Fancy an Inca terrace or two? Then you’ll be happy to know that not far from Cusco, Peru, you can easily visit some mysterious ones and some very salty ones. An experimental farm (Moray) and a mountain slope full of salt pools (Maras) await you in the Sacred Valley of Peru. Inca terraces for everyone!
Tip: I don’t recommend going the other way around and seeing the Sacred Valley after Machu Picchu, because after you visit Machu Picchu, everything pales in comparison! Machu Picchu is my #1 on the list of places to visit in Peru.
Still, Moray and Maras are definitely worth a stop since pondering the ingenuity of the Incas never gets old.
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Map from Cusco to Maras salt pools
If you’ve read any of my other articles you know I’m a big fan of renting a car wherever we travel to. It gives you the kind of freedom that no taxi or tour ever will. The same goes for Moray and Maras. Rent a car and go at your own pace.
The drive from Cusco to the Maras salt pools (Salineras de Maras) takes about an hour. It’s a distance of 50 km (30 miles). Same for the distance between Cusco and Moray.
Be careful on mountain roads—some drivers like high speeds even in dangerous locations
Moray and Maras are right next to each other on the map but driving between them will take you at least 20 minutes thanks to the mountain terrain and the dusty roads you’ll need to take to get from one to the other.
The locals drive like they’re on a highway, so watch out. You, on the other hand, are on vacation, so take your time and take in the scenery. It is magnificent!
There are parking lots next to both sites. Easy peasy and free.
Me and Karin enjoying our visit of Moray
The only alternative that I’d consider is taking a private tour—prices start at USD 145. A group tour can be as cheap as USD 20, but I never choose spending time in a minibus with strangers unless my life depends on it.
Many taxi companies do a sort of tour where they take you to some of the Sacred Valley sites, but provide no guide services. Those cost from USD 70.
The circuit 4 Cusco Tourist Ticket with map
Along the Urubamba River, between Pisac and Ollantaytambo, is the Sacred Valley of the Incas. It is home to several popular tourist sites. Moray and Maras are two of them, but there are more places to visit in the Sacred Valley—we have a separate article detailing all of them.
You can buy combination tickets to the places you want to visit.
There are several options of tickets you can buy that include different combinations of sites in and around Cusco. They are all called the Cusco Tourist Ticket (Boleto Turistico del Cusco).
You choose out of 4 circuits, with the full ticket containing 16 sites in Cusco and the Sacred Valley. The other options are more limited.
We opted for option 4 that included: Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero and Moray. It costs s/70 and is valid for 2 days.
None of the options include Maras, so you need to buy that on the spot separately for s/10.
Some of the tickets include the ancient city of Pisac
Buy your Cusco Tourist Ticket in Cusco at the tourist office @ Tourist Galleries, Av. Sol No. 103, the Directur Tourist Office on Calle Mantas, or at any of the sites included on the ticket. It can’t be bought online and there’s no need to buy it in advance.
The ticket to Maras has to be bought at the site as it isn’t part of any of the circuits.
Make sure to have your passport with you when buying the ticket and also when visiting the sites. You will be asked to show it and your ticket includes your name and is non-transferable.
Tip: Another benefit of visiting the highlights of Sacred Valley is extra time for getting used to the altitude of the area. Cusco sits at an elevation similar to Sacred Valley’s 3,500 m (11,500 ft), so spending a day or two more there can save you from a massive headache if you’re also planning on hiking to the 5,200 m (17,000 ft) Rainbow Mountain later. Oh boy was the altitude sickness a real ride on that trip! I recommend at least 5 days in Cusco and Sacred Valley before you head up any higher.
Our top tips for Moray and Maras:
A random handsome tourist at the salt pools of Maras
The salt pools of Maras (Salineras de Maras) were started by the Incas and are still used today by the local community. It’s a whole side of a mountain filled with thousands of evaporation pools that look like rice terraces, but white. You’ll be surprised by how large the area covered in pools is.
Maras salt pools are kept by the local families, and there is one pool per family based on family size. If a new family comes to Maras, they are given a salt pond to take care of for their personal use. At any given time, there are many empty salt pools just waiting for someone new to claim them.
There’s a salty underground stream that runs through the area, and the Incas learned to gather the water and evaporate it on the sunny slopes of the mountain, leaving them with various-sized salt crystals to collect.
Detailed view of the crusty salt pools
In typical Inca fashion, a system of irrigation channels cleverly feeds the individual pools. Once the salt pool has evaporated, it is filled up again a few more times to create more salt layers. That’s when the workers scrape it off.
The first layer is high-quality table salt either white or pink in color. Apparently, it’s only one of 4 places on Earth where pink salt occurs naturally. The next layers are only white and of lesser quality and the last one is used as industrial salt and comes in shades of brown.
As you might expect, there are souvenir shops selling everything salt-related. Try the salted chocolate, it was fantastic! Apologies to Aunt Joan, but it was too good to bring back as a souvenir.
There are several viewpoints near the salt pools
You aren’t allowed to walk through the salt fields anymore, though I’m more surprised that they ever even permitted it in the first place. I wouldn’t want tourist feet near my salt!
Nowadays there are viewing platforms and walkways that take you to several different levels, so you still get a good look. Unless you find yourself in the middle of a tour group, you should have plenty of space to yourself.
Since you won’t be clambering through the site trying not to step into a pool, there’s nothing to do at Maras for more than 20 or 30 minutes.
Moray experimental agricultural laboratory
What looks like a giant green amphitheater is actually an experimental agricultural laboratory! Or so scientists think.
The Incas were apparently researching which plants grow best in which microclimate by creating a round, terraced depression, taking into account the direction of the sun and wind. The difference in temperature between the top and bottom levels was 5°C (9°F), and soil from different parts of Peru was brought in to mimic different conditions on different levels. Super cool, right?
Of course, there was an irrigation system that fed the terraces with water from the surrounding mountains. The Incas loved their irrigation! And were smart enough to actually build systems that worked. Respect.
Just imagine terraces full of potatoes
Tip: We learned that even the guano from Islas Ballestas was used on some of the terraces in Moray. It is, afterall, the best fertilizer and used to be Peru’s most prized export. Keep that in mind if you visit Islas Ballestas and the Paracas National Reserve as part of your trip. We did and loved them both! Though the poopy islands were nothing compared to the spectacularly dramatic shore of Paracas. Check it out!
Through the insight gathered through the experiments at Moray, the Incas of Moray were able to teach other regions how and what to grow in order to have a successful harvest. Being able to feed themselves well certainly contributed to the wide spread of the Inca empire.
Everything from potatoes and corn to medicinal plants was grown here. The Incas are to thank for the whopping 2,000 types of potatoes that exist in Peru today!
Complex of Moray laboratory
There are 3 different terraced, circular, erm, holes, at Moray. The diameter of the largest inner circle is 180 m (600 ft).
The individual layers are much taller than they look in photos, coming up to my chest. Traversing them isn’t as easy it you might think!
You can take all your selfies, walk around the site and be done in 30 minutes.
Tip: Eat well at MIL Food Lab and Interpretation Center located right by the Moray Inca site. It’s basically part high-end restaurant and part culinary lab, so it makes for the perfect present-day addition to your historical Moray visit.
Don’t forget to look at the amazing scenery around you, too! The Andes continued to fascinate me throughout our trip.
Check the weather before your travel to Peru
The weather in the region is mild, temperature-wise, during all months of the year. You’re looking at a daytime average of 20°C (68°F). The main thing you need to focus on is the rain.
Be prepared for short showers during the wet season
Wet season is November through March, where you will encounter short showers in the afternoons on most days, but there are days when it’ll coming down all day. Then there are days where you get partly cloudy skies and sun, if you’re lucky.
Aim for a visit in dry season, which is between April and October. That said, there are still instances of rain throughout the year, so always come prepared and don’t let a little water ruin your trip.
Dry season is also peak tourist season, so if you’re concerned about crowds, aim for the pleasant shoulder months of April and May or September and October. That said, Moray and Maras aren’t ever going to be extremely packed. This is more of a concern for more popular places of interest, like Rainbow Mountain.
Tip: If you’re also going to Machu Picchu (duh), head on over to our article on the best months and times of day to visit Machu Picchu. Yes, a whole article just on timing a Machu Picchu visit!
Go early in the morning
The sites of Moray and Maras aren’t particularly crowded no matter when you visit, but if you want to be there all by yourself for some reason, go early in the morning. Organized tours generally start leaving Cusco at 8 am.
For photos, mornings and late afternoons are your best bet if you want the light just right. The Maras salt pools are on the east-facing slopes of the mountain, so take that into consideration when planning those Instagram shots.
Stay in Cusco
You will undoubtedly stay in Cusco for at least a couple of nights on your trip. If you aren’t planning on it—big mistake! Cusco is one of the most beautiful cities we’ve visited ever. It is rare that I ever think a city warrants two full days to explore and Cusco is certainly one of those cities.
And that’s just for Cusco city itself! If you base yourself there to explore Sacred Valley, Rainbow Mountain, Humantay Lake and other nearby sites, you could spend a week in Cusco no problem.
Another potential base with not too shabby surroundings—Ollantaytambo
You might be calling another, smaller city, Ollantaytambo, home for a couple of nights, too. The main reason people stay in Ollantaytambo is the train that takes you from there to Machu Picchu.
It is also conveniently located directly beyond Moray and Maras on route to Machu Picchu, so you can elegantly make your way there after your Sacred Valley visit, no detour needed.
Tip: We have included details about how to get to Machu Picchu in a separate article. It also includes tips on navigating the complicated ticketing system, why we think the sunrise isn’t worth it and the types of hikes that you can combine your ticket to the city with.
Or, sleep amongst mystical natural surroundings in some of the fabulous luxury hotels of Sacred Valley. Spoil yourself, you deserve it.
Cusco has so many hotel options, it really comes down to personal taste. You definitely can’t go wrong with these guys:
Monasterio, A Belmond Hotel, is located in the city center in—you guessed it—a former monastery from 1592. The architecture of the historical building lends the luxurious rooms the unique detail of large, arched windows with views out to the manicured courtyard. It’s extremely well-kept and the staff is top notch.
Palacio del Inka, A Luxury Collection Hotel is another lovely, courtyard-centered hotel in Cusco. It has a great, central location close to Plaza de Armas. Staff treat guests like royalty and breakfasts here are a delight. Rooms and the entire property are sensitively restored and keep their historical charm.
You can check out all the hotels in Ollantaytambo here, or look at these two puppies that we’ve pre-selected for you:
El Albergue Ollantaytambo is a 3-star hotel right next to where the trains to Machu Picchu Pueblo leave from, so it has convenience going for it. The rooms are basic but spacious and very clean, with high ceilings and wooden beams. It ain’t a Hilton but it does the job if you’re just staying a night and want to be close to the trains.
If eco resorts are what you fancy, try the pretty Las Qolqas EcoResort. It isn’t for you if you need all the creature comforts (like walls), but if glamping sounds right for you, take a look at this place. Those views!
Who needs the city when you have the Sacred Valley at your doorstep! There is a surprising number of luxury properties in the Sacred Valley, so peruse the internet before deciding on one. I’m particularly enamored with these two:
Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba is a spectacular estate in the Sacred Valley countryside about 30 minutes from Moray and Maras. You won’t want to leave your private porch with views out to the Andes mountain range. No matter if you stay in the main house or in one of the stand-alone casitas, this is a place to be thankful for your fortunate life.
Tambo del Inka, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, Valle Sagrado promises a “luxurious and mystical journey like no other” and they aren’t kidding. Located right on the Urubamba River in Urubamba town, you’ll be a mere 20 minutes from Maras and Moray. If you ever get yourself off the property. It offers numerous restaurants, bars and a spa to keep you plenty busy.
We’re going to work on an article about all the top places to visit in Sacred Valley, so stay tuned!
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If you only have 3 days for Sacred Valley and Cusco, you’ll be missing out on some good places. But, I’ll try to be a silver-lining kind of guy this time and smash as much as possible into those 3 days in Cusco.
Peruvians are some of the kindest, most helpful and courteous people I’ve met during my travels. Until you put them in the driver’s seat. Then they turn into aggressive, angry, idiotic monsters. Especially in Lima.