Maras Salt Mines in Peru – Unlike any Other Mine You’ll See

by Nora on June 19, 2014

When a friend in Peru said I must visit Maras salt mines, I cringed and inwardly vowed not to. The last mine I visited – unintentionally at that – was one of the largest open-cut gold mines in the world, in Kalgoorlie Australia. Impressive as it was, mining is just not my thing.

But fate still guided me to the Maras salt mines, and I’m very glad it did.

 

The Walk to Maras Salt Mines

After checking out the Inca ruins of Moray, we drove a short while and hopped out of the car at a non-distinct spot next to a dirt trail, where we began the 90 minute walk down to Maras salt mines.

 

Arriving at Maras salt mines this way was immensely nicer than pulling up to the disorganized parking lot in a bus. We skirted the parking lot and souvenir shop fray, and began our exploration of the salt mines.

 

Maras Salt Mines – How They Work

Maras salt mines are fed by a single hot salty subterranean spring, which is fed into an advanced system of tiny channels that feed several hundred ancient terraced shallow ponds. Each pond is about four square meters, and they go. on. for. ever.

They go on, and on…

 

Once a pond is full of this hot salty spring water, the water channel is blocked; over the next few days the sun evaporates the water, leaving crystals of pure salt that are scraped up. The water channel to the pond is reopened, and so the process continues.

 

 

A Prehistoric Community Initiative

Although new ponds have been constructed in more recent years, the majority of Maras salt mines were built in pre-Inca times. The ponds are each owned and farmed by members of the Maras community, whose efforts are run as a cooperative. I can’t help but think that this cooperative tradition of propagating these ancient salt mines is a continuation of ancient trends.

This steep collection of flats is owned and run as a cooperative by the Maras community

 

Similar to other ancient Inca ruins in Peru (like Machu Picchu, Huchuy Cusco, Moray, and others), there is an other-worldly feeling to Maras salt mines – such a feat of engineering and creativity must have been inspired by something bigger than we mere humans.

 

What do you think?

 

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Zoe @ Tales from over the Horizon June 19, 2014 at 10:45 am

That is amazing! They look wonderful. It is really amazing how much ancient people could do without the advanced technology we have today.

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2 Nora Dunn June 19, 2014 at 10:58 am

@Zoe – Indeed! So much of what the Inca (and pre-Inca) built is mind-bogglingly advanced….to the point that with all our modern day technology, we’d still be hard pressed to replicate it or come up with anything nearly as efficient and environmentally friendly. It’s astonishing.

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3 Richard June 19, 2014 at 2:33 pm

I am truly amazed by how advanced in their planning and execution of farming and building of their infrastructure. The Inca’s were so ahead of their time. Oh and all the gold they mined, wow.

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4 Nora Dunn June 20, 2014 at 11:06 am

Richard,
Yes, during Inca (and Aztec, and other cultural) times, gold was a totally different thing.
As an example, in the Qorikancha temple in Cusco (considered the navel of the universe by some), all the walls were painted with solid gold. When the Spanish came on their conquest, they chipped off all the gold to use it as currency instead.

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5 Kathleen June 20, 2014 at 1:53 am

After spending a month in the Sacred Valley staring at rocks… I feel like the Inca had advanced knowledge. That we still, to this day cannot replicate without lasers etc. And that it would seem they were a collective as well. It is unfortunate that so much of their history was destroyed by colonialism as in so many other parts of the world. Great stories and secrets in that land…would love to know the answers!

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6 Nora Dunn June 20, 2014 at 11:10 am

Kathleen – Indeed! Then again, I think the mystery that surrounds the Inca is part of the appeal….and it sparks our imagination and ideas of what could be (and have been) possible.

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7 Sofie June 20, 2014 at 4:47 pm

The photos remind me of the Salinas de Añana (also salt mines) I saw in the Basque Country. We’d actually planned on visiting those but then didn’t as they didn’t look so interesting.
Now I regret that decision a bit.
Just a bit;-)

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8 Nora Dunn June 21, 2014 at 3:45 pm

Sofie – Ha ha! Well, at least you’ve (armchair) visited the salt mines in Peru now! 😉

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9 Ryan Biddulph June 21, 2014 at 8:20 am

Wow Nora! I recall flying into Cusco and seeing amazing images of the Andes. Thanks so much for sharing!

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10 Nora Dunn June 21, 2014 at 3:46 pm

Thanks, Ryan. Indeed – when I flew into Cusco I was also amazed at the snow-capped Andes everywhere…stunning.

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11 Sheralyn June 21, 2014 at 8:51 pm

Those mines look amazing – I would never in a million years have thought a mine would be THAT cool – but now it’s on my wish-list of places I’d love to see.

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12 Nora Dunn June 22, 2014 at 3:14 pm

Sheralyn – Sweet! Glad I’m not the only one who was astounded that mines could ever be so cool.

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13 Mark June 27, 2014 at 7:19 pm

Hi Nora, great post and great pics, congrats!
Mark

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14 Nora Dunn June 28, 2014 at 12:15 am

Thanks, Mark!

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15 Anna July 7, 2014 at 4:21 am

Goooorgeous. The defocus thing on your camera makes it look SO weird!

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16 Nora Dunn July 7, 2014 at 9:31 am

Anna – Hopefully weird…in a good way…. 🙂

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17 Norman May 15, 2016 at 7:08 am

Ah..beautiful pictures! I hiked from the valley below and didn’t come from maras (as our hotel was down there). These mines were the biggest surprise on my whole stay in Peru. So utterly beautiful and fascinating!!

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18 Nora May 15, 2016 at 12:29 pm

Hey Norman,
Glad you enjoyed it! I’ve been to Maras a few times, and I’m amazed by it every time.

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