A Day Trip to Moray and Salinas de Maras: The Surreal Sacred Valley
The Scared Valley was the heartland of the Inca civilization and today it’s the tourism epicentre of Peru. Machu Picchu takes most of the headlines, and rightly so, but there are so many other ancient sites worth visiting. We used Cusco as a base to explore the Sacred Valley and the day trip to the agricultural ruins of Moray and Salinas de Maras (salt mines) was a highlight. Here’s a quick look at what you’ll see if you decide to skip the widely advertised Sacred Valley tour and do this day trip independently.
We walked to the bus station in Cusco (there are a few different ones so check with someone at your hotel) and hopped on a bus headed for Maras. We got off at a turnoff where there were several taxis waiting. We hired one (40 soles) for a few hours. You could walk but it’s a long way and the taxis are good value, especially if you’re travelling in a group. We arrived at Moray, showed our Boleto Turisticos (a ticket which gets you into a lot of Sacred Valley sights) and came face to face with the dramatic concentric terraces of Moray. They look like crop circles — apparently they were a kind of agricultural laboratory where the Incas tested different crop growing techniques. There are two large circles and another smaller one.
We walked down to ground level and back up the other side where the snow-capped mountains provided the perfect backdrop. I’m not sure how long you’d get to spend there if you went as part of a tour, but you need at least an hour to look around properly. The Moray archaeological site is very different to the other ruins that we visited in the Sacred Valley and the scenery alone makes it worth a visit.
The road between Moray and Salinas de Maras
The best thing about hiring a taxi for a few hours is being able to stop whenever you want. We drove down a stretch of road lined with crops and backed by giant snow-covered mountains. It was one of the best views that we saw in Peru and it would have been annoying to just drive past it in a tour bus.
Salinas de Maras (Salt Mines)
Another advantage of having a driver is that they generally know the good viewpoints. We stopped at the side of the road to see the salt mines spread out below us — you can really see the scale of this man-made wonder from above.
Entry to Salinas de Maras cost us 10 soles each. This place gets pretty busy and after a short walk you’ll soon realise why. Small squares of salt fill the valley for as far as the eye can see, and the fact that this place has been around since before the Incas makes it even more impressive. You can walk along some of the salt squares and watch the local workers toiling away. There are several viewpoints where you can get some cool photos and also a market selling salt statues, bags of salt and other souvenirs. After exploring the salt pans it was time to head back to the main road, where we caught a bus back to Cusco. Our day trip to Moray and and Salinas de Maras had been a success; we explored some really unique historical sites, saw dramatic Sacred Valley views and didn’t spend too much money.
Further reading: Spanish Style and Inca Ruins in Cusco
If you’re heading to Cusco / Machu Picchu try and spend a few extra days in the area and visit some of the other Inca sites. As well as Moray and Salinas de Maras there’s Ollantaytambo, a little Inca town towered over by a hilltop fortress and Pisac, a collection of well preserved stone settlements built on rocky hills.
Are you planning a trip to Peru? Let me know in the comments below!