Last week I showed you the largest salt flats in the world in Bolivia. This week we’re still in South America but have moved north to Peru, to Salineras de Maras in the Andean Mountains about 40 kilometres from Cusco, where salt has been mined for hundreds of years.
The earliest salt pans are thought to have been constructed by the Wari civilisation, but it was their successors, the Incas, who recognised the commercial opportunities of salt-mining and increased the extent of the pans, which now cover much of a steep gorge that runs down in to the Sacred Valley. The salty water bubbles to the surface in a small spring from ancient salt lakes now buried deep below the earth’s surface, and is ingeniously conveyed down the mountainside via a meandering maze of irrigation channels. People from the local community work constantly to maintain these channels and to ensure just the right amount of water is allowed into each pan before the pan is closed off and allowed to dry out. The sun’s heat evaporates the water, leaving behind a thick coating of salt, which is harvested for sale – and then the whole process starts all over again.
Salineras de Maras is very near the intriguing Inca site of Moray and the wonderful market town of Chincero, so combining a visit to all three makes for a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting day’s excursion from Cusco. Or, if you want to spend a little more time getting a feel for your surroundings, try the hike from Moray through Maras and the salt pans down to the Sacred Valley. It’s well worth the effort.