Experience – Maras, Peru: Salinas de Maras (Maras Salt Mines)
- Address: Maras Salt Mines (Salineras de Maras), Maras, Peru. (Google Maps)
- Hours: Monday – Sunday, 6:00 am – 6:00 pm
- Recommended Time: 2 hours
- How to Arrive: By car, hiking
- Distance from Maras: 9.5 km / 6 miles
- Distance from Cusco: 52 km / 32 miles
- Ideal Month(s): All Year
Located just 50 km north-west of Cusco and about 16 km from Urubamba along the slopes of the Qaqawiñay mountain at an elevation of over 3,000 m (more than 10,000 ft), the Salinas de Maras is a magical site in the heart of the Sacred Valley.
Since pre-Inca times, salt has been obtained in Maras by evaporating salty water from a local subterranean stream. The highly salty water emerges at a spring, and the flow is directed into an intricate system of tiny channels constructed so that the water runs gradually down onto the several hundred ancient terraced ponds. Almost every pond is less than four square meters in area, and none exceeds thirty centimeters in depth. All ponds are shaped into polygons, which carefully facilities the descending flow of water. As the altitude of the ponds slowly decreases, the water flows through the myriad branches of the water-supply channels through a notch in one sidewall of each pond.
As water evaporates from the sun-warmed ponds, the water becomes supersaturated and salt precipitates as various size crystals onto the inner surfaces of a pond’s walls and on the pond’s floor. Keepers then close the water-feeder notch and allow the ponds to dry. Within a few days, keepers carefully scrape the dry salt from the ponds and reopen the water-supply notch. Color of the salt varies from white to a light reddish or brownish tan, depending on the skill of an individual worker.
As of September 2019, MaraSal S.A., the company that owns the salt pans, announced that tourists are no longer allowed to walk around the salt ponds due to contamination.