There are few places on earth that are used exactly as they were during their ancient beginnings. However, one such place exists in Maras, Peru, and visitors to its sacred location can see it exactly as it was when the Incas reigned over the land in the 1400s.
This historic site is home to the Maras Salt Flats, which are not far from the heavily-tourist-visited site of Machu Picchu. Those visiting Peru's Sacred Valley will be treated to an experience that many don't even realize exists, and without the crowds that flock to its more well-known locations.
These healing salt flats are used by locals to this day in a variety of ways that still reveal how prominent the Inca culture is in the Sacred Valley.
Follow The Inca Trail To The Maras Salt Flats
At first glance, the Maras Salt Flats appear to be larger than life. This valley between mountains is home to roughly 5,000 ponds, each of which contains pink salt believed to help with a number of physical ailments. The salt wells themselves offer beneficial properties similar to that of the Dead Sea or any other mineral spring, with levels of calcium, zinc, iron, and magnesium, as well. The low levels of sodium chloride in the ponds are believed to be beneficial for those who might be suffering from high blood pressure, as well. However, the physical properties of the Maras Salt Flats are not the only reason people visit.
Upon arrival, the work that goes into maintaining these salt flats is obvious. Each pond belongs to a local family, and these are the people one typically sees honing the craft of harvesting salt from the wells. Each pond varies in size according to the size of the family who owns it, accounting for the various shapes and masses of each. The salt flats themselves are located around 3,000 feet above sea level, which is also part of the reason the flats have been so long-lasting. Originally, it was believed that the Maras Salt Flats was once underwater, as salt flats usually form near large bodies of saltwater. As time went by and the water receded, these wells were left, along with their incredible pink salt content. Now, the flats are fed by an ancient spring called Qoripujio, which flows through a labyrinth of canals to reach each well. The openings to these canals are then opened so that each one can be filled before being left to dry out again, thus, leaving behind the salt that's harvested.
According to Afar, the pink salt that's harvested at the Maras Salt Flats is some of the best in the world. While it can be purchased online, it's a completely different experience being able to see where it comes from in person.
Visiting Maras And The Salt Flats
While the region is known for its Incan culture, the salt flats themselves pre-date that time with an estimated creation of roughly AD200-AD900 by the Chanapata culture. While some of the salt wells remain unused today, during the time of the Incas, they were once used for Peru's Viceroyalty as well as the Incan empire. This is all part of the history one will learn when visiting the Maras Salt Flats, and it's one of the more affordable adventures a traveler can take in the Sacred Valley. In stark contrast to Machu Picchu, visitors can expect smaller tour groups (if any at all) during their visit, with no crowds on which to wait behind.
To visit, one must first find transportation that will bring them from Cusco to the salt ponds, which are about 45 minutes away. Local taxis are the easiest option, along with local buses that can drop visitors off at the Maras Salt Mines. Additional options include booking a tour specifically to the Maras Salt Mines and going with a group, which is a great option for those who don't mind paying a little extra to visit with a guide. The priciest option is hiring a private car to take one to the salt flats.
- Cost: Once arriving, visitors must pay a fee of 10 soles to enter the Maras community.
Another worthy thing to do on a visit to the Maras Salt Mines is to also spend some time in the town of Maras. Founded in 1556, this ancient town still has many original features that can be seen throughout its architecture. One point of interest is the town's baroque church, which has survived the test of time since its construction during the 17th century.
A visit to the Maras Salt Flats is one that's rewarding and altogether part of the Sacred Valley experience. History and culture are met here with ancient traditions, and it's a trip that many won't soon forget.