Moray and Salineras
If you want to soak in the Sacred Valley’s spectacular scenery, spend time wandering around the high plains above Urubamba. First stop is Maras, a dusty town with a few colonial churches and chicherías, fermented corn-beer shops advertised by red plastic bags tied to the end of wooden poles. There is also an ancient hatmaker named Teodosio Argandaño Caviedes—his shop is near the corner of Leguía and Jesús.
About five kilometers farther, or a half hour along a good dirt road, lie the four natural depressions of Moray (7:30 a.m.–5:15 p.m. daily, US$3). These sinkholes, 150 meters deep, were caused by rain eroding the calcium-rich soil. With its perfect terracing, Moray appears at first glance to be a ceremonial center or a Greek-style amphitheater.
But researchers have discovered that the pits harbor a cluster of microclimates. Gradations of sun, shade, and elevation among the terraces create dramatic differences in temperature. Irrigation canals and the discovery of different seeds on the terraces are additional clues that Moray was once a gigantic crops laboratory. It was here, perhaps, that the Inca learned to grow corn and potatoes in a variety of elevations, fueling the expansion of the empire.
On the nearby hills that lead down to the Urubamba Valley, the Incas once again transformed nature: A spring of warm, salty water was diverted into thousands of pools, where sunlight evaporates the water and leaves a thin crust of salt. The salt mines, or salineras, continue to be worked by a collective of 260 salt miners from the nearby villages of Maras and Pichinjoto. (You may see this salt marketed overseas as “Peruvian pink salt.”) Today there are 5,740 pools, or pocitos, each of which yields 150 kilograms of unrefined salt per month. There is a dazzling, and oft-photographed, contrast between the barren hillsides and the snow-white salt pools, which visitors can explore along narrow, crunchy paths.
Getting to Moray and Salineras
To reach Moray, take a Cusco–Urubamba bus and get off at the Maras turnoff (say “ramal a Maras, por favor”). Colectivos wait here and charge US$6–9 for a half-day tour of Maras, Moray, and Salinas. A recommended company is Empresa Transporte Moray.<
To get from Moray to Salinas, car-bound travelers must return to Maras and then proceed another five kilometers downhill to the salt mines. Another option is to get a ride to Maras (four kilometers) and then walk the remaining seven kilometers to Moray (two hours, mostly uphill), through a patchwork of fields. From Moray, it is a two-hour walk—ask for directions along the way—to the salt mines. A steep but beautiful path continues for another kilometer or two from Salinas to the Urubamba Valley, ending five kilometers down from Urubamba and at the doorstep of the recommended Tunupa Restaurant.
This whole circuit makes for an excellent full-day tour on horse, bike, or foot, though many travelers elect to be dropped off at Salineras and take the scenic, one-hour walk to Urubamba.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition