Located just an hour away from Cusco, hidden in the Sacred Valley, lie these surreal salt ponds, known as Maras Salt Mines, or locally as Salineras de Maras.
Over 3,000 ponds, locally owned by 600 local families, make up the picturesque Maras, all connected through an impressive underground network of canals that fill these pools with salt water. Over time, the intense sun will slowly evaporate the water leaving behind the salt that is later extracted through ancestral techniques by local family members.
Very little is known by historians about these pre-Inca salt ponds. Evidence somewhat suggests that the salt mines were built somewhere between 500 to 1100 AD by the Wari civilization. When the Inca gained control of the territory, they saw great opportunity in the mines and began overseeing production. However, the ownership and administration of the ponds were given to different families that lived in the nearby community, which still have full control of their ponds having been passed on to current generations.
Salt was an important mineral for the Inca empire. All that was extracted from the salt mines were used for human consumption, livestock and were also given other uses such as for food storage and even human mummifications.
To this day the production of the salt hasn’t changed and remains exactly as it was 500 years ago. Each pond measures roughly 14 square feet and many vary in shape. When the ponds are full with salt water, the stream is closed. Once the water evaporates, the crystalized salt which is left behind is carefully extracted with shovels and wooden rakes by local family members. When all is extracted, the streams are opened, the ponds are filled with salt water and the process is repeated again.
Located roughly 32 miles from Cusco, there are several ways to get to the Maras Salt Mines:
The most popular way is with a tour. Most options conveniently pick you up directly from your hotel/hostel in a private mini-van and usually also combine the tour with a Moray ruins visit. In the Maras tour, you’ll enjoy a visit to the salt mines with a local expert guide who will teach you all there is to know about Maras. Once you’ve taken breathtaking pictures and maybe buying some of the different salts as souvenirs from the local shop, you’ll be taken back to your hotel/hostel back in Cusco.
If looking to spice things up, there are fantastic ATV Quad Bike Tours to Maras & Moray! You’ll have a more adventurous experience riding through the Sacred Valley until finally reaching the salt mines for your guided tour.
If looking to just go on your own, as the locals would, there are a few more steps to take. Starting from Cusco, take a colectivo (shared taxi) to Urubamba but let the driver know you’re getting off at Maras. Even though colectivos “set” destination points, you can sometimes ask the driver to let you off in between. Once there, take a 15-minute taxi ride to the salt mines.
Lastly, there’s the option of hiring a private taxi driver that takes you to the site, waits for you while you explore the salt ponds and then takes you back to your starting destination. Although it has the benefit of going at your own pace, it is the least popular way as it’s more costly.
The Maras Salt Mines are a must-visit in Cusco. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, and we’re sure you’ll be leaving with more than 1 bag of salt!