The Salt Mines of Maras, also known as Las Salinas de Maras, is an epic attraction near Cusco. Positioned in the picturesque Sacred Valley, the Maras Salt Mines is a must-visit during your time in Peru. Truly, the gigantic salt mines are a mindblowing sight to behold. By exploring the area, you’ll also see how the world famous Peruvian salt is produced.
In this travel guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about visiting the Salt Mines of Maras. After a brief introduction, we’ll detail how to visit independently and the best tour options available. That way, you can decide if you’d prefer to DIY or explore with a tour company. We’ll then talk more about how the Salt Mines of Maras work, other things to do in Maras and the best time to visit.
Table of Contents
Why Visit the Salt Mines of Maras?
Truth be told, the Salt Mines of Maras needs no introduction! This world-class tourist attraction has been luring travellers for many years. Of course, you may have heard of the Salt Mines of Maras referred to as many other names. The Maras Salt Flats, Salt Flats of Peru, Peru Salt Flats, Peru Salt Mines, Sacred Valley Salt Mines, etc. Whatever you call it, there are many reasons why the Salt Mines of Maras are a must-visit!
First, the sheer size of the salt mines is simply mesmerising. There are around 6,000 salt ponds. Each one is just over one square meter and 30cm deep. Local families from the small village of Maras own and manage the ponds. They produce, gather and sell this famous Peruvian salt all over the world. Then, there are the incredible colours of the salt ponds! Depending on the time of year you visit, the salt ponds are a sensational snowy white, earthy brown or a fantastic combination of both. Also, there’s the magnificent scenic backdrop. Perched on the Qaqawiñay and Qori Pujio mountain slopes in the beautiful Sacred Valley, the natural surrounds are top-notch!
So, that’s basically why you should visit the Salt Mines of Maras, near Cusco in Peru. Now, let’s cover a little bit of history before we explain how to visit!
FYI – the Salt Mines of Maras aren’t technically salt mines. Rather, they’re salt pans, also known as salt ponds, salt wells or salt pools!
Salt Mines of Maras History
We’re sure you’ll learn a little history about the Salt Mines of Maras when you visit. But, if you will, here’s a wee historical preview to whet your appetite for exploring this attraction!
The Salt Mines of Maras weren’t actually built by the Inca Empire! It’s believed that the Maras Salt Mines were created by the Wari culture. This was a civilisation that thrived during the 6–10th Century. The Wari culture predates the Inca Empire, which was most lively between the 12–14th Century. In spite of that, the Incas likely improved upon, expanded and capitalised on the existing salt ponds. Even beyond the time of the Incas, during the Colonial period (16–19th Century), descendants of the Inca Tupac Inca Yupanqui still owned and operated the majority of the salt pans.
Interestingly, in 1969, the Peruvian government established the public salt company (EMSAL). This meant the government assumed control of the management of Peruvian salt throughout the region. Thankfully, the local Maras and Pichingoto communities re-assumed control of the salt ponds in 1980. This was a result of the ‘Recognition of the Peasant Community of Maras of the District of Maras’ letter, that was sent to the government in 1977. In 1980, the local families of Maras and Pichingoto founded the Marasal S.A social company to maintain control and management of the salt ponds. So, from this time, the salt ponds were rightfully back in the hands of the local families.
So, that’s the history in a nutshell! Now, let’s look at how to visit these amazing salt ponds. So, whereabouts in Peru are the Maras Salt Mines located?
Salt Mines of Maras Location
The Salt Mines of Maras are roughly situated 50km northwest of Cusco in Peru. Specifically, the Maras Salt Mines are located in the district of Maras, in the Urubamba province, in the department of Cusco. The salt ponds are perched on the Qori Pujio mountains in the Sacred Valley. In fact, the salt ponds are surrounded by the gorgeous Qaqahuiñay, Cruz Mocco, Llully Mocco and Chupayoq hills. Also, the Salt Mines of Maras are around 3,200 metres above sea level, which is around 300 metres lower than Cusco.
Most people will visit the Maras Salt Mines from Cusco or Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. From both Cusco and Ollantaytambo, it’s really easy to visit Maras on a day trip, either independently or with a tour agency. Let’s look at all of these options below. That way, you can figure out what works best for you!
Getting to the Maras Salt Mines From Cusco Independently
Visiting the Salt Mines of Maras independently from Cusco is easy and the cheapest way to explore the region. In fact, there are a couple of public transport options. You have the choice of a colectivo or public bus. Either way, you’ll need to select the service heading to Urubamba. Initially, both the colectivo and public bus pass through the historic town of Chinchero. Afterwards, you’ll need to get off at the fork of Moray-Maras. So, keep an eye out for that intersection and let the driver know your plans in advance.
Colectivo: head to the colectivo/taxi station on Pavitos Street. The colectivo to Urubamba runs from dawn until 6:30pm. You’ll find the price is around S/5–10 ($2–3USD). The drive should take around an hour. But, you’ll just have to wait for the colectivo to fill up before it leaves. So, you’ll have to be patient!
Public bus: simply head to the bus terminal on Grau Avenue. The pubic bus to Urubamba usually leaves every 15 minutes from dawn to around 6:30pm. Costs of the bus are cheaper than the colectivo at around S/3–8 ($1–2USD). Although, the public bus takes a bit longer (approx. 1.5 hours).
Getting From Maras to the Salt Mines of Maras
Whether you take the colectivo or public bus, you’ll alight at the same fork of Moray-Moras. From there, you can take a local bus (approx. S/5) to Maras town (5–10 minutes; approx. 5km) and then hike north to the salt ponds (1.5–2 hours; approx. 6km). But, you’ll have to wait until the colectivo fills before it heads to Maras town.
If you can find a taxi at the fork of Moray-Moras, this will be a much quicker option to arrive at the salt ponds. Although, you’re more likely to find a taxi in the town of Maras. So, you might still have to get the bus to Maras! Either way, a taxi driver can drive you all the way to the entrance of the salt ponds, wait for you and even drive you back to Maras for around S/50–100 ($13–26USD).
Getting From Ollantaytambo to the Salt Mines of Maras Independently
There are a few options for getting to the Salt Mines of Maras from Ollantaytambo. The easiest way involves getting a colectivo from the Terminal de buses Ollantaytambo (next to the train station). Jump on a colectivo heading to Urubamba or Cusco. Then, make sure to alight at Media Luna, Arco Iris Del Puente or Los Arcos de Tarabamba. By getting off at either of these places, you’ll be well-positioned to cross the bridge and access the hiking trail leading south to the Salt Mines of Maras. The hike to the salt ponds from the bridge takes around 30 minutes and is 2km in length. Expect the initial bus journey to take around 20 minutes and cost around S/4–5 ($1USD).
Salt Mines of Maras Opening Hours
Whether you arrive from Cusco or Ollantaytambo independently, you’ll want to time your visit to avoid the hoards of tourists. Generally speaking, tour companies offer a combined day trip group tour to the Moray Inca Ruins and Salt Mines of Maras. Usually, the group tours head to the Moray ruins first, spending time there from 9–11am. Then, they’ll head to the Salt Mines of Maras, arriving between 11am–12pm.
The opening hours of the Salt Mines of Maras are from 6am–6pm. So, to avoid the crowds, you’ll want to explore the Maras Salt Mines in the morning from 8–9am. Or, alternatively, head there in the afternoon after 2pm, once the group tours have left. Although, it’s usually much windier at the salt ponds in the afternoon. But, we hear photography is best in the afternoon as the sun isn’t so intense. So, it’s up to you when to visit!
Salt Mines of Maras Price
The entrance fee for the Salt Mines of Maras near Cusco in Peru is S/10 ($2–3USD). You’ll pay this entrance fee at the ticket office. Then, you’ll present this ticket at the actual entrance of the salt ponds.
Maras Salt Mines Tour
By far the most convenient and easiest way to visit the Salt Mines of Maras is by doing a tour. As mentioned, most tour companies offer a combined tour to both the Moray Inca Ruins and the Maras Salt Mines. In Cusco, you’ll find many tour companies offering a group tour for a very affordable price. Usually, Moray and Maras tours are around S/50–100 ($13–26USD). Included is roundtrip transportation to and from Cusco, transportation between Maras and Moray, plus a local guide. Keep in mind that these group tours don’t include any entrance fees.
Of course, it’s possible to find tours that exclusively visit the Salt Mines of Maras. But, a Maras Salt Mines Tour is a bit harder to come by. Anyway, considering you only need an hour or two at the salt ponds, you may as well do the combined Moray and Maras Tour!
Be aware though – the cheap group tours are usually heaving with people. Beck and I saw groups of 30–40 people collected together like herds of cattle. Honestly speaking, for the best tour experience, we recommend doing a private tour. Apu Andino Travel Peru is an outstanding family-run, tour operator in Cusco that offers premium tours. Their Moray and Maras tour is all-inclusive. So, you don’t need to worry about anything! Beck and I really enjoyed exploring the Salt Mines of Maras, from Cusco, with Apu Andino Travel Peru.
To book a private Salinas de Maras Tour ($120USD/person), simply contact Apu Andino Travel Peru on Whatsapp (+51 984 609 485 or +51 984 067 472). Or, simply drop into their office in Cusco (Centro Commercial Imasumaq, Office #216) to find out more details. Also, feel free to check them out on Facebook and Instagram.
More About the Salt Mines of Maras
Again, we’re sure you’ll learn all about the Salt Mines of Maras in Peru during your visit. But, for a bit of information before your visit, let’s explore how the salt ponds work and how they operate today.
How Do the Salt Mines of Maras Work?
In a nutshell, the shallow ponds are filled with salt water. When the water evaporates, what’s left is Peruvian salt! The local families extract the salt and then use and/or sell it!
Want more detail? The water that is channelled and distributed to the 6,000 small salt ponds originates from a natural underground spring. This ingenious design ensures a continual source of water that stream into the ponds. Water from the underground springs have high levels of salt. Once the salt water gathers in the ponds, the sun evaporates the water, leaving behind layers of salt. Local families use wooden sticks to break up the salt, then they crush it with their bare feet! Afterwards, they mindfully extract the salt crystals from the ponds. Once the salt is extracted, the pools are refilled again with salt water and the process is repeated. Re-fill, sleep, extract, repeat.
How Do The Maras Salt Mines Operate Today?
Well, even today, the Salt Mines of Maras operate as they did in the good old days. The only difference is that the Maras Salt Mines, near Cusco, is now one of the biggest tourist attractions in Peru. So, other than the ongoing salt production practices, the local communities enjoy an additional income generated by tourism.
As mentioned, the Salt Mines of Maras continue to operate as they have for centuries. Today, you’ll see the local families working at the ponds, showing off the traditional techniques for salt production and extraction. Thankfully, the local communities have unique mining rights, which means they’ll see the profits at the end of the day. When you visit, you’ll only see the local families walking on and operating the salt ponds.
Thanks to the efforts by local communities at Maras, the world has access to brilliant Peruvian salt, including tasty Peruvian pink salt! Well, really, we should be thanking the Wari culture and Inca Empire for establishing the salt production practices in the first place. In fact, whenever you’re enjoying Peruvian salt, essentially, you’re enjoying Inca salt!
Did you know that more Peruvian salt is produced in the dry season? That’s because more sun means more evaporation of water and quicker production of salt. Also, once the salt solidifies, it actually forms three layers. It’s the first layer, where you’ll find gourmet salts, such as Peruvian pink salt. The middle layer is used for regular table salt. And the third layer is used as industrial salts, such as in fertilizers. So, how is Peruvian salt manufactured and distributed locally and throughout the world?
Maras Salt For Sale
Once the local families extract the Peruvian salt, it’s time to sell! After extraction, local families will place their daily production into Marasal S.A. warehouses. Staff members of Marasal S.A. are then responsible for the manufacturing, distribution and promotion of Peruvian salt to local and international buyers. Then, Marasal S.A. distributes the profits from the salt among the local families who produced it. So, when you’re buying Peruvian salt, make sure to buy the real stuff. You’ll know if it’s authentic by the Marasal packaging!
Of course, you can buy and sample Peruvian salt on-site at the Salt Mines of Maras. During your visit, feel free to sample and buy salt and salted products, like salted chocolate. Yummo!
Maras in the department of Cusco is one of the most frequented towns in the Sacred Valley. Of course, most tourists will visit purely to explore the Salt Mines of Maras. But, the town of Maras itself is one of the most fascinating small towns in Peru. Indeed, there’s more to Maras than just Peruvian salt! In the town, you’ll get a decent insight into the lives of the locals. Most of them, are members of the families which own and operate the salt pans. During your visit, explore Plaza de Armas (Main Square) and marvel at the sun-dried mud-brick houses.
Other Things To Do In Maras Cusco
Other than visiting the Salt Mines of Maras and the town of Maras, there’s plenty to do in and around Maras in the department of Cusco. If you’re spending a bit more time in Maras, then check out our suggestions of things to do in the area. For starters, you’d be mad not to visit the Moray Inca Ruins.
Moray Inca Ruins
If you’ve made the effort to visit the Salt Mines of Maras, you may as well visit the Moray archaeological site, which is practically next door! When it comes to Inca ruins, the Moray terraces are some of the most famous and impressive. When you visit the Moray ruins, you’ll explore groups of incredible circular depressions. There are around half a dozen sets of terraces on-site. But, there’s one huge circular terrace, easily found near the entrance. It’s about 150 metres in depth, with a diameter of around 182 metres. It’s truly the crowning glory of the Moray ruins.
To get the most out of your lovely surroundings in the Sacred Valley region, you should definitely hike in the area. As mentioned earlier, if you visit independently from Cusco, you have the option to hike north from Maras town to the Salt Mines of Maras (6km). Likewise, if you visit independently from Ollantaytambo, you can hike south from Media Luna to the Maras Salt Mines (2km). However, many tourists choose to hike from the Moray Inca Ruins to the Salt Mines of Maras via Maras town (11.5km).
To find out the best way to structure your day to do the 11.5km Maras and Moray Hike, read the Best Way To Visit Maras and Moray in One Day. Certainly, you should have properly acclimatised before attempting this trek due to the high altitude of Moray and Maras.
The same hiking trail connecting Moray and Maras is downright perfect for mountain biking. With the stunning Sacred Valley backdrop, it’s hard to find a better place to mountain bike in the department of Cusco. Most commonly, mountain biking tours depart Cusco and head to Chinchero. This is where you’ll get your gear, meet your guide and ride out to Maras and Moray. In these guided tours, you’ll learn all about the Maras Salt Mines, as you would by doing a standard group tour.
Similarly, there are incredible ATV Tours, which take advantage of the same dirt trails separating Moray and Maras. Again, comparable to the mountain bike tours, you’ll depart from Cusco and head to Chinchero to gear up and hook up with your guide. You’ll then explore the Maras Salt Mines on your quad bike, and, everything in between!
If you like horses, then why not ride one in the Maras area? Although companies in Cusco offer horseback riding tours, honestly speaking, the tours offered at Salineras Ranch are perhaps the best. Using unique paths and trails, you’ll explore Moray, Maras and off the beaten places on horseback. Surely, this is an unforgettable way to explore the Maras Salt Mines in Peru.
Best Time to Visit
In Peru, and, of course, in this part of the world, there’s a dry and rainy season. The dry season runs from May to October. While the rainy season is from November to April. Following conventional wisdom, it’s best to visit the Salt Mines of Maras in the dry season. If there’s a chance to explore without getting soaked – why not?!
Although, specifically, we were told that the best time to visit is June–August. In response to the lack of rain, this is when the salt ponds are at their white sparkling best. With that in mind, the salt ponds tend to turn an earthy and barren brown colour during the rainy season. So, perhaps this isn’t the best time to visit. But, honestly speaking, Beck and I really enjoyed the combination of white and brown salt ponds. We visited at the start of the dry season in early May. This was a great time to visit to see the contrast in salt pond colours.
What to Wear and Pack
- Merrell Moab Mid Gore-Tex Hiking Boots: these hiking boots are super comfortable and lightweight.
- The North Face Venture Jacket: a fantastic windproof/waterproof jacket.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack: a great backpack for hiking, which has plenty of space to store your gear.
- The North Face TKA Glacier Fleece Jacket: an excellent warmth:weight ratio fleece jacket that’ll help keep you warm.
- Columbia Convertible Trousers: a value for money pair of water-resistant convertible trousers.
When exploring the high altitude areas of Maras, near Cusco, you should also take water, snacks, sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat.
For a more complete gear list, read our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. Or, for a general summary of everything you’d need for a backpacking trip in Peru, check out our Ultimate Packing Checklist.
Bonus Tips For Moray Inca Ruins
- It’s forbidden to walk on the Maras Salt Mines. This rule was introduced a few years ago to help with the preservation of the site. Only families, who own the salt pans can walk on them.
- Explore more of Peru: the Salt Mines of Maras is just one major tourist attraction in Peru. Go and explore Machu Picchu along the Inca Trail, Nazca Lines, Lake Titicaca, etc.
- Travel Insurance: given the potential for altitude sickness in Maras and Cusco, you’ll want travel insurance when travelling in Peru. We recommend SafetyWing as a reliable and trustworthy provider.
Do you want to explore the Maras Salt Mines in Peru? Share this blog post with your travel buddies on Facebook.