Salineras de Maras is a fascinating sight in Cusco with an incredible history. Read here what it's like to hike to the mines on your own, how to get there, and how to make the most of your time!
History Of The Mines
The salt mines of Maras are referred to as 'ancient salt mines' for good reason, they predate the Incas. The mines here have been in operation for centuries and are believed to have been constructed during the Wari civilization which ran in Peru between 500 and 1000AD.
The Incas saw the economic benefit of the Maras mines and expanded the operation further during their rein in Peru. Today there are over 6,000 mining pools that are exclusively mined by the local community.
The mine is strategically located here due to the subterranean brine springs that bubble up and run through the mountain valley. The shifting of tectonic plates buried salt deposits which are accessed by natural underground springs creating the water and salt brine mixture that flows out.
To mine the salt, manmade pans are created by digging into the mountain side and adding a retaining wall created from stone and mortar. The brine flows to the pans through irrigation channels and are added to the pans when ready to be filled. The briny liquid sits in the pan until the water evaporates leaving only the salt behind.
At this point a member from the local community scrapes the pan clear of the salt at which point the pan is ready to be filled again to repeat the process.
Getting To The Salt Mines
Taking a Tour
All tours that operate a 'Sacred Valley' tour from Cusco will include a stop at the mines. These tours are great if you're trying to fit multiple sights into a limited amount of time. A tour of the Sacred Valley takes all day and costs vary significantly but the hostel in Cusco I stayed at was selling tours for 100 soles PP ($25 USD). Tours are the most popular way to see the Maras Salt Mines.
Taking a Hike
If you don't care for the Sacred Valley tour and are looking to explore the Maras Salt Mines on your own, a hike from the town of Maras is a great option and is logistically simplistic. An amazing feature of visiting the mines this way is that you get to hike above the mines and see the full size of them with amazing vantage points, something you won't have time to do on a tours schedule.
Step 1: Getting to Maras
If you haven't become familiar with public transportation and colectivos in Peru then this is a great opportunity. Maras is located about an hour north of Cusco in the direction of Ollantaytambo and Urubamba. At this address you can find colectivos going to those cities, just tell the driver as you board you'd like to stop at Maras.
The driver won't stop exactly at Maras, however, they will stop at the road to Maras in which a second colectivo driver will already be waiting to take people into Maras. The cost of each colectivo per person should be around 8 and 3 soles respectively.
Step 2: Getting to the Mines
Once in Maras, getting to the mines is very easy and the hike is all downhill! From the Maras town square, hike north on the roads until you reach dirt roads that descend through fields towards the mountains.
The walk to the mines is exclusively on the dirt farm roads and should take about 45 minutes to reach the mines. The distances is approximately 2.5 miles from Maras.
Step 3: Exploring the Mines
As the trail approaches the mines you'll be met with great views of the salt pans below. Follow the switchback roads to the parking lot and you'll be at the main entrance. The ticket for entry is 10 soles and this gets you access to the walkways that look over the mines up close.
*As of 2019 visitors can no longer walk amongst the salt pans due to contaminants found in the salt.
After walking along the wooden paths above the mines you can buy drinks or visit the gift shop before continuing your hike.
Step 4: Getting back to Cusco
At this point you pretty much have two options, the first being to hike back to Maras and arrange colectivo transportation from there back to Cusco.
The second option (which I highly recommend) is to continue your hike and head towards the town of Urubamba. The hike to Urubamba is 2 miles further in the same direction and heading downhill. It's the best part of the hike and the reason for doing this without a tour, you get to hike next to the salt mines and see the full extent of them as they meander around and over the mountain landscape dropping into the valley.
Once you're past the mines the trail continues to a small town before crossing the Rio Urubambo and arriving at the main road a little north of Urubambo. No need to arrange transportation, simply lookout for a van similar to the type you took out of Cusco and flag it down as it approaches.
Ollantaytambo to Cusco is a popular route so it should be a matter of only a few minutes before you're able to get cheap transportation.
Maras Salt Mines:
Distance: 4.5 Miles
Type: Point to Point Descent: 1,789 feet
Best Time To Visit
Dry season runs between May and October and is classically thought of the best time of year to visit. These months you can also observe a clearer pink and white color of the salt pans. Summer months of June through August tend to be the heaviest for Peru's travel season and can create larger than normal crowds at peak times.
Outside of this season the salt can be a more brownish color but regardless of color or weather, if you're in Cusco be sure not to miss this amazing place!
Salt Mine Daily Hours: 8am to 5pm
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