Too much salt is not good for your health, that is what your doctor would say and rightfully so. Until the point the doctor sees for himself/herself the Salineras s/he will always keep claiming that too much salt is not good for you. Your discovery of the Sacred Valley in Peru will be left incomplete if you don’t spend a couple of salty hours in Las Salineras de Maras, to find out for yourself how the Incas invented the immaculate method of deriving salt from the flowing briny waters of the Salineras springs from thousand of years.
Useful tips upfront:
1. Suggested duration is an hour, an hour and half maximum
2. Can be part of your day long trail of Sacred Valley discovery by private taxi. It can wait while you visit each location
3. Carry some loose Peruvian Sol (currency) with you to buy some Peruvian bath salt and cooking salt. These are the souvenirs you will cherish in every bath and every cooking you will do once you return home. Guaranteed.
4. The workers at the Salt pans do not work on Sundays, so plan accordingly.
5. For photo opportunities it is recommended that you wear something bright to contrast well against the plentiful of white all around the Salineras.
If you have time to hike down into the canyon from Maras, then that is the best way to fully immerse yourself in the Sacred Valley. But if time is short, your best bet is to hire a private taxi, up from the road connecting Urubamba to Ollantaytambo, to explore the must visit locations along the Sacred Valley over two to three days. Las Salineras de Maras is one such spot which is a must visit. The salt pans of Maras is a fascinating system of platforms used since the Inca times to extract salt from a natural mountain spring. There are thousands of salt pans nestled in a canyon, which are used to evaporate water to extract the salt. The salty water is directed to the ponds by an intricate network of channels. Once the pond is filled, the flow of water is cut and it is allowed to dry. Salt precipitates in crystals, and when dry it can be harvested. The salt pan is run on a cooperative system. Visually the shining salt-encrusted terraces are extraordinary. There are beautiful views of the snow-capped mountains of Chicon, Veronica and Salcantay and the stunning altiplano of the Andes that surround you. When you will reach the location, you will see view points from where you can have the bird’s eye view of the entire salt production site from above. It just looks like a mysterious stroke of white paint brush sprayed against the red rocks of the Inca Mountains. The salt ponds look like small crystals from above confirming that it indeed was a shining piece of innovation invented by the Inca people.
Once inside the premises there is a steep small walkway that will lead you down to the salt ponds. Like everything else in Peru, you will notice that they have kept things as much natural as possible. There were no shiny tourist information centres, nor were there any souvenir shops. Just the regular local shops by local people trying to earn a decent livelihood selling off their crafts – simple and pure Peru. You will notice at the ground level that there are multiple steps along the slopes of the salt ponds and you can actually walk along the aisles that separate the small salt pans. Just make sure you don’t slip into any of the ponds which are very shallow nevertheless. Also since the aisles are very narrow, you may have to walk in a queue or give way for people coming from the opposite direction.
Yes, it is perfectly ok to taste a small amount of raw salt from the pond itself but don’t attempt to grab a handful of salts into your plastic bag. You should buy the real thing from one of the shops found near the entrance. Incas had invented this genuine way of harvesting natural salt from the subterranean water streams by controlling the flow of water. As you will see in the other locations of the entire Sacred Valley, signs of Inca architecture in terms of agriculture and irrigation were way ahead of its time.
On your way out, do buy a copious amount of bath and cooking salt. Rest assured that you won’t find this anywhere in the world, even in big cities. And the quality of what you will get from here is undoubtedly the best one as you will realise once you are back home in your hot tub and scrubbing your body with some of the rock salt. Also you may wonder is this the reason why Peruvian food is one of the best in the whole world? Is it because of the best salt used as an ingredient? You have to try for yourself.