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MARAS SALT MINES -
MUST-SEE ATTRACTION IN SACRED VALLEY
One of the must-see attractions in Sacred Valley of the Incas are Maras Salt Mines.
A visit to Maras Salt Mines can be easily done on a day trip from Cusco.
Learn all about it.
WHAT ARE MARAS SALT MINES IN THE SACRED VALLEY OF THE INCAS
Maras Salt Mines are thousands of individual shallow pools filled with salt water located on a hillside.
WHERE ARE MARAS SALT MINES
Maras is a town at 11,090 feet (3,380 meters) above sea level in the Sacred Valley of the Cusco region, roughly 40 km northwest of Cusco.
Salt Mines of Maras are about 4 km north of the town of Maras. Specifically , they are situated along the slopes of the Qaqawinay Mountain
HOW TO GET TO MARAS SALT MINES FROM CUSCO
Image Credit: Google Map data ©2020
- With a Private Guide and a Driver
I think that having a private driver and a guide is the best way to go. This option gives you total flexibility. Also, having a knowledgeable guide by your side is simply invaluable. Now, if you are staying in one of the hotels in Cusco, I am sure that your hotel will be more than happy to arrange for you a driver and a guide. Needless to say, this is an expensive option, but it is all worth it.
- On a Tour
There are plenty of day tours that stop at all major attractions in Sacred Valley. You can do a half-day tour that just covers Maras Salt Mines, or you can do a full-day tour that goes to Maras, Moray, and Ollantaytambo. I am positive that your hotel can make all the arraignments for you. It is probably one of the least expensive options. But, it does not give you much flexibility.
- By Taxi
If you do want to hire a private driver and a guide, or go on an organized tour, then book a taxi and head to Maras Salt MInes. You will always be able to hire a guide right at the entrance to the Salt Mines of Maras.
I would recommend that you ask your hotel to get a taxi for you.
- By Colectivo
There is a colectivo station on Avenida Grau in Cusco. First of all, find the colectivo that goes to Urubamba. Second, let the driver know that you want to get off at the town of Maras. It will take you about 45 minutes to reach Maras. Now, something to keep in mind that colectivos do not leave until they are full, but usually, they fill up very fast so it should not take long at all for you to be on your way to Maras.
Get off at Maras stop. Finally, hire a taxi to take you to the mines. It will be about 15-minute drive to get to the salt mines from the town of Maras.
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HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO VISIT MARAS SALT MINES
It costs 10 soles to enter Maras Salt Mines. It goes directly to the co-operative of families that works the salt mines.
Also, make sure to buy some of the Peruvian Pink Salt from Maras as souvenirs. There are a lot of stands right at the entrance to the Salt Mines of Maras. You will find plenty of neatly packaged bags of salt labelled ‘gourmet’ and ‘100% natural’. In addition, there are plenty of salted snacks available as well, including corn chips and fried banana slices. In addition, you can purchase medicinal bath salts and exfoliating scrubs.
WHAT ARE THE OPENING HOURS OF MARAS SALT MINES
The Salt Mines of Maras are open from 8 am till 5 pm.
HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU NEED TO TOUR MARAS SALT MINES
It will take you about 1-2 hours to walk around the ponds and take some pictures.
WHAT TO SEE AT MARAS SALT MINES
The sight of 4,500 glittering pools is absolutely jaw-dropping!
First of all, you will notice the coarse frosty white boundaries of the salt evaporation pools. Secondly, your eyes will follow them as they stretch down the steep slopes of the canyon that descends to the Rio Vilcanota and the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
The easiest way to explore the salt ponds is by sticking to the official path that leads along the upper ridge.
If you are a little more adventurous, you should definitely walk right to the salt ponds. There are many paths which are well-worn. Hence, it will allow you to take some pretty cool pictures.
HOW IS SALT HARVESTED AT MARAS SALT MINES IN SACRED VALLEY OF THE INCAS
Incidentally, salt ponds are usually found on coastal plains. They are filled with seawater from the incoming tide. Consequently, the salt is collected by the evaporation process.
In contrast, the Salt Mines of Maras are a long way from the ocean, situated at an altitude of 3,380 meters. Once, this area was a part the sea floor. The movement of tectonic plates pushed the seabed up to form the Andes and the sea salt was locked into the rocks.
The highly salty Qoripujio subterranean stream emerges at the top of the canyon. The saline spring water is tepid with temperature of approximately 25 C. Its flow is guided into an intricate system of a myriad of tiny channels. The channels run steadily down into the ancient terraced ponds.
No modern technology is used to harvest the pink salt of Maras. The Maras salt terraces are living examples of traditional pre-Incan salt production through solar evaporation.
The entire process is extremely labor intense.
First of all, the salt collection process starts with flattening of the ground of each pond with heavy wooden batons. The pressure of the beating creates a tight surface that will withstand the heavy soaking and create ideal conditions for the crystallization process.
Next, each pan is filled up every three days during the dry season of May to October to a depth of approximately 3 cm each time. Once this water is evaporated, the pans are replenished with the same volume of inlet water.
This process is repeated until a precipitate of salt 5-10 cm thick forms on the floor of the pan.
At that point, the pond’s keeper closes the water-feeder notch and allows the pond to go dry.
By the way, almost all the ponds are less than four meters square in area, and none exceeds thirty centimeters in depth. They are all shaped into polygons.
Eventually, the keepers start harvesting the crystallized salt by first breaking it with a piece of wood and then carefully scraping the dry salt from the sides and bottom.
The salt is stockpiled into little salt pyramids next to the pond to drain the entrained liquid.
The drained salt is then further washed with the inlet water to remove impurities.
The washed salt is dried under the sun. Once it is dry, it is packed into sacks and transported to the markets.
Each pan produces approximately 150 kg of salt at a time and the salt crystallization process is repeated several times during May to October period.
The Salt Mines of Maras are owned and maintained by a community of local artisans belonging to a cooperative system established during the time of the Incas, if not earlier. The community in ancient times was called the “Kachi,” which translates to “salt” in the local language.
The entire community carefully controls and monitors the flow of water. In addition, the proper maintenance of the myriad of tiny channels, the side walls and the water-entry notches take a close cooperation of all of its members.
Traditionally, the salt pools have been available to any person wishing to harvest salt. The owners of the salt ponds must be members of the community, and families that are new to the community wishing to propitiate a salt pond get the one farthest from the community.
In addition, the size of the salt pond assigned to a family depends on the family’s size. Usually, there are many unused salt pools available to be farmed. Any prospective salt farmer need only locate a currently unmaintained pond. Next, they need to consult with the local informal cooperative, learn how to maintain the pond and start harvesting the salt.
In the Salt Mines of Maras the salt cultivation and collection process is deemed energy efficient – no pumping is required; gravity plays the major role here and moves the inlet water from the higher terrace to the lower terrace.
The process is also environmentally friendly because the highly saline water if not harvested would contaminate the Urubamba River downstream. Due to this fact, and the use of a natural spring as a water source Maras salt is marketed and as “ecological salt”.
Incidentally, salt production at the Salt Mines of Maras stops during the rainy season from November to February. The rain dilutes the inlet water causing evaporation to take longer and is deemed inefficient.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF PERUVIAN PINK SALT FROM MARAS
Maras salt does not just add flavor to dishes. It is mineral-rich and good for your health. It contains magnesium, iron, calcium and zinc. Apparently, it helps reduce stress, prevents anemia and osteoporosis. On top of that, my guide claimed that it acts as a buffer for high blood sugar levels.
INTREPID SCOUT POINTERS FOR VISITING MARAS SALT MINES IN SACRED VALLEY OF THE INCAS
- A trip to see Maras Salt Mines will take you at least half a day, so plan accordingly.
- Combine your visit to Maras Salt Mines with a stop at Moray and Ollantaytambo for a full-day tour of Sacred Valley of the Incas
- Make sure to get some salt as souvenirs and buy some to take home as well. It is mineral-rich and good for your health.
- Finally, to help you with your planning process of your trip to Peru, make sure to check out my post: 1-Week Peru Itinerary (+BONUS: 3-Day Extension Itinerary to Peruvian Amazon Rainforest.
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