Maras: Visiting the Inca’s Salt Mines
30 December 2019
Visitors to Cusco can visit numerous ancient sites that exhibit the remarkable abilities of ancient Andeans to adapt to their land, and to develop the rich Andean natural resources that the mountains provide. One such destination is the Salineras de Maras, the Salt Mines of Maras, where both the Incas who once inhabited the Cusco region and local people today have extracted fine salts for hundreds of years.
The wonders of the Salt
Of course, the use of salt in cooking and preserving foods predates human civilizations. Salt is necessary in the human diet, and also has important uses for preserving foods over time. You might not know that the English term “jerky” derives from the Quechua word “charki”.
That’s because the Incas and their ancestors developed ways of preserving foods for long periods by salting and sun-drying meats and other foods. Thus, charki and other foods preserved with salt helped the Incas to survive on long journeys and in times of less food production.
Today, chefs and culinary traditions from around the world are using the finest natural and unprocessed salts to enhance the flavors of their most special dishes. Cusco salt is no exception. Maras produces an excellent pink salt that is high in nutrients and minerals, and Cusco’s best restaurants serve dishes seasoned with Maras salt.
Maras is not just a salt mine – it is also a fascinating location for every visitor to Cusco to experience. It’s not what you might think- it’s not an underground mine, rather it is an open-air salt mine in a narrow valley, sitting just above the grand Sacred Valley of the Incas. Visually, it is striking, and historically it’s a prime example of Inca know-how that made good use of the land they lived in.
Arriving at Maras, visitors descend onto the valley and see a huge extension of over 5,000 bright white and pink ponds, in square and rectangular shapes, bordered by pathways and stones, and descending down toward the Sacred Valley. Fed by an underground stream that is channeled into them, the salt ponds are owned by members of a local community cooperative. As the water evaporates in the hot sun, salt crystals are formed in the square ponds.
Tourism at Maras
Maras is a perfect place for taking unique photographs. Past the small market area, visitors can view from paths on the hills above as the salt is gathered. As of September 2019, visitors can no longer walk alongside the ponds, to avoid contamination. In the market area you can purchase several varieties of fine Maras salts, as well as all sorts of handicrafts, including salt carvings and more. Good sunglasses and sunblock are highly recommended, since the salt reflects the bright sunlight, and solar radiation is quite strong at this altitude.
Located only about an hour to 90 minutes from Cusco, visits to Maras are most often combined with a stop at nearby Moray, the mysterious Inca complex of large concentric terraces thought to have been a top Inca agricultural research center, where expert Inca farmers recreated the microclimates of the Andes. The combined Maras/ Moray tour is a must-see for all visitors to Cusco. Please ask us about including this day-long option on your Andean Excursions acclimatization tour by contacting us at andeanlodges.com.
There are also options for renting and riding 4×4 ORVs on the roads to and around Maras, as well as mountain biking, horseback rides, and many more fun activities in this part of the Cusco region. The impressive backdrop for all this is a breath-taking landscape of high mountains that rises above the Sacred Valley of the Incas. With the swift Vilcanota River winding around a lovely patchwork quilt of small farms and towns in the valley below.
A visit to Maras, Moray and the Sacred Valley is a wonderful experience that you, your family and friends should enjoy. Please contact us at: andeanlodges.com and let us help you plan your unforgettable journey to Cusco.