Maras is a city in the Sacred Valley of Peru.
Maras isn't much of a destination: the town is dusty and not very tourist friendly. It is useful as a base for exploring Salineras or Moray, two significant Inca sites.
Buses travelling between Urubamba and Chinchero, including many en route to Cusco, usually stop at the turnoff to Maras, a few kilometers outside of Urubamba. Or you can take a cab to the turnoff from Urubamba for a few soles.
At the turnoff, there are usually a few cabs waiting for passengers. You can pay them to bring you into the town, or all the way to Moray, some ruins about 13 km outside the town.
It is possible to walk or bike to the ruins at Moray, but the most common way is to take a taxi. Rates can be fairly steep, but trying to walk to Moray can be hard because they are easy to miss, as they are all sunken into the ground. It is much easier to walk back — don't be intimidated by the 13-km road-trip — the road is very windy, and you are able to walk back in more or less a straight line in an hour or so. The town is clearly visible on the horizon as there is a large white church.
Salineras is best visited by foot. From the center of Maras, follow the road towards the turnoff, a little ways past the church, and keep going straight when the road turns to the right. There will be a dirt path that eventually descends into a canyon, leading to the salt pans.
A mountain biking tour or biking tour may be of interest and appears to include a guided tour of the Moray ruins. Inquiring in Cusco with a reputable mountain biking tour operator is likely the best opportunity to book the trip or obtain a reference.
The town, while quaint, has little to hold a traveller's attention besides the ruins.
It makes sense to visit Moray on the same trip as the Salineras as they are very close together, you have to drive past the turn off for the Salineras to get to Moray. You may as well look at Chinchero on the same trip also as the bus goes through Chinchero on the way.
- 1 Salineras (Bus Av. Grau 525, Cusco - Chinchero - Urubamba). Terraced Inca salt fields in a valley, still in production today. Salt has been harvested from the briny waters of the Salineras spring for thousands of years. There are around three thousand of family-owned salt pans nestled in a canyon, which are used to evaporate water to extract the salt. All are filled, dried, and harvested on a rotating basis. They are not mined on Sunday. It is interesting to see the pans being mined by people in traditional garb, but if you go on an off day you are likely to have the whole place to yourself. Admission is S/5, but collection is inconsistent and unregulated.
- Get in:
- Hike down into the canyon from Maras or up from the road connecting Urubamba to Ollantaytambo. From Maras, walk towards the edge of the valley. Where the road bends to enter the town, there is a path. If you have trouble finding it, ask a local. From Maras it's about a 2 km hike to the site. The path is very easy to follow.
- To get to the site from the road between Urubamba and Ollantaytambo, stop by Punta Arco de Iris (Rainbow Bridge).
- If you let the taxi/colectivo driver know where you are going you should be able to get picked up. It is very easy to get picked up by some form of transportation from that bridge, so it is entirely feasible to start at Maras and end up getting a ride back to your destination down in the valley.
- 2 Moray. A fabulous depression in which, experts theorize, the Incas built concentric terraces to grow crops in different microclimates. Moray sits six hundred meters above Urubamba and the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Moray was the Incan agricultural laboratory that was likely used to cultivate resistant and hearty varieties of plants high in the Andes. The site is not on the typical tourist agenda; however, it is included in the boleto turístico offered in Cusco and is on the way back from Machu Picchu between Ollantaytambo and Pisac.
- The Agricultural Laboratory of the Incas - Three large natural depressions in which terraced co-centric circles were constructed. Seeds cultivated at this site were likely sent throughout the Incan empire to improve yield in the harsh conditions of the Andes and were probably one of the benefits offered by the Incas for peaceful incorporation of neighboring tribes into the Incan empire. Today the site is a series of co-centric circles on plateaus 400 m above the valley floor (3,200-3,500 m above sea level). The site was designed by the Incas to take advantage of natural depressions below the level plain and model Andean, jungle and semi-tropical environments for the growth of different plant varieties. Pollen studies indicate that soils from each of these regions was imported by the Incas to each of the large circular basins. In the largest of the depressions (150 m) a series of water channels can be seen finding their way to the bottom. Studies have found temperature variations up to 5 degrees Celsius.
- Few books are available on Incan Agriculture in Cusco or surrounding cities so study up before arriving. Guides are included for free at the site, inquire at the control point.
- Get in:
- Route 1 (from Cusco): Take a bus from Cusco to Urubamba. At Urubamba, get off at the town center where there is a Y in the road and two statues resembling stonehenge. Wait a bus to Moray for S/1. Stay awake as it is only a few km to the Moray turnoff. The bus will drop you off there. Taxis await at the blue and white bus station. It is 4 km to town and 13 km to the ruins as noted on the bus station. Skilled negotiators who arrive with a group of 5 persons or more will get S/10 soles per person to be driven to both Moray and the salt mines and back to the turnoff. Less skilled negotiators will get S/15 soles to get driven to the Moray site and left there. To avoid the negotiation problem, consider an arranged bike tour.
- Route 2 (from Cusco): Take a taxi or ask the locals for a bus station where buses go to Chinchero and Moray. Expect to pay S/3. Take the bus and get dropped off at the blue and white bus stop that is the turnoff for Moray. Then follow the above instructions.
- Instead of taking a taxi from the bus drop-off to the ruins, you csn hike. The walk is not as long as might be expected, as you can avoid the twists and turns of the road. It may be hard to find by foot though, so taking a taxi there and walking back to the more visible town might be a better option.
After climbing down the ruins and back up, climb the hill overlooking the site to obtain the best photo of two of the co-centric circles in the same shot. Also on this hill are the Incan reservoirs used to store water during the year.
There are no restaurants in Maras, although there are several small stores from which you can buy simple supplies.
At the ruins there are only walking snack vendors. Crossing back through the town and visiting the Salt Ponds, there are vendors with better snacks such as ice cream and salted nuts and dehyrdated bananas. However, bringing your own lunch is recommended.
The other option is to eat at Pisac or Urubamba. There are only local joints in Urubamba, while in Pisac Ulrike's Cafe is highly recommended. It has great vegetarian options, good value, filling meals, local experiences such as Chicha Morada, and delicious deserts such as Kahlua cheesecake. The three-plate meal with soup (pumpkin soup recommended), entree (try the vegetable lasagna), and cheesecake is S/17, or with a brownie and ice cream for S/14. Meals can be obtained for S/10 or less depending upon the quantity desired.
There are no accommodations in Maras, although there are plenty in nearby Urubamba.
Take a taxi to the highway turnoff and wait for a bus to take you to Urubamba or Chinchero, or pay for them to take you the whole way (though this will be expensive).