Maybe you're in Cusco, Peru for a couple extra days surrounding a Machu Picchu trip. Maybe you're re-visiting Cusco for a second time to see what else the area has up its sleeve. Maybe you're living and working in Cusco for several months, and Peru's great 'must see' has already been seen and seen again. Or maybe you're a just rouge tourist so dedicated to the less-beaten bath that you've decided to skip Machu Picchu all together and choose you own adventure. Whatever the reason may be that you have a free day in Cusco, one of many outside-the-box excursions from Cusco is the Ruins of Moray in the Sacred Valley by bicycle.
To find the best tour operator for the day trip, check in with several of the offices in central Cusco and compare prices. Oftentimes, different tour operators will actually work together to fill a trip, so you may meet people who have booked their trip with a different agent on your same tour. Conde Travel on Calle Plateros #394 is a good place to look first. You can book the trip at their office the day before. Or, you can book the Ruins of Moray by bicycle trip online in advance with www.cusco-hotel.travel, a member of the whl.travel network.
Cycling the Sacred Valley
The tour begins with the guide loading the bicycles onto the top of a local bus. The bus ride is about one hour from Cusco to the village of Chincheros. From there, the trip on bicycle begins through the Sacred Valley at over 11,000 feet of altitude. Fields of wheat open up to the jagged snowcapped peaks of the Andes that surround the route on all sides. The route on the way to Moray is a combination of soft slopes both uphill and down along a dusty road that you may occasionally share with bypassing trucks or llamas.
Depending on the tour operator, equipment and bicycle condition will vary. Most tours will provide a mountain bike of a recognizable brand that has probably seen many rounds of repairs. All provide helmets, and most will also provide bike gloves, optional elbow and knee guards, and orange visibility vests. The first few kilometers will involve adjusting to the gear and break peculiarities of your bike. Always make sure your back brake works equally as well as your front brake. The ride to the Moray Archaeological Site will take anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours.
Moray, an Ancient Incan Agricultural Laboratory
Upon arriving at Moray, you'll find a parking lot full of buses for tourists who have opted for motor-powered transport to the site. The entrance into the site is 10 soles. Moray was discovered relatively recently in 1932, a full 31 years after the 'old peak' of Machu Picchu was discovered. Excavation is still incomplete, and the park has been open to the public for only about five years.
Looking down into the huge concentric terraced rings of Moray, it looks somewhat like an ancient amphitheater. To some, they're reminiscent of extra-terrestrial crop circles, but according to most archeological theories they're actually very terrestrial and even ingenious in their design. Experts hypothesize that the ancient Incans built the circular terraces to create a series of progressively cooler microclimates for testing different crops. Temperatures can vary up to 27 ?F form the largest top circle to the bottom-most one. Climb down the ancient ladders and see if you can notice slightly decreasing temperatures yourself.
Return route: Village of Las Maras and Las Salineras
On the way back, the bicycle tour is routed to pass through the sites of Las Maras. The path's ascents and descents will get more dramatic, and even technical at some points where it might be easier for novice mountain bikers to dismount and walk.
In Las Maras, you'll stop to see a fascinating salt production site called Las Salineras. Here, tiered ponds of varying sizes and depths receive the salt-rich streams of water coming from inside the hills. The ponds fill up during the rainy season. Then, during the dry season, the water evaporates from the pools, leaving behind layers of blindingly white salt residue. The raw salt is then collected and processed at a nearby plant. The pools of Las Salineras, each in a different stage of evaporation, make up a surreal patchwork display of whites and reflections of sky.
Finally the village of Las Maras merits one last stop before arriving to Urubamba for the bus ride back into the outskirts of Cusco. If you're lucky, the trip will end with the golden lighting of late afternoon and a downhill coast into Cusco with great views of the colonial shingled rooftops all along the way.