on September 2, 2006
There are many ancient Inca ruins to see in Peru, especially in the Sacred Valley, but the salt mines of Maras, one of the less-visited Inca sites, for me, was second in enjoyment and satisfaction only to Machu Picchu. Maras, a district of the Urubamba province, is located at an altitude of 11,090 feet above sea level and is around 50km from Cusco.These salt mines were originally constructed by the Incas and are still worked to this day by descendants of the Inca Empire. In total, there are around 200 families working over 3,000 separate salt pools, each around 5m² on the terraced mountain side. The source of the salt is a small mineral spring that bubbles out of the Qaqawiñay Mountain and is channeled into different levels into the waiting salt pools. During the dry season, the salt pools can be refilled every 3 days, with the harvested salt being sold to local markets. You can buy the salt from the local shop at the entrance to the salt mines, but as the white granules come in a clear plastic bag, expect some concerned looks when going through airport customs!The most impressive thing for me, though, is that these salt pools remain virtually unchanged since Inca times, and there has been little change to accommodate tourism, which is certainly a good thing. Due to this, not that many tourists make the trip here, giving you the feeling that you’ve unearthed your own little Inca secret upon arrival. On my visit, there were only another 10 or so tourists, allowing you to walk around the salt pools virtually unhassled by other people. Plus, you get to see the local families working away, which is a unique experience. If you are lucky, then you can even be beckoned by one of the working families to have a taste of their salt straight from their pool. If not, you can still have a taste of the salty spring water passing through the terraced complex. The views are also amazing across the salt mines and down into the Urubamba Valley, with mountain glaciers in the backdrop. You can be assured of some excellent photographs.Nearby attractions to Maras include the archaeological site of Moray and the town of Maras, both worthy of visits. The best way to see Maras salt mines is to take a private tour from Cusco, for which many travel agents can organize. Expect to pay around $45 per person. For this you get a half-day tour of the salt mines and also the nearby archaeological site of Moray. Although more expensive than other tours, I think it is well worth the extra. Pay attention to the weather, though, as during the rainy season, the road to the salt mines is virtually impossible to use. If not traveling as part of a tour, entry to the salt mines costs $1.50, and they are open approximately between 7:30am and 3:30pm.Photos will follow shortly.
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