Salt terraces of Maras, Peru

The tiny village of Maras is still one of the absolute insider tips in southern Peru. It is best known for its spectacular salt terraces, where the "White Gold of the Andes" has been extracted since the time of the Incas.

Maras is located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas just after Chinchero on the road connecting Cusco and Urubamba, 4 kilometres west of the main road. Its numerous churches and palaces decorated with coats of arms indicate the great importance of Maras in Peru's colonial era. Most famous, however, are the salt terraces of Maras at an altitude of 3,300 metres. Because of them, Maras is one of our top 10 sights in Peru.


PICTURES: Salt terraces of Maras

Photo gallery: Maras salt terraces

Legacy of the Incas

The spectacular salt terraces of Maras are located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas on the road connecting Cusco and Urubamba - © flog / franks-travelbox
© flew / franks-travelbox

A good kilometre northwest of Maras, some 3,000 man-made terraced basins cling to the steep slopes of the Cordillera Urubamba. They were already created by the Incas for salt production and are still an important source of livelihood for the regional population today, with each family cultivating between five and ten basins.

The salt pans are passed on from generation to generation and it also happens that some pools are not looked after at all. When a new member or family joins the community, the pools are allocated accordingly.

Tip: A 3km hike along a steep, strenuous path also takes you from the village of Tarabamba 6 kilometres before Urubamba to the salt terraces of Maras.

The White Gold of the Andes

The ancient salt flats of Maras still form the livelihood of the regional population, Peru - © flog / franks-travelbox
© flew / franks-travelbox

The salt, the "white gold", is extracted in a completely natural way in the salt pans of Maras. Brine is fed from a saline spring into the basins, which are not even 30 centimetres deep. The water evaporates over time due to the sun's rays and the salt remains in snow-white, crystalline form on the terraces.

The precious commodity is then collected, processed into granules, packed into plastic bags and sent on its 20-hour journey by truck to Lima, from where it is exported all over the world.

The work in the salt pans is hard and takes place from four in the morning until sunset. The amount and flow of water must be constantly monitored by the "salineros" and the drain must be closed in time, possible leaks in the basins must be found and repaired and the salt crusts harvested. After three days, the basin is filled with new brine and the whole process starts again.

In a small souvenir shop, the white gold of the Andes can be taken home in small bags and jars. Here, one hundred percent of the proceeds go to the salineros.


Tip: In 2009, Andrea Oster directed the one-hour Geo reportage "The Salt of the Incas", which accompanies a family of salt farmers during the arduous harvest of the precious salt.

Inca Terraces of Moray

The Inca terraces of Moray are also reached from Maras. Here, no salt was extracted on the almost 2-metre-high steps, but presumably landscape experiments were carried out. From the unusually round and deep shape of the terraces, experts concluded that it was a landscape research centre in which different ecological conditions could be simulated, with temperature differences of up to 15°C. The terraces were also used for salt extraction.

However, the terraces are no longer in use today. With the help of a guide, you can also get to the salt terraces of Maras from Moray.