Salt Ponds of Maras, Peru


Day 10 of our trip to Peru started off with some pre-breakfast birding on the grounds of our hotel, the very nice Sonesta Posadas del Inca and add a few new species to our ever-growing sightings list.

Hooded SiskinHouse WrenBlue and Yellow TanagerWhite-bellied HummingbirdWhite-bellied Hummingbird on nestGolden-billed SaltatorMountain Caracara

The plans for the day included more touring of the unique attractions in Sacred Valley and checking out the local scenery and a well-known natural habitat for birds.  Our hotel was in the Sacred Valley and as our bus climbed out via numerous switchbacks, we were presented with wonderful views of the Andes.

Sacred ValleySacred Valley

The next stop was Laguna de Huaypo for some birding.  We were able to see many different species of waterfowl that make the lake their home as well as a family of Burrowing Owls.  The fields surrounding the lake were actively being worked on by the local residents and the whole setting was very attractive.  I found out later that Laguna de Huaypo was and still is the subject of a variety of UFO theories including objects that flew out of the lake  and a hot-air balloon that was unable to fly across the lake due to some unseen force as related in this story

c15-IMG_1243.jpgLaguna de HuaypoLocal farmerAndes

The next stop for the day was perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the entire trip, Salineras de Maras or the Maras Salt Ponds.  I was mentally prepared to see new birds, ancient architecture and wonderful scenery and when I learned that we were going to visit salt mines, I imagined going underground.  I only hope my images do this tour justice as it was a truly amazing place.  The salt ponds which are also known as salt pans or salt mines have been in use since the Inca times between 200 and 900 A.D.  In the ancient times, salt was very important for the preservation of food and was often the foundation of civilization.  Since salt was difficult to obtain it was a highly valued trade item and made the people of Maras very wealthy.

Highly salty water emerges from the Qoripujio spring and small channels were constructed to make this water gradually flow into the 3000 ancient terraced ponds.  The flow of water is carefully controlled and monitored by way of small notches in the sidewalls of the pools and branches of supply channel.  The water in the shallow ponds evaporates from exposure to the sun and the salt remains behind to be gathered by its keeper.   The salt pools are run by the citizens of Maras as a local informal cooperative, the entire facility is quite impressive and visually stunning.

To get to the salt ponds that are located just outside the town of Maras, we traveled down a narrow gravel road and arrived at the overlook that is shown in the next image.  We would be walking a narrow path from left to right that is directly above the salt ponds, not on the road.   As you look at the first image, make a mental note of how far the buildings are above the salt pans, especially the pans at the bottom of the valley.  Our hike will last approximately 1.5 hours and we will finish at Restaurante Tunupa for lunch.

Maras Salt Ponds from aboveMaras Salt Ponds closeup from above

The next two images are taken from the starting point of the tour and is our view looking up to the overlook, the first being the normal view and the second is a closeup.


look upLook up 2

The next series of images are of the salt pans from the starting viewing platform and from vantage points along the trail.  If you look closely at images 3-6 you will see a worker who looks pretty small among the salt ponds.

Salt ponds 1Salt ponds 2Salt ponds 3Salt ponds 4Salt ponds 5Salt ponds 6_Salt ponds 7Salt ponds 8

The next images show the narrow trail we traversed above the salt pans.  You can also see the narrow stream of water on the left side of the trail that gets diverted as needed as it flows down the valley.

Trail 1Trail 2

These images show a worker carrying a bag of salt on his back from one of his pans.  He will carry this up the hill and it will be stored in one of the buildings on site.  You can see the storage buildings in the first images of the salt pans that I mentioned earlier in this post and you will realize the difficulty of the climb.


And finally as we began to leave the salt pans, a final look backwards before re-entering the Urubamba River Valley.

Salt pans 1Salt pans 2Salt pans 3trail to valleyUrubamba river valleyAndean Gull

The next post will be about our visit to Machu Picchu, thanks for stopping by!

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  1. Scott Martin April 30, 2014 at 11:33 pm #

    Fabulous photography and super informative post Arni. The design and effort required to develop and maintain the salt ponds is incredible and very impressive. Its great to see © Dianne Stinnissen on one of the best pics in the post as well!

    • Arni May 1, 2014 at 8:30 pm #

      The ingenuity of the Incas is quite amazing and the salt ponds were certainly a surprise for us. Dianne does take remarkable photos and that particular one is a standout. Thanks Scott.