Choose your Sacred Valley Tour
At a glance
Immersed by breathtaking Andean beauty, the Maras Salt Pans and concentric agricultural terraces at Moray are lesser-known attractions in the Sacred Valley. Both sites, though unrelated in purpose, illustrate how the Incas used their understanding of the environment to capitalized on the natural resources at their fingertips.
Take the time to explore the remote region northwest of Cusco and discover Maras and Moray. Both sites offer a fresh look at Incan ingenuity that well may turn out being the unexpected highlights of your trip.
The first shallow salt ponds at Maras were likely constructed by the Wari civilization between 500 to 1100 AD. Most of the shallow ponds built along the steep mountainside were no bigger than 15 feet squared (5 meters squared) and 30 centimeters deep.
During the 12th and mid-14th century, Inca Empire took over operation of Maras. The Incas flavored and preserve their food with salt. They may also have also used the mineral for mummification and other religious ceremonies. Ownership and management of individual salt ponds were given to families living in the nearby community of Maras. The same salt harvesting process used by these families during Inca times has been passed down through the generations and is still practiced today.
Where does the Maras salt come from?
The salt comes from an underground flow of brine water (mixture of salt and water) that bubbles up from the Qoripujio spring near in an upper section of the valley. An intricate network of narrow channels was built to direct the flow of this salty water into each pond. When the water evaporates, the crystallized salt left behind is carefully extracted using shovels and wood rakes.
The Incas (between the 12th and mid-14th century) carved out a series of large circular terraces into natural bowl-like depressions, which are known today as Moray. There are three sets of concentric terraces at Moray – one large one and two smaller ones. A series of channels fed by water from a reservoir located higher in the mountains were engineered into the structures of terraces. The site’s purpose remains unknown because the Incas left behind no formal documentation since they didn’t have a written language.
Why was Moray built?
Many scholars believe Moray was used by the Incas as a large agricultural research center. Amphitheater in design, the difference between the top and bottom reaches of each set of concentric terraces and their orientation with the sun creates a temperature difference of a much as 27 degrees Fahrenheit (12 degrees Celsius). In effect, each terrace has its own microclimate, which the Incas could have used to test and determine various ecological niches suitable for growing different types of grains, vegetables, and an enormous variety of potatoes.
Maras are Moray are located on a high altitude plateau northwest of Cusco. Surrounding these neighboring sites are a green checked-like patches of agricultural fields and snowcapped peaks off in the distance. The turnoff for Maras and Moray is along the two lane highway connecting Cusco and the town of Urubamba in the Sacred Valley. Halfway between the Maras Salt Pans and the Moray archaeological site, in a rural region away from the main road, is the small town of Maras.
Distances between destinations:
- Maras from Cusco; 37 mi (60 km)
- Moray from Cusco; 33 mi (53 km)
- Maras from Moray; 4.3 mi (7 km)
- Town of Maras to Urubamba; 9 mi (15 km)
Location & Elevation
- The Maras Salt Pans exists along the steep mountainside of a narrow valley ridge that overlooks the Sacred Valley. The average elevation of the site is about 11,090 ft (3,380 m) above sea level.
- The concentric terraces of Moray were dug into natural depressions on a high altitude plateau surrounded by mountainous terrain. The elevation of Moray is slightly higher than Maras at about 11,500 ft (3,500 m) above sea level.
Maras and Moray have a highland climate. Days are warm and nights are cold. Temperatures stay fairly constant throughout the year. (See Weather section for more details.)
Maras Salt Pans
The salt encrusted ponds at Maras look like a blanket of snow covering the mountainside at a distance. But as you get closer, each of the 3,000 plus ponds take on various shades of white or tan because each one is filled with different levels of salt water. Maras salt has been harvested since pre-Inca times and today travelers are invited to see this centuries-old tradition at work.
For a small fee, you can enter the site and walk along the narrow paths crisscrossing the hillside for a closer look at this man-made marvel. Hiring a tour guide to explain the salt-making process and answer your questions is the best way to enhance your appreciation of the site. Vendors at the site entrance sale packaged Maras salt that make excellent souvenirs.
- Location: 4.3 miles (7 kilometers) from Moray
- Admission: Maras admission tickets are sold at the site entrance. If you book a tour, the price of the ticket is usually included.
Moray Archaeological Site
The concentric terraces of Moray were likely used as an crop research center during the time of the Incas and local farmers used them well into the 20th century for agricultural purposes. But today, Moray exists as an archaeological site with many travelers visit on a joint tour of both it and Maras. Constructed into a natural concave formation and unbeknownst to anyone at a distance, the circular terraces of Moray are unlike any other agricultural site in the Sacred Valley. Its enigmatic shape seems almost otherworldly.
From a lookout point near the entrance to the Moray archaeological site, you get a true sense of the magnitude of its design. The sweeping view over the largest set of terraces descend 490 feet (150 meters) to its circular bottom and visitors far below look like ants. As you walk between each terrace levels of each structure, the difference difference in temperature is evident.
- Location: 4.3 miles (7 kilometers) from Maras
- Admission: A Cusco Tourist Tickets is required to enter the archaeological site of Moray. (See FAQ section for more information about the Tourist Ticket.)
Town of Maras
The town of Maras is about halfway between the Maras Salt Pans and Moray in a remote region of the Sacred Valley. Unlike the touristic buzz in Ollantaytambo, the small town offers an intimate look at what daily life is like for rural residents in the Sacred Valley. Families living in Maras have worked the nearby salt pans since Inca times and grow crops in the surrounding fields. Women wearing traditional hats stroll through the town’s dusty streets lined by small shops and private residences made of sun-dried mud brick. If you visit the town with a tour guide, they’ll likely point out the coat of arms from Spanish nobility etched into the stone doorways of many Maras homes, echoing its colonial past. The town’s main attraction is its colonial church bordering the main plaza. Hotel and restaurant options are limited in Maras, so travelers usually don’t stay the night, instead opting
Things to do
Variations of the different tours listed below are available. Talk with your travel advisor about your own preferences. Group or private tour? Half-day or full-day excursion?
- Maras & Moray Tour: A private tour to Maras and Moray allows you to customize a morning start time that works best with your schedule. Your personal driver and guide will pick you up from your hotel take you first to Moray and then to Maras. Enjoy the unique beauty of the Andean landscapes and plenty of photo opportunities. Upon request, you may also have the possibility to stop at the nearby town of Chincheros and visit its souvenir market, Inca ruins, and colonial church.
- Mountain Biking: The dirt trails traversing the open landscapes of the Sacred Valley are an outdoor lover’s dream. One of the most exciting routes goes to Maras and Moray. After an hour car ride from Cusco to Chinchero, you and your biking companions will suit up for the ride of your life. Moray is the first stop, and then Maras. Your bike tour leader will guide you through each of the sites and keep you safe along the way. Mountain biking is a great activity for all ages, though folks should be prepared for the physical effort.
- Horseback Riding: If you like horses, then you are going to love a horseback riding adventure tour to Moray, Maras, and other off the beaten path highlights. It’s an easy trail so riders with little or no experience need not worry. Get picked up in the morning from your hotel and transferred to the Andean community of Picsuyo in the Sacred Valley. Here you will meet your horse and begin the uphill 1-hour ride to the highest point in the trail. Soak up views of the snow-clad peaks of Pitusiray, Chicon and Veronica peaks as your riding group continues along the high mountain plateau to Moray. After lunch, continue onto Maras.
- Salt Spa Treatments: Taking a tour isn’t the only way to enjoy the Maras Salt Pans. After a long day of exploration, treat yourself to a relaxing spa treatment that includes a Maras salt exfoliation. Check out the Spa and Wellness Center of Aranwa Sacred Valley, one of our recommended hotels.
The Sacred Valley is a vibrant mix of centuries-old culture and modern 21st century conveniences. Despite the increased presence of tourism to the region, daily life in the town of Maras is still rooted in tradition.
For nearly 500 years, the responsibility of harvesting salt at Maras has been passed down through the generations. Today about 380 families from the nearby towns of Maras and Pichingoto collectively operate the site. Some families own a couple salt pond, while others claim rights to more than fifteen. White salt, which has been processed to remove all other minerals, is the most valuable and sold for human consumption. Pink Maras salt is popular in Peru. And the lowest-grade yellowish salt, saturated from minerals, is used for therapeutic baths and spa treatments.
Most indigenous people from rural communities and small towns, like Maras, in the Sacred Valley speak Quechua as their first language. Many also speak Spanish. Very few speak English.
Tourism services at Maras and Moray is multilingual. Our company’s expert guides speak English well and tours in another can be arranged upon request. Independent guides waiting at the entrances of each site speak Spanish, sometimes English, and will show you around at a negotiated fee, though the quality of their tours vary.
Maras and Moray climate
The highland region where Maras and Moray reside experiences fairly constant temperatures throughout the year. Snowfall is not common. Temperatures during the day are warmer and average between 65-70 F (18-21C). Average night temperatures range between 30-50 F (1-8 C).
Dry Season Versus Rainy Season
Maras and Moray experience a distinct dry and rainy season.
- Dry season is from April to October. Days are usually sunny with low chances of rain. Temperatures really drop at night, so make sure to bring a jacket.
- Rainy season is from November to March. During this time, the region receives regular rainfall. Mornings are generally cloudy with light showers and afternoons and evenings can bring heavier rains. Average daytime temperatures are typically mild, but you’ll still need that warm jacket at night.
When is the best time to visit Maras and Moray?
- The region’s peak season is during the dry season (April-October) when sunny blue skies are the norm. This is a very enjoyable time to do a biking or horseback riding tour. The dry season is a good time to visit the Maras Salt Pans because the constant sunshine (that evaporates the water, hence producing more salt) increases your likelihood of seeing locals tending to their salt pans.
- The rainy season (November-March) is a beautiful time to visit the Sacred Valley because the landscape, including the grassy terraces of Moray, are brilliant shades of green.
Transportation to and around Maras and Moray
- Maras and Moray Tour: The most convenient way to visit Maras and Moray is on an organized tour, where transportation between the sites and to-and-from your hotel is included. Driving, horseback riding, and biking tours can be arranged.
- Independent exploration: Take a bus or taxi to the Maras/Moray turnoff along the highway between Cusco and Urubamba. Coming from Cusco, the well-marked turnoff is on the left hand side of the road after the town of Chinchero and just before the highway begins its descent into the Sacred Valley to Urubamba. During the day, taxis are usually waiting at the Maras/Moray turnoff and independent travelers can negotiate a price to take them to visit both sites. There is no public transportation directly to Maras and Moray.
General Tourist Information
||Maras Salt Pans
||Entry ticket can be purchased at the entrance. On a tour, the cost of the ticket is usually included.
||Cusco Tourist Ticket required
||The salt pans are still in operation. Tourist entry permitted with entry ticket.
Adjusting to the high altitude
Maras and Moray are located at similar altitudes to Cusco (11,120 ft or 3,400 m). Altitude sickness is a common concern for travelers visiting the Andean region of Peru. Severe reactions to the altitude are rare and hard to predict. Most travelers experience minor side effects, including shortness of breath, nausea, headache, and loss of appetite.
Here are some tips to help you acclimate better:
- Some travelers may consider spending their first couple nights at a hotel in the Sacred Valley instead of Cusco. The elevation of the Sacred Valley is lower, making the adjustment to the altitude less extreme.
- Take it easy the first few days at altitude. It’s best to wait at least 48 hours before taking on a heart pumping activity like mountain biking through Maras and Moray.
- Drink a lot of water and eat light meals. A local remedy to ease the effects of altitude is to sip on coca tea.
- Diamox is a prescription drug from the US and works well for altitude sickness. Over-the-counter remedies, such as Sorochi and Grovol, can be purchased at a pharmacy in Peru.
Maras and Moray are safe and tourist friendly. To minimize any possibility of theft, walking between Maras and Moray is not recommended.
What should I bring on a tour of Maras and Moray?
- Cusco Tourist Ticket (required for Moray entrance)
- Bottled water and snacks
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Money for souvenirs (you can buy some Maras salt)
- Sun protection (hat, glasses, sunblock)
- Waterproof jacket or rain poncho (especially during the rainy season)
What is a Cusco Tourist Ticket? Do I need it for my Maras and Moray tour?
A Cusco Tourist Ticket in Spanish is called a boleto turistico del Cusco (or boleto turistico for short). It is an official paper document that gives you access to a variety of museums and Inca ruins in Cusco and the Sacred Valley. To enter Moray, you need to have a Tourist Ticket. A Cusco Tourist Ticket does not include entry to the Maras Salt Pans or Machu Picchu.
There are two different types of Cusco Tourist Tickets; the full ticket and half ticket options. The popular Full Ticket is valid for 10 days and includes entry to 16 attractions, including the archaeological ruins in Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Moray and Chinchero in the Sacred Valley. If you only want to see Maras and Moray, then you can buy the less expensive half ticket option to enter Moray.
How much should I tip my tour guide?
Tips are a great way to show your appreciation to your guide (and porters if you do a trek). For a half day tour (10-30 Soles per person) and full day tour (20-60 Soles per person) is a recommended tipping range. The tip ranges represent a total amount that varies on the number of people in your tour and can be divided amongst everyone. Of course, the amount of tip you leave is at your own discretion.