The Magic of Moray
Many visitors to Peru never even pass by this beautiful area.
Cusco was the ancient capital of the Incas. They chose a city that was central to their empire and built their cities and temples in a pattern that stemmed in every direction.
As you head in the direction of Machu Picchu, from Cusco, you encounter many Incan sites. One of the popular locations, Chinchero, is included in almost every travel itinerary. It's a charming city, with distinct textiles and Quechuan outfits. In the main square of the city you find a beautiful colonial chapel and the ruins of an Incan site.
Just past Chinchero
Past Chinchero, down a long dirt road, is the city of Maras. Home to salt mines over 2,000 years old, Maras is an agricultural community. Many visitors to Peru never even pass by this beautiful area. From Maras, you can peer down into the Sacred Valley and observe the Apus (mountain peaks), covered in glaciers.
My favorite Incan site in all of the Cusco area is located just a few minutes from Maras. As you drive down the dirt road you slowly increase in altitude until you're at almost 13,000 feet. In every direction their are beautiful vistas.
The mystery of Moray
As you pull up to the site you get the feeling that there is something hidden from site, because there is. You get out of your vehicle and walk towards the guard rails and look down into one of the most fascinating designs in South America. Circular terraces culminating in a small sacred area. It's like a giant target carved into earth. It's stunning, and fun, and mysterious.
You can loop down the walkway into the ruins. Each terrace is original Incan work. They're bigger than they appear, some terraces are at a height of 6 feet or more. Stones jut out from the walls, ancient Incan stairways, to give you access going up or going down.
You can hop down those stones, terrace by terrace, until you reach the middle of the ruins. From the middle you can speak in an "indoor" voice and people standing at the top of the ruin can hear you. I think the Incans used the site as an ampitheater of sorts. Scholars don't agree with me.
Scholars believe that the site was used as an agricultural experiment. They found seeds of different types of plants on each terrace. They explain that the temperatures vary on each terrace and that the Incas were figuring out what plants grew at what altitudes and in what soils. Based on the evidence I think that have a point.
The perfect photo-op
The main circle isn't the only circle. There are at least three other circular ruins in the area. You don't have time to do this, but there is a trail above Moray that you can hike which gives you the Sacred Valley's most photogenic scene. The deep, porous ruins of Moray with the Sacred Valley in the background, complete with glacier-covered mountain peaks.
In order to see this site you have to hire private transportation, and they'll charge you extra for the dirt roads. You need at least half a day to experience Moray and Maras but believe me: it's worth it.