Maras, the Inca's salt mine

Vanesa Zegada | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Do you know where does table salt come from? If your guess was either underground salt mines or seawater, then you were right. Most of the world’s table salt comes from those two sources. But today, we will go to Peru and discover a different salt source. At 3200 meters above sea level, we will discover Maras, the Inca's salt mine!

© iStock/noelhtan

In the Salt Mine of Maras, there is no need to go underground because the salt comes to the surface by itself. How? In the form of a salty spring with nearly 70 percent of mineral content.

Several channels conduct the water to thousands of man-made brines, where the evaporation takes place. The brines are organized in terraces, similarly to the system used by Incas to optimize the water distribution in agriculture. This system to obtain salt, built by Incas hundreds of years ago, forms part of their technological legacy.

© iStock/The World Traveller

After the evaporation process in Maras' brines, three layers of salt are naturally formed. The first layer is the highest quality one, and it is used as table salt. The second and third layers are bulk and industrial salt, respectively.

Nevertheless, the salt quality varies throughout the year. During the dry season (May to October), the salt accumulates faster in the brines, and its quality is higher, with white and pink tones. On the other hand, during the rainy season (November to April), the production decreases because of a slower accumulation, and the salt acquires brown tones. This also means that the color of the landscape you will see will differ depending on the season.

© Zoomalmapa/Vanesa Zegada

The Salt Mine of Maras, with no unique owner, is managed by the local community. It means that many members of it receive a small benefit from salt production and tourism.

As you might expect, the salt coming from an Andean spring is appreciated by several gourmet restaurants worldwide. And of course, its cost can get very high. But, believe it or not, a great portion of that price comes from the packaging, marketing, and distribution, instead of the salt sale price set by the community. That is why buying salt in Maras directly from the producers might be a good deal for you and a direct way to support the community.

© iStock/olli0815

Only a few kilometers south of the salt mine, there is a small colonial town called Maras. It is nicknamed “town of the gates” because of its houses' colonial rock-carved door frames. It is a good idea to add a stopover in this town, after visiting the Salt Mine of Maras and take a short walk in the surroundings of its main square.

© iStock/Skinfaxi

Maras, the Inca's salt mine, is not only different from most salt mines in the world, but it also gives an unusual insight into the Inca's lifestyle and technology. And that is why you should not hesitate to add a pinch of salt to your trip to Peru!

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