to Chauchilla cemetery to see how pre-Hispanic people honored their dead. It’s an interesting site that you wouldn’t see anywhere else.

Chauchilla is located in the middle of a stony desert about 20 minutes drive from Nazca, Peru. The perimeter of the cemetery is absolutely flat and would be indiscernible from the rest of the desert if it wasn’t for simple sheds built over each of the tombs to protect fragile mummies from the sun. This low-key appearance explains why this place wasn’t discovered for so long. Consider this: the cemetery was in use for at least 600-700 years between 200 AD to about 900 AD, but it wasn’t officially discovered until the 1920s. By then, some of the tombs were already broken into by local looters, mummies were unwrapped, and bones were scattered around the area. Some of these bones you can still easily see on the ground. It blows my mind thinking that these bones belong to someone walking on this land a thousand years before me.

Bones lying around the Cauchilla cemetery

The tombs look like little rooms built underground and reinforced with mud bricks. Each of these rooms used to contain a single body or a whole family together with some familiar household items like pottery. In adherance to pre-Hispanic beliefs, the deceased were seated in fetal position to prepare their bodies for a rebirth in the afterlife.

Local guides call this mummy Bob Marley

Of course the settings are “staged”: the best looking mummies are put on display in a few excavated tombs to give a general idea of how the burial looked like. From the pictures you probably have noticed that each mummy had an elaborate head piece. These are nothing less than fancy wigs that Nazca people used to wear during life. 

How to get there
If you were to do it on a budget, you can probably get a taxi to drive you both ways and wait for you while you are there. Based on other trips that we’ve taken around the city, you could probably get away with 40-60 soles ($15-23) for the round trip + waiting time. The entrance is additional 8 soles ($3) per person.

Alternatively, if you want to have a tour and a little less headache about negotiating with a taxi driver, you can take one of the many organized tours. In our case, we walked in the office of Alegria Tours, an agency right across from the bus terminal, and with no real negotiations got a private tour with a driver and a guide for the price of a general tour. I don’t know if we got lucky or if it’s something that they do regularly. It cost $40 for the both of us. Considering that most websites advertise this tour for $30-55 per person with a group, I thought this deal was good enough.  

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