Mountain biking




September 2011 • Canon 40D camera

Biking stats

50km (31mi)

Distance (round trip)


Highest point

9am – 4pm


Today we had the chance to do some cross country mountain biking around Cuzco in the Sacred valley. It would encompass a mixture of different terrains, archaeological sites and magnificent landscapes. The itinerary was to start in the small Andean village of Chinchero and cycle through to the Salt mines of Maras and finally reaching the Inca ruins of Moray. It was a nice sunny morning as our driver drove us to Chinchero, thirty kilometers north of Cuzco over the sacred valley.

Here we collected our mountain bikes to begin our cross country experience. Around 9 am we put our cycle helmets on, clicked our gears into place and begun our ride into the Andean landscape. Our guide (sorry I had forgotten his name!) gently lead the way. I had not eaten any breakfast this morning except for a cup of tea. I was already feeling hungry by the time we had got on our bikes and started paddling through the small village to the outskirts.

I hoped this cycling route would be just as fun as the cycling tour I did in China. We started off on a dusty, stony road. The flat agricultural landscape surrounded us with the open mountain range to the distance. Every once in a while we we cycled through muddy patches. We passed cows grazing along with the odd local farmers working in the fields. “Hola” I shouted as I cycled passed people.

The open road

Leaving the village area we were greeted with the large dusty open road. The massive snow–capped mountains of the Urubamba range surrounded us. I felt so small. Heavy swirling clouds covered us from above with the sun and blue skies shining down on us whenever there was a break in the clouds. It was hot... and we were high up in altitude... should have brought sunscreen! It was quiet and peaceful as we cycled on the road. Every once in a while a short gust of wind blew ahead of us.

Along the route, we cycled through a tiny village of a few houses that laid out mud bricks baking hard in the sun. The route was now in some places elevated, so at some points it was easier to get off our bikes and slowly walk up before cycling again. We passed a few people walking the dirt road from time to time but rarely did we see any kind of vehicle. There was a group of horse riders at one point that appeared from the horizon like they just came out of a Hollywood western movie. Several times I attempted to film the scenery while I was riding but the terrain made it difficult with the uneven surface. I ended up just stopping to take video footage and photos once in a while.

Salineras de Maras

We headed towards Salineras de Maras, located along the slopes of the Qaqawiñay mountain. At an elevation of 3,380m this salt mine has nearly 3,000 salt evaporation pools. We stood at an edge of a ridge looking down at the salt mines. They looked like little white boxes from above. It was a downhill ride for about twenty minutes to get to the salt mines. I did it in about ten minutes as I took advantage of the downward momentum to really speed down. Towards the end of the road it was winding and curving making it a fun experience to ride.

We stopped to have lunch and then headed into the salt evaporation ponds. Since pre–Inca times salt has been collected from the Maras area. The salt comes from a natural spring from an underground stream. The salt water is directed into ponds and once filled, the water is cut off and left to dry out. The salt then crystallizes and is ready for harvesting by local families during the dry season from May to November. There were local people harvesting the salt and then carrying them out of the area in big sacks on their back.


From the salt mines we cycled to our unique, final destination for the day, Moray. And boy did it not disappoint. This archaeological Inca site is one of the best examples of Inca landscaping. Several circular terraces leading down like stairs to the bottom floor, 100 feet deep, is often refereed to as a bowl. It reminded me strangely of a flying saucer as the circular terraces looked like discs. The purpose of the depression of these circular terraces is a mystery.

The most widely agreed theory was this place was some type of agricultural research laboratory. Because of the different depths of the terraces, there is a difference in temperatures and so it believed it was a sort of micro–climate experimentation. It's fascinating to learn how advance the Incas were in there scientific exploration thousands of years.

You can get to the bottom of the terraces by small stair cases so I made my way down to get a closer look. At the bottom it was nice and cool and the circular arena made the place look very large. Above us, the sun rays was shinning brightly down on us. Standing here, I was reminded of the Colosseum in the movie Gladiator and pictured that this place could have served like a gladiatorial match.

After spending some time exploring the site we headed back up where our driver from this morning was waiting to take us back to the hotel. The sky was bright blue with wonderful formations of clouds hovering above and hanging on the tops of the mountain range before us. Apart from the sites and cycling, I would also remember this day for the amazing cloud formations as I have never quite witness such formations so far on my travels.

Final thoughts

I am not a cyclist but I enjoyed another method of discovering this part of the Sacred Valley. The open road gives a sense of freedom as you cycle through the valley with the wonderful backdrop of the snow–capped mountain range. The route is easy for any rider and you can cycle at your own pace.

There are many bike tour companies you can choose from and they all follow a similar route. Bike, helmet and pads are provided, along with lunch. Bring water and snacks for along the way. Entrance fees to the sites are not included on the bike tour so bring cash. I recommend having a go if you get a chance and the weather is good.

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