Maras, a remote Andean town deep in Peru’s Sacred Valley of the Incas, is a favorite of photography buffs and gourmands alike for its famous salt pans (Salinas de Maras). Fixed in geometric shapes on terraced hills, the surreal, photogenic pools were created by the Incas 2,000 years ago, and the mines are still harvested for their pink salt.
A subterranean stream rises to the surface and drips into terraced pools; within days, the warm water evaporates, leaving behind a thin layer of salt. At the pans you’ll see locals harvesting this salt in a manner similar to ancient times—scraping the dry, salty crystals by hand from the sides and bottom of the pool. The scene is spectacular, with the patchwork of mines set into the mountain hillsides, especially on sunny days when the pools shine with brilliant shades of white and pink.
You can explore the salt pools as part of private or group day tours from Cusco, or on multi-day tours that may include Lima, Machu Picchu, and various towns in the Sacred Valley—all with their own worthy attractions. For a taste of adventure, explore the incredible scenery on a mountain bike or ATV.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The Maras salt pans are a must-see for all first-time visitors to the area.
- Bring your camera and sun protection.
- You may gather your own handful of salt. However, it is best to buy small packages of Peruvian Pink Salt, as it is marketed, at the gift shop.
- Bring cash, preferably in small bills and coins.
- Because of the high altitude, be sure to stay hydrated and take it slow. Chewing on coca leaves or drinking coca tea helps alleviate symptoms of altitude sickness.
How to Get There
The town of Maras lies off the 28B highway, between Cusco and Ollantaytambo in the Urubamba province; Cusco is about 28 miles (45 kilometers) south. The salt pools themselves are northwest of Maras along a dusty but walkable road.
When to Get There
The salt pools are open year-round. To beat the crowds, go early the morning (buses start arriving by 9:30am) or after 4pm. Visits during the dry season, from May to October, may be preferable as well.
Other Sights in and Around Maras
An important town in colonial days, Maras is worth a visit to see the small square flanked by ornate Spanish-style homes and a mud-brick colonial church. Also nearby, about a 15-minute drive away, are the Moray Inca ruins, an important archeological site of mysterious stone-terraced rings.