ATVing in the Sacred Valley with Willka Travel
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It was bright and sunny as I left El Balcon Hotel and headed to the Willka Travel office a few blocks away. I have driven an ATV maybe 3 times in my life and each time was an absolute blast! I was excited to say the least. The tour had a total of 12 people, including myself. Active tours like this that have more then 15 people usually become a bit of a cluster, so I was so happy to find this small group.
After a 45 minute bus ride through the Sacred Valley we arrived at a small farmhouse. The ATVs were parked in the driveway, where we received a safety briefing and were taught how to operate the machines. We got some practice time going up and down the street turning and changing gears. I won't lie, I didn't do great, but it could have been worse.
Then we were off! The scenery was exquisite with the mountains frost covered in the distance, yet we were surrounded by farms and sunshine. Dust was flying and the wind was in my face. For me I was going fast, but the speedometer told me I was only going 30 KPH.
After a short drive we arrived at a parking area where we left the ATVs and boarded a bus. I was under the impression we would be driving ourselves directly, if not close, to the Maras Salt Mines. Our guides informed us that ATVs are no longer allowed on the road to the entrance of the Salt Mines. This was a bit of a bummer, as I was excited to spend to spend time outdoors. Luckily, the ride wasn't very long.
Upon arrival to the Salt Mines our guides gave us an overview of the area and information about the mines. The thousands of shallow pools were strategically dug into the mountainside. These pools are filled with salt water and eventually evaporate and leave behind crystallized salt. The people of Maras have been mining salt like this for more than 500 years! We had a total of 25 minutes at the site with 15 of them open for exploring. I could have stayed much longer. However, there were so few people there, it was like we had it all to ourselves!
Once we returned to the ATVs we were given a choice between going to Morays archeological site or a nearby lake. I chose to go to Morays, but all of the others wanted to go to the lake. Several said they were told they would only be going to the lake. A bit of a miscommunication, and as a result I had to go with the group to the lake. I was disappointed.
As we left, several of the group members passed me because I was going too slow. I nearly stalled out going up a hill and caused a crash, so that was fun. I really didn't think I was going to make it up the hill, but I did. And I almost hit a chicken that scurried out in the road! ATVing was a bit of a challenge for me.
With a few rest stops and all dusty roads we reached the lake. It was serene and peaceful. Frogs croaked from the edge of the water and birds with their bottoms up splashed while trying to catch a snack. There was even a litter of piglets sticking their snouts in the mud along side their mom.
All in all the trip was amazing! I saw the Maras Salt Mines, which was the one thing I really wanted to see, the landscape was out of this world, and I didn't even get a sunburn. I wish I had known beforehand that Morays was only an option and not guaranteed. If this is a sight you want to see I would discuss the tour with them and make it clear that you want to see this sight.
Things to know before you go:
The fee to get into the Salt Mines is not included in the cost of the tour. At the time of my visit is as 10 soles. The same goes for the Morays archeological site, which costs 70 soles, but you can also use that ticket to get into other sites in the Sacred Valley and near Cusco.
Bring lots of sunscreen, snacks, plenty of water, sunglasses and a buff or bandana. (for the dust)
Depending on the location of your hotel - I was right around the corner from their office - there may or may not be a pick-up.
For more information about this and other Willka Travel tours click here to visit their website.