Located a short distance outside of the small town of Maras, between Cusco and Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, lie some 3,000 salt evaporation ponds, known as Salinas de Maras. These ponds were constructed during the pre-Incan Chanapata culture between the years 200 – 900 AD and are still mined today by the people of Maras. The salt harvested from the ponds is used in many of the top restaurants throughout Peru and was brought to international attention by famed Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio. From what I’m told, very little of the salt is exported with only the pink salt being exported to Japan and Switzerland. It is, however, available on Amazon for around $10/pound – roughly ten times what you’ll pay in the stores located near the ponds.
During the dry season, water from the warm, salt water spring Qoripujio is directed into a series of channels that run down the mountainside filling each pond via a notch in one of the walls. Once the pond is full, the owner closes the notch, allows the water to evaporate, and then scrapes the remaining salt from the walls and floor of the pond using rakes, shovels, and wooden planks. After the salt is mined, the pond is once again filled with water and the process repeated. The color of the salt produced ranges from white to pink to pale tan, the result of which is a striking, multi-colored landscape like nothing else I’ve seen.
Enough of that, here are some photos:
While there are plenty of tour operators in Cusco offering daily excursions to the Sacred Valley, I highly recommend hiring a private taxi. Angela and I hired a taxi for the day in the town of Ollantaytambo for around $50. I assume prices in Cusco would be roughly the same and if you speak Spanish, and are a better negotiator than us, you can probably hire one cheaper. Hiring your own driver allows you more freedom as you can decide how much time to spend at the salt ponds and other sites in the Sacred Valley such as Moray, Chenchero, and Pisac. I also recommend getting to the salt ponds early if you want to photograph them as the tour buses start rolling in by 11AM. The cost of admission is 10 soles, roughly $3, per person and goes directly to the cooperative of families that work the mines.