Salt of the Earth: The Otherworldly Beauty of Salinas de Maras

Salt of the Earth: The Otherworldly Beauty of Salinas de Maras

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:

overhead view of salinas de maras
locals working at salinas de maras
salinas de maras salt ponds
A man and boy working at salinas de maras
a man carrying salt at salinas de maras
salinas de maras
a man and woman at salinas de maras
a family working at salinas de maras
wide view of the salt ponds at salinas de maras

Getting there:

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.

6 Responses to Salt of the Earth: The Otherworldly Beauty of Salinas de Maras

  1. When I first saw the picture , it appeared to me like a desert, but of salt instead of sand. After seeing all the pictures I realized it was many, many small ponds. I have purchased pink salt and it was a camp salt, wet. It was pretty to see, but I never really knew what to do with it except use it in my normal ways. This is very interesting.

  2. Your journey instills in me a longing I’ve not felt before. I will be going to the Sacred Valley in April of 2016, specifically Machu Picchu and Ollantaytambo but I don’t think our group will be headed to the the Salt ponds. Such a pity too because I’d really like to see them. I’ll recheck our itinerary and see if perhaps I might have some spare time in Ollantaytambo so that I can experience this. Can you advise if you’re intending on going to Machu Picchu? Angus provided me with your blog site. I really love it. And the photos! Thank you so much!

    • Diane,

      Thanks for the comment and for following along; I’m glad you enjoy the site and find value in it! I think you’ll have a great time here. Peru in general, and especially the Sacred Valley, is beautiful and the people are all extremely friendly and welcoming. The salt ponds are between Cusco and Ollantaytambo so hopefully you can get out to see them. We did the salt ponds, Moray, and Chinchero in about 5hrs from Ollantaytambo so you really don’t need too much time. Finding a driver there is easy as plenty of taxi drivers will approach you in the Plaza de Armas and ask if you need a driver. There’s also a tourist info center that can arrange one if you prefer.

      We are going to Machu Picchu this week. We were going to do the 4 day trek starting tomorrow but decided against it for various reasons so we’ll take the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes on Thursday and go to Machu Picchu Friday morning. From there it’s back to Cusco Friday evening and then on to Cartagena, Colombia on Saturday morning.

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