Sacred Valley Peru: Exploring The Maras Salt Mines and Moray Village
Exploring the Sacred Valley with kids is an amazing way to experience the small towns that make up the unbelievably beautiful area between Cusco and Machu Picchu. With destinations such as Urubamba, the Maras Salt Mines and the cozy streets of Moray in the Sacred Valley, this is an area that is often overlooked by those who travel to Peru.
Sacred Valley with kids: Maras and Moray
We had been in Peru for a few days. On the first day, we experienced an incredible family tour of Lima. The following day, we ventured south and had an unbelievable adventure sandboarding in Huacachina with kids. We were only a few days away from our bucket list adventure of traveling to Machu Picchu with kids. However, we had to acclimate to the high altitude of Cusco, the gateway to Machu Picchu, first. So, we spent a couple of days exploring the surrounding region known as the Sacred Valley. On the first day in the region, we visited Maras and Moray.
You can read our entire two-week Peru itinerary here.
There are many interesting sites and towns with ancient ruins that make a visit to the Sacred Valley with kids a must. Between Urumbamba and Cuzco via Chinchero, the town of Maras is the starting point to visit two very interesting ancient historical sites in Peru: the Maras salt pans and the Moray terraces. So, after our short morning flight from Lima, we headed 40 km north of Cusco to the town of Maras.
Maras Salt Mines
The Maras salt mines or Salineras as they are called in Spanish is about 6 km outside of Maras village in a canyon within the Sacred Valley. We stopped at a couple of viewpoints so we could visualize what 4500 salt pans actually look like.
We then drove another couple of minutes down the canyon to the parking lot. With the heat beating down on us, we eagerly walked on the path. We passed through the local market that sold typical Peruvian souvenirs and we also saw our first glimpse of the historical Maras salt pans.
Pro-Tip: The Cusco Tourist Ticket does not include the entrance to the Maras salt pans. Tickets can be purchased at the ticket counter by the parking lot.
From the top of the salt ponds, D noticed one of the natural springs that feed the saltwater pools. We learned from Edward, our guide from Kuoda Travel, that the source of the natural springs is a local subterranean stream within the Qoripukyu mountain. The salt pans have been in operation since pre-Inca times. Today, the pans are owned and maintained by over 300 local families. And they are still mined and maintained in much the same way as they had in the beginning.
UPDATE: As of June 15, 2019, access to the Maras Salt Mines is no longer permitted. This is due to the salt ponds being exposed to contaminants such as cigarettes, plastic, and other garbage. Visitors can still see the ponds from the viewing areas, but walking among them is no longer allowed.
We walked alongside the tiny channels watching the salty water fill the ponds. Planks were set up so that wheelbarrows transporting mud that was used to repair the salt pans could be maneuvered across the site. One of the locals thought it would be a good idea for us to taste the water. So, we dipped our finger and grabbed a pinch of crystal. With a salinity of 260 g / L it was definitely salty! C was glad he had brought a water bottle with him to wash away the taste.
Pro-Tip: Use the washrooms near the parking lot before heading down the canyon. There are no washrooms by the salt pants and it is a hard climb up for little ones to make when it’s very hot out.
How do the Maras salt pans work?
The pans fill with salty water from a spring at the top of the canyon. Water travels to the various ponds via channels. The pond takes about 3 days to fill up. Once full, the influx of water is blocked. With the help of the sun, the water slowly evaporates over the next few weeks (approximately 20 days).
On our family trip to the Maras salt pans, we saw several ponds in varying stages of evaporation. Some of the pans had large salt crystals while others that were still early in the evaporation process had smaller crystals. When all liquid has evaporated, the owner of the pond then carefully scrapes off the salt crystals from the pond. Once it has all been scraped off, the owner removes the blockade allowing for water to flow back into the pan.
Pro-Tip: It is not necessary to have a guide to visit the Maras and Moray. There are many taxis that will take you from different areas of the Sacred Valley to the sites which are easy to explore on your own. But it helps to have a guide to learn more about the area and the culture.
What happens to the salt after harvest?
Edward mentioned that the salt has become very popular in recent years with many trendy restaurants including it in their recipes. More recently, they are also being used in high-end spa products. We explored the area for about an hour before C started to feel ill (later on in the night we realized it was from food poisoning from our breakfast at the Lima airport) so we ended our visit and headed back to the air-conditioned van.
Town of Maras, Peru
From the Maras salt pans, we had to pass through the heart of Maras Village to get to the Moray ruins. The narrow, cobblestone roads made for a slow drive. But we were not complaining as it allowed us to view the colorful doorways which lined the roads. Many of the doors were blue and were framed with intricate stonework of various geometric shapes.
We also drove by the town square which was packed as there was a festival at the time. There were many Peruvians dressed in traditional attire singing and dancing in front of the town’s white Adobe church. After exploring the town of Maras we headed 9 km west to explore the Incan ruins of Moray with kids.
The drive was almost 20 minutes as the bumpy road dictated another slow drive. But we didn’t mind as the views along the Sacred Valley are amazing. Soon enough we reached the parking lot. The ruins were only a short walk away.
Unfortunately, C was still feeling off with a rumbling tummy so he chose to sit on the bench in front of the first ruin closest to the parking lot. The concentric terraces were just as mesmerizing in person as the pictures I saw previously. Edward proceeded to explain how scientists believe the circles may have been a field testing site for growing crops.
We learned that each terrace has its own microclimate with a 15°C difference between the top and bottom terraces. It is hypothesized that the Inca used the site to acclimatize and adapt different crops so different plants grow successfully on each level. This practice is why there are over 2000 varieties of potato in Peru.
Pro-Tip: Entrance to the Moray ruins is covered under the Cusco Tourist Ticket or Boleto Turistica del Cusco.
There is a total of 3 terraced sites in Moray. The site itself is very easy for kids to explore. There is no shade though so best to wear a hat on sunny days. Also, bring some bottled water while walking around the site. D enjoyed running on the paths. But, he did tire easily. It is hard to tell if that was from the altitude (the ruins are at 3500 m) or if it was because of the food poisoning. With both kids at less than 100%, we cut our visit short.
Casa de Tatiana
After spending the morning touring the Incan sites at Maras and Moray with children we were definitely ready for some lunch. Kuoda Travel arranged for us to have lunch at Casa de Tatiana. From the outside, it looked like the entry way to a lovely home. So, when we entered, we were surprised to be greeted by the owners, Tatiana and Jeremy into their home! We learned that a meal at their place is only available by advance reservation. We were also the only guests so C and D were able to explore without us having to worry about them bothering other guests. It was a set menu so all we had to do was sit, relax and wait to be surprised.
Tatiana is the chef and she prepared a wonderful 3- course meal. We started with greens from the garden and trout ceviche. The main course consisted of grilled chicken on skewers, grilled vegetables, and creamy quinoa. For dessert, we devoured some homemade ice cream. Everything had beautiful presentation, tasted delicious, and was served promptly. With C’s unsettled tummy, Tatiana prepared a modified version of the meal for him. Between the wonderful conversation and the concern both Tatiana and Jeremy showed C, it truly felt like we were having lunch with family.
After our wonderful meal, Jeremy took us around the grounds. We saw the garden where all of the vegetables from our lunch were harvested. The views of the mountains from the back patio were stunning and we could have stayed there forever.
Before long, it was time to say goodbye to our hosts. With our appetites satiated, we headed back to the van for the short drive to our home for the next two nights in the Urubamba Valley.
Casa Andina Premium Valle Sagrado Hotel & Villas
With both the boys not feeling well and Kevin slowly sliding downhill, we welcomed the site of the Casa Andina Premium Valle Sagrado Hotel and Villas. After checking in at the main reception building we traveled by golf cart to our two bedroom Bedroom cottage. This lifted up our spirits. The cottage was a dream place to stay. Not to mention there is an on-site observatory. You can check out our Casa Andina hotel review here.
Is Visiting Maras and Moray with kids worth the day trip?
Even though the boys were not 100% they still enjoyed our family trip to see the Incan sites of Maras and Moray. C especially liked learning about the salt harvesting process at the Maras salt mines. D’s favorite was definitely running on the paths leading between the ruins at Moray. If you have a few days in the Sacred Valley, we highly recommend checking out these off the beaten path destinations in Peru.
Our friends at Along for the Trip also visited the Sacred Valley with kids. Check out their fun tips on things to do in Cusco.
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