Last Updated on January 16, 2024 by Kelly
If you’re planning on visiting Peru, you should definitely spend a day exploring Moray and Maras! Both Moray (Inca circular ruins) and Maras (salt mines) are located close to Cusco. Each site offers an amazing opportunity to learn about local culture.
Moray is an ancient Inca agricultural site that consists of circular terraces carved into the ground. You’ll learn all about how the Inca cultivated a variety of crops with sophisticated experiments. The town of nearby Maras is home to the Salineras de Maras, which consists of thousands of salt ponds.
We visited both Moray and Maras during our 3-week trip to Peru. In this two-part guide, we’ll share with you everything you need to know to visit Moray and Maras!
How to Get to Moray
Moray is located about 30 miles to the northwest of Cusco, Peru. By car, it takes about 1.5 hours to travel there. Its altitude is over 11,000 feet above sea level.
If you’re traveling from Ollantaytambo, the drive is about an hour and 10 minutes.
When we visited Moray, we hired a private driver for the day. Our hotel arranged the car for us and made sure that we had a reputable driver. Our driver was kind and professional. He took us to both Moray and Maras, and he drove very safely.
There are also buses and colectivos (shared taxis) that travel to Moray. Because we recommend that you visit both Moray and Maras in the same day, however, we think it’s most convenient to have a private driver. We were traveling on a budget and it wasn’t too expensive to hire a driver.
|Planning a trip to Peru? See our guide to planning the best Peru itinerary!
Moray is an agricultural complex that was built by the Inca for the purposes of cultivating crops. There are numerous Inca ruins at Moray, the most famous of which are the circular terraces. (The circular terraces are called muyus in the Quechua language.) Each of the muyus has 12 terraces. From the highest terrace to the lowest terrace there is a difference of 98 feet! The diameter of the largest inner circle is 600 feet.
The bottom 6 terraces of the largest muyu are pre-Inca. It’s believed that the Wari people created the original terraces. The remaining terraces were built by the Inca as an expansion.
The terraces were purposely built to achieve different levels of sun and wind, thus creating multiple micro climates in the same site. There can be a temperature difference of as much as 9 °F between the top and bottom terrace!
To visit Moray, purchase the Cusco Tourist Ticket (Boleto Turistico), which includes entrance to several tourist sites. There are several Tourist Ticket options, so confirm that you are purchasing the ticket that includes Moray. You can also buy a partial ticket to Moray at the entrance.
Purpose of Moray
The primary theory about the purpose of Moray was published by anthropologist John Earls. He suggested that the Inca used the circular terraces for agricultural experiments. Because of the varied terraces, the Inca were able to make adjustments for the level of sun, shade, and wind at each level and position. The Inca also brought soil samples from different regions to the terraces, providing further support for this theory. Earls proposed that Moray served as an agricultural research center, so that farmers could conduct experiments to identify prime growing conditions for maize, potatoes, and other crops. Evidence shows, though, that the dominant crop was definitely maize.
There are abundant competing theories for how the Inca used Moray. One theory proposes that it was a fertility site, given the position of the two large circular muyus and a large ridge between the two. Another theory states that the terraces could not have been used for agricultural experiments, because the water flow from the irrigation channels would have minimized differences in soil temperatures. Another theory was that it was used as mine pre-Inca, that was later converted to terraces for farming.
Our Experience at Moray
We saw a lot of terraces while we were in Peru (like at Machu Picchu and Pisac). Viewing them never really got old for me, though. When we arrived to Moray, the circular patterns completely blew me away. The amount of engineering that went into its construction was hard to fathom, especially considering they were created over 500 years ago.
Our guide led us down to the center of Moray, and we were able to explore the complex. From the top of the terraces, we were able to take photos with practically the whole complex in the background. Once we began walking in the center, however, it was a completely different perspective. I was struck by just how large Moray was as we traversed the terraces.
Our guide explained a lot of Moray’s history and the different theories in how it was used. Like many creations of the Inca, it still remains shrouded in mystery.
How to Get to Maras
The Salineras de Maras (salt flats) is only 10 miles from Moray. By car, it takes about 30 minutes to travel the distance. (The town of Maras is only about 15 minutes away from Moray.) The roads near the salt mines are dirt and poorly marked, so it’s helpful to visit as part of a tour or with an experienced driver.
From Cusco, the salt flats are about 31 miles away. From Ollantaytambo, the salt flats are 12 miles away. If you’re planning to head to Ollantaytambo (perhaps on your way to Machu Picchu), we think it makes a lot of sense to see Moray and Maras en route!
We’ve also seen guided hikes from Moray to Maras, so that’s an option too.
There’s a small fee to enter the salt flats. Please note that visitors are not permitted to walk through the salt ponds so as not to disrupt or compromise the salt production.
About the Salineras de Maras (Salt Mines)
On the hillside of Qaqawiñay Hill, you will see thousands of salt flats on display. Each pond has it’s own shade of white, beige, tan, and pink. There are over 4,500 salt ponds at Maras, and there’s evidence that they are over 500 years old! Because of its cultural importance, Salineras de Maras is currently on the tentative list for consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
No one knows exactly when the salt ponds were first created. There’s evidence that indigenous communities harvested salt there long before the Inca empire took over. Some estimates date the salt mines to 200 BC due to pieces of Chanapata ceramics that have been identified there.
According to Inca legend, the salt water that flows from the hill represents the tears of Ayar Cachi. Ayar Cachi was one of 4 siblings that originated the Inca empire. According to the creation story, Ayar Cachi threw a strone to form a ravine, and his siblings feared his strength. They locked him up in a cave so that he would not be the founder of the empire. As a result, his tears formed the salty streams that run down the mountain.
How Salineras de Maras Was Created
Thousands of years ago, movement of tectonic plates pushed the seabed up to form the Andes mountains. The salt from that previous ocean was sealed within the mountains. The Salineras de Maras were formed from a saltwater stream (Qoripujio spring) that flowed underground. The indigenous people used that saltwater stream and diverted it to the salt pans.
The indigenous people used a communal process to cultivate the salt. They shared the labor of tilling the salt in a process called ayni in the Quechua language, which is a concept that involves mutual cooperation and reciprocity. The local workers today still use the concept of ayni as they cultivate salt.
Each salt pond belongs to one family, typically from the communities of Maras or Pichingoto. The company Marasal S.A. is in charge of the commercialization fo the salt, and then profits are divided among the families that own the individual ponds. The salt mining methods used at Maras are an excellent example of sustainable farming.
How the Salt is Harvested at Maras
Each salt pond at Maras has a border made from rocks and mud mortar. Salt water from the stream is then directed to each pond, filling it up to approximately 5 centimeters. When the water evaporates over several days, a fine layer of salt is left behind. The workers repeat this process over and over again. After this process is repeated several times (usually within 3-4 weeks), there is between 7 to 10 centimeters of salt at the bottom of each pond.
There are typically three layers of salt by the end of the process. The top layer is pink in color, and it’s the highest-quality salt. The pink Peruvian salt is typically used for gourmet cooking, and it’s pink in color due to the level of potassium and other minerals it contains. The layer beneath the pink layer is white, and is often called bulk salt. Bulk salt is often used for cooking purposes as well. The bottom layer is brown in color, and is typically used for agricultural purposes. Each salt flat can produce hundreds of pounds of salt per month!
Most of the salt production takes place during the dry season. During the rainy season, it’s more difficult to cultivate the pink and white salt. Instead, brown salt is harvested during the rainy season and used for agricultural purposes.
To extract the salt, workers will scrape each layer with a pick and then sift the salt through a strainer.
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Where to Buy Peruvian Pink Salt
You can buy Peruvian pink salt to take home while you’re at Salineras de Maras. There’s a market that is filled with all sorts of salt products. Purchasing some salt makes for a great souvenir that you can actually use! Make sure you bring plenty of soles and small bills, as most of the stalls do not accept credit cards.
You can also purchase salt online from the brand Maras Gourmet. It appears in the product description that the salt is from Salineras de Maras. (Click on the image below for shipping and pricing information.)
About the Town of Maras
The town of Maras is located in the Sacred Valley of the Inca, and is only 5 miles from Salineras de Maras.
When the Spanish arrived to Peru, Pedro Otiz de Orué took over the town in 1556. A church was built over the previous Inca temple. The Church of San Francisco de Maras still stands today. The church is built of stone, brick, and adobe. The inside of the church is filled with paintings from Cusco.
Many of the facades of the residences in town are still in place from colonial times. The facades are made of stone and are inscribed with figures, geometric shapes, and family names.
You can also visit the main square of Maras, which has a statue depicting Moray and other important sites.
Our Experience Visiting Maras
Our driver first took us to a lookout across from the Salineras de Maras. We had an expansive view of all of the salt flats, and it really took my breath away. It was hard to imagine that each of those tiny ponds across the valley belonged to a family. It’s even more amazing to think that many of the workers are harvesting salt from the same plots that their grandparents worked on. (And their grandparents before them.) It’s hard to imagine 500 years of familial history in each of those salt ponds.
When we visited the salt ponds up close, we had an entirely new perspective. Each of them was carefully lined and in various stages of salt production. Our driver showed us all of the steps of the process.
When we were finished viewing the salt ponds, we headed to the market. There were tons of stalls with all sorts of salt products. I don’t think we bought anything because we were traveling light (and still had the Amazon rainforest ahead of us to explore), but in hindsight I wish we would have bought some of the pink salt. (Next time!)
Tours of Moray and Maras
When we visited Moray and Maras, we hired a private driver. (Our hotel front desk helped us to arrange it.) However, there are formal tours of Moray and Maras.
What to Bring for a Day Trip to Moray and Maras
- Phone Charger Power Bank: Make sure that your phone battery doesn’t lose its charge while you’re out exploring. We always carry a charged power bank with us, so that we can charge our phone on the go. We use our phones heavily for navigation, communication, and photos, so we don’t want our phone to die while we’re out and about.
- Filtered Water Bottle: You won’t have to worry about water quality when you bring a water bottle with its own filter. (Bring it with you to restaurants or while you’re out hiking.)
- Hiking Shoes: It’s possible to do some hiking in this area. If you’re planning on hiking, be sure to bring your hiking boots. I’ve used the Columbia brand for years, and my boots have held up well. (I’ve linked them here for women, and here for men.)
- Day Pack: Bring a day backpack with you so that you can pack all of your souvenirs, extra clothing layers, and snacks.
- Rain Coat: This packable rain coat easily fits into a backpack. You never know when it will rain, so it’s good to be prepared!
Hotels Near Moray and Maras
There are multiple options for lodging near the sites of Moray and Maras. The closest hotel options are in Urubamba, which is less than 30 minutes’ drive away from the Salineras de Maras.
- Luxury | Tambo del Inka, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, Valle Sagrado: This 5-star hotel has beautiful views of the mountains, its own spa, a gorgeous pool, and a restaurant. The spa also has a whirlpool with thermal circuit. This is where we would choose to stay if we could go back!
- Upscale | Sol y Luna – Relais & Chateaux: When you stay at this 4-star hotel, you’ll have your own casita. There’s also a restaurant and a spa on-site.
- Moderate | Taypikala Valle Sagrado Deluxe: This 3-star hotel has air-conditioned rooms, a bar, and a swimming pool.
- Budget | Hotel Amaru Valle – Urubamba: This hotel is located within walking distance of Urubamba’s main square.
We personally stayed in Cusco and made a day trip to see Moray and Maras. If you’re interested in lodging options in Cusco, here are some ideas:
- Luxury | Inkaterra La Casona: This hotel is conveniently located adjacent to the Plaza de Armas. It was the first boutique hotel in Cusco, and it’s located within a colonial house from the 16th century.
- Upscale | Palacio del Inka, a Luxury Collection: The Palacio del Inka is a 5-star hotel located steps away from Qoricancha. The hotel is located in a mansion that is over 500 years old.
- Moderate | Apu Huascaran Hostal: This 3-star hotel is located in the San Blas neighborhood. It’s a quick walk to the Plaza de Armas, but you’ll also be in a more quiet neighborhood filled with artisan shops. This is the hotel we stayed at when we visited Cusco.
- Budget | Dragonfly Hostels Cusco: The Dragonfly Hostels Cusco is located only 5 minutes away from the Plaza de Armas. The hostel has a mix of rooming arrangements. You can reserve a bunk in a mixed-sex dorm room, or you can book a private room with a double bed.
Restaurants Near Moray and Maras
If you’re hungry and looking for food, here are a few options in the town of Urubamba:
- Kaia Urubamba: This cafe offers a lot of dishes that are vegan or vegetarian.
- Tierra Cocina Artesanal: Serves traditional Peruvian dishes with local ingredients.
- Hawa Restaurant: This restaurant is only open for guests that stay in the Tambo del Inka hotel. If you happen to stay there, the restaurant features fresh and seasonal ingredients.
Attractions Near Moray and Maras in Peru
The town of Chinchero is located about halfway between Cusco and Maras. There are Inca ruins at Chinchero that were from the palace of the Emperor Túpac Yupanqui. In addition to seeing the Inca ruins, the town is also the center of weaving. At the Interpretation Center of Andean Textiles, you’ll be able to see live weaving demonstrations.
Rainbow Mountain (Vinicunca)
This colorful mountain in Peru is located about 87 miles to the southeast of Cusco. The drive to Rainbow Mountain is several hours long, and then the hike up the mountain is about 3 hours long. Plan to make this a full day trip!
Humantay Lake is located about 94 miles west of Cusco. Travelers hike to Humantay Lake to see the bright colors of the water in this high-altitude lake. The hike is relatively short (2.6 miles roundtrip), but fairly steep (over 1,300 feet of elevation gain).
About 15 minutes north of Sacsayhuamán are the ruins of Tambomachay. It’s known as the “Bath of the Inca.” The ruins contain aqueducts, canals, and waterfalls. The purpose of the site is unknown.
One of our favorite day trips from Cusco was Pisac, which is a small town located less than an hour from Cusco. We took a taxi to Pisac and enjoyed the farmers’ market and the hike to the ruins. The market happens every Sunday, so if you’re free on a Sunday, we recommend that you head to Pisac! The people of the town maintain many Peruvian traditions and are often traditionally dressed. There are also Inca ruins high up on the hill. We chose to hike up to see them, and the views of the Sacred Valley from the top were incredible.
The town of Ollantaytambo is located about an hour and a half to the northwest of Cusco. For those who seek to visit Machu Picchu, going to Ollantaytambo is a must because the train to Machu Picchu is stationed there. We recommend that you spend a day in Ollantaytambo to see the Inca ruins there. The Inca had a sophisticated military fortress that was meant to protect Inca nobility.
If you’re short on time, you can see the ruins of Machu Picchu as a day trip from Cusco. (Although ideally we recommend that you stay in Aguas Calientes and spend at least two days seeing Machu Picchu.) Machu Picchu is one of the most impressive sights we have ever seen. We have a full post on our experience at Machu Picchu linked here, as well as our experience hiking Huayna Picchu here.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who built Moray, Peru?
Scholars believe that the Wari people (a pre-Inca civilization) built the bottom 6 terraces of Moray and that the Inca expanded the terraces.
What was Moray used for?
The leading theory, proposed by John Earls, is that the Inca used the circular terraces of Moray for agricultural experiments. The Inca were able to manipulate the level of sun exposure and temperature at the different terrace levels, which helped them to make decisions about ideal planting decisions.
When was Moray built?
Archaeologists have determined that Moray was built between the 12th and 15th centuries.
How many salt ponds are there at Salineras de Maras?
There are over 4,500 salt ponds at the Salineras de Maras, according to the UNESCO website. Each of the ponds is managed by a local family.
Summary: Visiting Moray and Maras in Peru
Moray and Maras are two sites of cultural importance in Peru that are easily visited as a day trip from Cusco or Ollantaytambo. We highly recommend that you set aside a day in your itinerary to see Moray and Maras!
Disclaimer: We always strive for content accuracy. Since the time of publishing, travel-related information regarding pricing, schedules, and hours may have changed. Please see individual websites embedded in this post for the most current trip-planning information.