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.
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.
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?