Within Cusco and the Sacred Valley, there is much to do than just touring the well-known Wonder of the World. A tour around the Valley is necessary before leaving for the Inca citadel. There are many ruins and many wonderful things to witness in the surroundings. That is why together with Machu Travel Peru we have prepared a small article about the Maras Salt Mines. The old Salinas de Maras is a place that one cannot miss for anything in the world if you find yourself touring the Sacred Valley. These are located almost strategically on the side of a mountain. Where thousands of shallow pools are filled with salt water. These pools then evaporate and leave the expected treasure crystallized.
The most important things to know about the Maras Salt Mines
- What are the Salt Ponds?
- How to go there?
- The history of the salt ponds
- The salt mines today
- The best time to go there
- What to expect of the tour
- About the Peruvian pink salt
WHAT ARE THE SALT PONDS?
The Maras Salt Mines are an infinity of terraces or salt ponds that in the distance resemble a layer of snow in the middle of the slope of the Qori Pujio mountain. It is an unparalleled view where than 6,000 pools have various shades of white or earthy brown. These pools have been in operation for over 500 years in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. And even today the pools are harvested by different local families. The precious Peruvian pink salt is one of the treasures that ancient ancestral cultures have left us. Although the salt flats themselves were created by man, the water that is channeled into these pools comes from a natural underground spring. This underground spring is constantly and quietly carrying the water so that it fills the various ponds with the precious pink salt.
This wonderful landscape has salt flats that are still cultivated in the same way that the Incas did. As you tour the region, you will see people working and harvesting salt in small family plots. One of the best places to enjoy a photography tour in Peru. With a qualified guide, you can learn about the wonderful properties of salt and why it is one of the best in the world.
The water that fills the pools is naturally infused with salt. This flows from the mountains and is deposited in these man-made pools. As the water evaporates from these pools, only the precious salt remains. And the salt is extracted with fairly simple tools. Stop at a store or next to one of the many traditional vendors selling the fruits of their hard work. Salt is usually sold in its pure form or mixed with herbs for cooking and bathing.
HOW TO GO THERE?
To get to the Maras Salt Mines, you first need to get to the small town of Maras. Maras Salt Mines are only about 45 minutes away from the city of Cusco. And generally, you have three main ways to get to them. One of the ways involves using the local transportation. This is the independent way to do it, you can take the transport that locals usually take and visit them on your own. Inside Cusco, you can take a bus (or a taxi) that goes to Urubamba, previously clarifying to the driver that you plan to get off in Maras. These minivans head to Urubamba daily. You simply get off at Maras and from there you will find taxis that will take you the rest of the way. Or you could also take an hour-long hike to the mines.
The other way to get there is by being part of a tour. This is the way most travelers choose. In our many private tours, you will be picked up from your hotel or resort where you will enjoy the Sacred Valley. Some tours usually combine the Maras Salt Mines with the beautiful Moray ruins. Since the ruins are very close to Maras and they are an excellent option to enjoy a full-day tour. The tours are available daily and you will find good guides who can explain the history of the sites well.
Or finally, you could rent a car. The other option is to rent a car or a driver to take you there privately. This is a good option if you are looking to take your time and make independent stops elsewhere in the Sacred Valley map. You can see how much the service costs for a full day and schedule your own stops. If you see a nice place on the way, just stop and enjoy your surroundings.
THE HISTORY OF THE SALT PONDS
The Maras Salt Mines were built by the Wari civilization. And this ancient civilization predates the Inca Empire. Even so, the Incas saw the opportunity that these pools represented, thus expanding the salt flats much higher on the slopes of the mountain. Salt is extracted through the evaporation of the brine (water with large amounts of salt). When it evaporates, local communities carefully extract the salt crystals from the land surfaces. After all the crystals are removed, the pools are refilled with brine and the process is repeated. This method was practiced long before the Incas themselves. With an antiquity that dates back more than 500 years, the salt mines today are usually one of the best tours and things to do around Cusco.
THE SALT MINES TODAY
Today the Maras Salt Mines are one of the biggest attractions to visit within any guided tour around Cusco. Being able to visit the more than 6,000 pools is one of the best things to do in Sacred Valley. Today the local community has unique mining rights for the Salinas that are located near Maras. Hundreds of local miners work at the site today demonstrating ancient techniques and methods used by these early cultures. Then the different local families usually sell this salt in the different markets. Each of these pools is not more than 5 square meters in size and there are more than 6,000 different terraces or pools.
And despite being called mines, they look nothing like one. Taking into account the extraction process, we could call them ponds or salt pools. But you will find thousands of them, and it provides a wonderful sight. These artificial pools seem to contrast harmoniously with the natural settings. It is among the 10 largest salt mines in the world and is truly a fantastic sight to see. Today it is a very attractive point within the guided tours of the different ruins in the Sacred Valley.
THE BEST TIME TO GO THERE
If you are planning a trip to Peru, you will surely wonder when is the best time to experience these ancient pools. It is advisable to travel during the dry season of Cusco (between May and October). The dry season represents a much more pleasant climate where you will enjoy clear skies. During the rainy season that occurs from December to March, the Maras Salt Mines pools turn a more brown and earthy color. While during the dry months the sun shines, and the water evaporates to manifest the brilliant snowy color. The dry season is also beneficial for horseback riding. In addition, you can ride ATVs or hike around the site and appreciate the views better. Conveniently, it is the same recommendation for those who wish to visit Machu Picchu.
As for the schedule, the Maras Salt Mines are available from 8 AM to 5 PM. So if you want to avoid large crowds, they can approach during opening hours. Also, most groups don’t start accumulating until 9 or 10 AM. Although if what you are looking for is the perfect photograph, then the afternoon may be the best time to visit it. It is when the light is most balanced making it one of the best times to take photos. But the truth is, no matter what time you go, you will have an intriguing experience. In addition, you can always find quiet places away from the crowd.
WHAT TO EXPECT OF THE TOURS
You can find many ways to experience the beautiful Maras Salt Mines, you can choose between private and personalized tours or other group options. Your choice will depend a lot on how you want to enjoy the different attractions. Either at a much slower pace or wanting to visit several ruins on the same day. You can even make a personalized experience and include the salt mines within your Machu Picchu tours.
Within the group tours, you can take a walking tour of the site with an expert guide. You will enjoy the unique beauty of the Andean landscapes and enjoy many photo opportunities. Other tours offer the possibility of getting on a 4-wheel ATV (quad) and touring the Andean landscapes. You can make stops at the Maras Salt Mines and the archaeological site of Moray. While other tours offer the possibility of horseback riding and galloping through the landscapes of the Sacred Valley.
Or you can also take advantage of the bike tours. With so many dirt trails, it’s no surprise that cycling is one of the top activities in the Sacred Valley. You will be able to do an exciting route where you can enjoy the Maras Salt Mines and other sites of importance. Although there is also the possibility of hiking to Maras. Being able to cross the Valley on foot and contemplate the beautiful views is fantastic. A half-day hike makes interesting stops at sites in the Sacred Valley. With so many ways to enjoy tourism in Peru, you won’t be able to get bored.
ABOUT THE PERUVIAN PINK SALT
The wonderful Peruvian pink salt is harvested by hand within the ponds found in the Maras Salt Mines. Generally, the salt is harvested by local families who have the right to extract and sell the salt. The salt is usually sold throughout Peru in numerous local markets and other famous landmarks in Peru. But the many visitors who pass there and enjoy the tour can buy and find Peruvian pink salt. The salt has a beautiful and characteristic pale pink color and a rough and uneven texture. It has a much smoother and more complex flavor than the usual table salt. But don’t be fooled, this doesn’t mean you should add more. It is the perfect complement to any culinary creation. You can use it to flavor meats, vegetables, and even potatoes!
“OH, THE THINGS YOU CAN FIND IF YOU DON’T STAY BEHIND”
As you can see, the Maras Salt Mines are a unique place within the culture of Cusco and its surroundings. It is a part that is still very much alive and its traditions are maintained by the local communities. To be able to visit this beautiful destination is to know a living part of the history of the Ancient Inca Empire. That is why we hope together with Machu Travel Peru to have illuminated your perspective of this often forgotten place. You can consult with our expert and qualified advisors to know how to explore this and many other attractions within Peru.