About 40 kilometers from Cuzco, in the Sacred Valley, lies the salt evaporation pans of Maras, Peru also known as Salineras de Maras. It is amazing how it is strategically tucked away in a valley and the amazing beautifully blended brown and yellow patch will suddenly appear as you turn a corner. These pans are built on steep terraces along one side of a narrow valley as clearly shown in my photograph above. From a distance, the whole brilliant whitish area popped up against the brownish terrain around and above it.
In Maras, the salt pans are fed by saline spring water that emerges from the rock close to the head of the valley. The water is sent throughout the pans by a network of channels.
Almost all the ponds are less than four meters square in area, and none exceeds thirty centimeters in depth. All are necessarily shaped into polygons with the flow of water carefully controlled and monitored by the salt farmers. The altitude of the ponds slowly decreases, so that the water may flow through the myriad branches of the water-supply channels and be introduced slowly through a notch in one sidewall of each pond. The proper maintenance of the adjacent feeder channel, the side walls and the water-entry notch, the pond’s bottom surface, the quantity of water, and the removal of accumulated salt deposits requires close cooperation among the community of users. It is agreed among local residents and pond workers that the cooperative system was established during the time of the Incas, if not earlier. As water evaporates from the sun-warmed ponds, the water becomes supersaturated and salt precipitates as various size crystals onto the inner surfaces of a pond’s earthen walls and on the pond’s earthen floor. The salt farmer then closes the water-feeder notch and allows the pond to go dry.
Within a few days the salt farmer carefully scrapes the dry salt from the sides and bottom, puts it into a suitable vessel, reopens the water-supply notch, and carries away the salt. Color of the salt varies from white to a light reddish or brownish tan, depending on the skill of an individual worker. This is a back-breaking task and to make matters worse, salt farmers have to work under the scorching sun as there is no shade to protect them.
These salt pans are owned by locals who are members of the community. Some of the salt pans have been in the family for generations as they are being passed down since pre-Inca times.
Since there are many empty untended salt pans, any interested prospective salt farmers can approach the local informal cooperative to obtain the salt pan. They will have to learn the ropes of maintaining the pond according to the system and then onward to full fledged work on the ponds. The size of the pan given will depend on the size of the family and the newer they are to the community, the further will be their salt pans.
There is a gift shop at the entrance of the salt pans whereby tourists can purchased packaged processed salt to bring home as souvenirs.
Tip to Remember: Entrance to Salineras de Maras is not included in the Tourist Ticket. But the entrance fee is only 7 soles and in my opinion, if you do have time, this is a special place to spend a couple of hours.
How to Get There: My friend and I hired a private car from Ollantaytambo at a very reasonable price which included the Moray’s Concentric Terraces. Tourists on a budget can also take the public bus from Cuzco heading to Urubamba. Inform the bus driver that you want to go to Maras and you will be asked to get down at the junction. From there, you should be able to find a shared taxi to get to the salt pans. Group tours and private tours are readily available in Cuzco and the Maras salt pans tour is usually conducted together with visit to Moray’s Concentric Terraces as well. It should be about a three hours tour.