It was a nice afternoon in Ollantaytambo, a traditional town of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. After a well deserved relaxing morning with my girlfriend, the car and driver contacted by our guest house shows up – we are ready to go for a nice little road trip in the mountains!
The goal for the day was to visit the Moray Inca ruins, followed by the Maras Salt Ponds – two increasingly popular, yet still slightly off the beaten track sites of the Sacred Valley. After that, the car would take us directly to Cusco, which is pretty cool and convenient.
The road to Moray is beautiful. At every minute that passes, you feel more and more isolated in the grand landscapes, far from civilization, only passing by a few adobe houses here and there. My face was literally stuck to the window the whole time, marveling at these highlands and mountains, contemplating these vast spaces.
When you see these narrow snaky dirt roads in the middle of nowhere, you just have to pray that your driver doesn’t get lost! Luckily, ours seemed to know the area particularly well. It took about an hour to reach the ruins of Moray.
I have to admit that before going I wasn’t expecting anything that amazing, but since we were going to Maras and exploring the region, why not go anyway! However, as the main part of the site appeared in front of me, I understood that my original thoughts were totally wrong. It certainly doesnt have the grandeur of Machu Picchu, but it is a quite impressive and fascinating site.
On top of that, there were very few visitors.
Address: 5 km (3 mi) west of Maras, Peru
GPS: 13°19’48.51″S, 72°11’40.46″W
Best way to go: Car and driver from Ollantaytambo
Entrance fee: Included in the Cusco Touristic Ticket (70 or 130 soles = 22 or 40 USD), giving access to a number of Inca sites in the Sacred Valley.
Duration of visit: 30 mins – 1 hour if you hike around
Best season: April to October
What are the Moray Inca Ruins?
Simply put, Moray is an Inca archeological site consisting in a set of circular terraced depressions. I was really quite impressed by the size of these depressions. On some pictures, it looks like some small round walls that don’t deserve more than 5 minutes of your time. But it’s actually huge! When I got to see it with my own eyes, I wasn’t expecting something that big and deep.
The ruins of Moray are not quite like the Inca ruins we usually encounter – Houses, temples, fortresses… In fact, It is believed that Moray was used by the Incas as an agriculture research station. It is at least the most widely accepted theory.
The principle is to create a whole range of microclimates, and experiment various crops in various growing conditions.
Indeed, the conditions vary a lot according to where you are inside of the depression. It is so deep that the temperature can vary as much as 15°C (59°F) between the top and the bottom of the depression. The circular shape enabled a lot of testing for crop culture as well: if the crops are facing north, south, east or west, the amount of sunshine they receive varies considerably. Therefore, the Incas could experiment and study what crops grow better in what conditions, and get fundamental knowledge that they can apply to their large-scale crop cultivations.
It is said that with a structure such as Moray, the Incas were able to reproduce the various climates found across their empire, from sea level to high altitude.
Another interesting aspect is how drainage was carefully planned. During the rainy season, we would expect the site to turn into a giant pond. But the terraces actually never get flooded. Moray also has an irrigation system in place for the terraces.
That’s some fine Inca ingeneering!
Visiting The Ruins of Moray
There are buses from Cusco that take about 2 hours to reach this region – I feel it would be a bit of a waste to spend 4 hours in a bus just to see Moray and Maras. Granted, there are other sites such as Pisac and Ollantaytambo that you can include in the tour, but I still think it’s a bit rushed.
In my opinion, the best is really to sleep in Ollantaytambo or Urubamba and plan a Sacred Valley day trip from there. If you are traveling on a shoestring you might want to find public transport; but if you can afford not counting every dollar then I highly recommend the private driver option. You can go at your own pace, stop wherever you want, and the site is not flooded with your group of tourists when you arrive.
In any case, just ask your hotel or guesthouse what are the best options from where you are.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by the site of Moray. Its size, its shape, what it was used for… everything about it is fascinating. It’s true that I wouldn’t spend 3 hours in it, but it is still quite special and well worth seeing it while you are touring the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
And seriously, that trip across the mountains alone is worth going for. I feel that this tour really enabled me to realize what this famous “Sacred Valley of the Incas” was about, its landscapes, its atmosphere. I wouldn’t be able to say that if I has stayed in town.
So by all means, if you are planning to travel in this area, don’t skip Moray – And don’t forget the nearby Maras salt mines, they are equally amazing.