salt ponds in the Salinas de Maras, near Urubamba

Urubamba is the ideal base for exploration of the Salinas de Maras and the Moray agricultural terraces, two Inca highlights in the Sacred Valley.

Urubamba is the largest town in the Sacred Valley, the valley that runs roughly from Pisac in the east to Machu Picchu in the west and refers to a string of Inca religious locations. Yet, we easily walk from our hotel on one end of town to the bus station at the other, everything here is pretty small-scale. As a town Urubamba has not much to offer in terms of sites, but it is nice and compact, with the usual narrow streets, a plaza and a market.


the village square of Urubamba

and one of the narrow streets

women inside the market hall

and another market seller

colourful vegetables

many different types of potatos

hundeds of salt ponds

terracing down to the valley

rather steep terraces

salt accumulating at the back

the water is brownish

The reasons to come to Urubamba are outside town: an agricultural laboratory from the Inca days, and elaborate salt works, which date back to pre-Incas times. The salt works, near the village of Maras, have been developed around a salt water spring, which feeds water in the hundreds of small shallow terraced pools downstream, which slowly fill up, and get oversaturated with evaporation, after which the waterflow is interrupted and the salt harvested – this in a matter of a few days. The ponds are stacked in a narrow valley, which creates a very attractive view. Except that we are not the only ones, of course, remember, this is tourist country. Buses and minivans come and go and deliver a never-ending stream of tour groups, which move carefully in between the ponds; but not too far from the entrance, of course, so further down hill there are fewer people.

another view of the ponds

the largest circular terraces

note the stairs from level to level

built as stones in the terrace walls

another view of the stairs

The same groups we meet again at Moray, a little further from Maras. Here the incas have built circular terraces thought to have been used to test various crops at different temperatures, to see what grows best where. Interestingly, the stairs to climb from one terrace to another have been set inside the terrace walls, to avoid erosion along them. The biggest of the troughs is some 30 meters deep, with temperature differences of 15o between top and bottom. Quite something, at about 3500 m altitude.

next: Machu Picchu

a smaller terrace circle, less well preserved

and snow the top of the mountains

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