The Cuzco Circuit: Moray and Maras

When planning your stay in Cuzco, it can be overwhelming to pick out activities to fill the limited time you are there. There is a multitude of different tours and activities offered, and it’s hard to decide which ones are worth doing because they all look amazing! When my dad and I were setting up our trip, we had no idea what to choose, so Julio simplified the process by recommending a few of the most popular tours, and also one a little less traveled: Moray and Maras.
View of the Cordillera Vilcanota

Our trip began with an hour’s busride up upwards through the Cordillera Vilcanota – a beautiful mountain range that includes Ausangate, the highest peak in Peru.  The journey took us through beautiful valleys and small towns that afforded stunning views of snow-capped peaks in the distance. After only a half an hour, we stopped briefly in a small market to look at some local artisan crafts and drink some coca tea.

Wool preparation demonstration

During our brief stop, we were given a demonstration by some of the local woman who created the beautiful shawls and bags we were viewing. They gave an intimate and extremely detailed demonstration of the entire process behind traditional weaving – from harvesting the wool to putting the finishing touches on a piece. It was incredible. (So incredible that I’ll be posting a whole blog post dedicated to the subject on Thursday.)

After our stop at the artisans market, we continued another half hour and arrived at our first destination: Moray.

Main terrace complex at Moray

Consisting of three concentric circles composed of terraces, Moray served as an agricultural complex. The site was carefully crafted in a prime location that offered specific sun and wind exposure, allowing a temperature variance of almost 30 degrees Fahrenheit between the top and bottom of the terraces. Genious!

We spent about 45 minutes traversing the multiple terraces. It was hard work! While (thankfully) there were stone steps so that we could climb between terraces, they were huge and the altitude made it more difficult than it looked.

From far away, the steps don't look that bad...
...but when you're trying to climb them, it's a whole different story. Taking a breather between staircases.

Despite the difficulty of climbing between the terraces, it was well worth it! The site was far more amazing than I had expected – and these pictures hardly do it justice. Standing at the rim of the terraces, you have amazing views of the Cordillera, and the people down below look like ants. And when you’ve made it down into the center of the complexes and you’re looking up, you realize how it feels to be one of those ants you were just previously looking down on.

 Moving on from Moray, our next stop was the salt ponds of Maras.

View of Maras from the entry road

Located just a few minutes drive from Moray, Maras was used by the Inca to cultivate salt. Compartmentalized terraces form small areas that were supplied with fresh water from underground springs which the Inca channeled into them. Naturally salty, this water was then evaorated, leaving behind the salt. Today, locals are free to make use of the ponds, and need only to apply with the cooperative that oversees one in order to claim a pond as their own. Salt is also available for purchase at the artisan market that marks the entrance to the site.

Climbing on the salt flats

Both Moray and Maras are excellent examples of how the Inca made use of natural resources to benefit themselves. In the case of Moray, natural depressions were turned into highly-functional temperature-controlled agricultural terraces. And at Maras, naturally salty springs were manipulated to yield an abundance of salt to serve as an important  cooking resource.

Both sites, in addition to providing intrigue and a lesson on Inca construction, are overwhelmingly large and beautiful. Hidden in the Cordillera, they are not easy accessable, and therefore not visited as often as other sites in the Cuzco area. This also means that there are far less crowds than you would encounter at, say, a site like Sacsayhuaman or Pisac. There’s really no reason not to visit these two amazing sites should your travels take you to Cuzco, just do it – let Julio book your tour!!!

Kate is a volunteer and researcher for the Karikuy Volunteer Program in Lima, Peru.


I'm a 21-year from Boston, MA who recently graduated with a BA in Anthropology/Archaeology. In an attempt to put off entering the real world as long as possible, I jumped at the chance to spend 9 weeks in Peru as a volunteer/tourist/archaeology nerd. I am currently enjoying touring Peruvian archaeological sites, experiencing Lima like a local, and learning about all things Peruvian.

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