Peru is a South American country with so much amazing history and such incredible landscapes. It's hard to decide what to do! For us, the Salineras de Maras and Moray sites about 50 kilometers northwest of Cusco are an ABSOLUTE MUST! Not only are they beautiful and unique, but they are brilliant technological innovations.
Our trip to Peru began in the city of Cusco, but due to the high altitude (over 11k feet above sea level!) it was suggested to us to travel down in altitude so that we could acclimate to the altitude without getting altitude sickness. (Tip: Get the altitude medication BEFORE you leave the states! This helps your body to prepare for the incline and it helped us tremendously).
The travel to the Salineras de Maras takes you to a town called Maras. The roads are windy, but the views are spectacular. With the Andes mountains essentially all around you, you weave with the road to a set of man-made salt pools strategically designed to collect salt water and evaporate to provide salt to the locals.
From above, you can see hundreds of pools. They actually wrap around the mountain, becoming over 6,000 in total! The pools themselves are man made, but the water comes from an underground natural spring, which is mixed with salt deposits from ancient salt lakes that have gradually been buried by the the movement of tectonic plates. Anthropologists believe that the salt pools were made by the Wari civilization, which predates the Incan Empire, existing from 500-1100 AD.
The Wari are believed to have channeled the underground salt water into these man made pans. The water then evaporates in the midday sun, leaving behind salt, which is harvested by locals for free to use or sell. Each pan is about 13 feet long and 1 foot deep, and are generally claimed by a single family for their use. This brilliant innovation by the Wari has been in use for over 500 years, and works with nature to create a self-sustaining factory of salt! To visit is to stand in awe of human ingenuity and innovation.
From the Salineras de Maras, it's a relatively close, but very windy drive to Moray. Moray is an Incan ruin that anthropologists believe was a laboratory used to experiment with agricultural innovation. Agriculture in the Peruvian Andes is complicated. During the times of the Inca, farmers could expect to lose nearly 25% of their crops overnight to frost. Moray was used to experiment with plant resistance and to help create hearty varieties.
The Inca were brilliant agriculturalists. Most of the fertile land used today by Peruvians is not natural, but a collection of soil that was strategically assembled in order to increase fertility of the land. They rerouted rivers for irrigation and developed a unique system of step agriculture that used retainer walls filled with clay and rock, topped with a rich and well fertilized soil created by the Inca themselves. The Inca domesticated many products including over 2000 types of potatoe, quinoa, and sweet potatoes! While there are many gorgeous step agricultural terraces to visit in Peru, Moray was different in that it was a unique innovation to experiment with the right conditions for new products.
The most amazing thing about Moray is how it was strategically designed. These are concentric circles. From top to bottom, there is a temperature differences of about 27 degrees Fahrenheit or 15 degrees Celsius. The guides at Moray suggested there was about 1 degree temperature difference between each level. This allowed the Inca to experiment with the proper temperature and conditions for domesticating and growing different plants.
In fact, the temperature differences from top to bottom reflect those of sea level to Andean mountain temperatures. This is no coincidence, because the soil in each layer was also brought from each of those locations all the way to the Sacred Valley to make these terraces. Equally interesting is the fact that these terraces NEVER flood, not even in the rainiest of seasons. They have yet to be discovered, but it's believed that the Inca built channels underneath to drain the water.
These wonders left us in awe, but of course you cannot visit Peru without the obligatory trip to Machu Picchu. Archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu is a 15th century estate for the Inca Emperor Pachacuti. It sits on a mountain ridge in the Sacred Valley at nearly 8,000 feet above sea level. Considering how hard it was to get there using modern transportation, it's stunning and easy to sit in awe of how the Inca were able to build such a massive and intricate structure in such precarious circumstances. How did they even get the stone up there!?
We stayed in the town of Aguas Calientes, just at the base of Machu Picchu. It's a tourist trap town with little to do other than visit this gorgeous site, but worth it to stay there. A day at Machu Picchu is a strenuous one, and the thought of getting on a train afterwards sounded like a nightmare to us! Our day began VERY EARLY. Around 6am we lined up for the buses and guess what, it wasn't early enough! Hundreds of people were in line and it took us TWO HOURS to get to the front where we finally boarded a bus to get a ride to the top of the site. (It was also pouring rain, a wild day!)
I had purchased tickets for us to climb Huayna Picchu. Only a couple hundred people a day are allowed to take this hike and you have to have tickets in advance. I encourage you to purchase WELL in advance and keep in mind the ticket is time stamped, we had to run to get to the hike entrance, but we made it!
For me, this hike was NO JOKE. Luckily, it was actually a little cloudy during the ascent, but once the clouds passed we realized we were literally on the edge of death. There are some ropes and some really sketchy stairs to climb to get to the top, but it's well worth it and one of our most memorable accomplishments! Just pace yourself...
We hiked down and spent the rest of the day hiking and exploring the beautiful site of Machu Picchu. Take your time to visit all the sites including the trail to the Inca Bridge, which I dare not cross!
Our trip to Peru included some of the most amazing archaeological sites we have ever seen! Tips?