Inside Peru’s Lesser-Known Inca Wonder

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Located halfway between Cusco and Machu Picchu, the Maras Salt Mines are the secret destination you need to check out.

It’s no secret that Peru is known for its natural beauty, as tourists flock to take in the vistas at Machu Picchu, explore the landscapes surrounding the Inca Trail, or tour the sprawling Sacred Valley. But the country is home to a lesser-known wonder that rivals the country’s best attractions.

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Located just 25 miles north of Cusco, the Maras Salt Flats—or, Salidas de Maras, as they’re known locally—are a collection of 3,000 salt ponds created by the Incas in the 1400s. Fed by a subterranean stream that flows through an intricate system of channels, the ponds are left to dry over the course of a few days. As the water evaporates, a thick layer of salt is left behind which is then scraped from the pond, bagged up, and sold in nearby markets in the surrounding community of Pichingoto. Local distributors also sell the salt to international distributors, and online, so you don’t necessarily have to travel to Peru to give a try (although, it’s highly recommended.)

Sean Flynn

Compared to Machu Picchu, where thousands of tourists visit on a daily basis, the Maras Salt Flats are a secluded retreat where you’ll rarely have to share the experience with more than two-dozen other travelers. Cascading down the mountainside towards the Rio Vilcanota, the salt ponds offer stunning views that rival even the most celebrated attractions in Peru.

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The surrounding area offers a plethora of other attractions worthy of a quick visit. The hour-long drive from Cusco takes you through the rolling hills of the Sacred Valley and by the small town of Urubamba, where you’ll see beautiful examples of colonial architecture. A 15-minute drive from Maras, famed chef Virgilio Martinez—owner of Central, the Lima restaurant that landed him at the top of The World’s 50 Best list—recently opened a new restaurant, MIL, in the heart of the Inca ruins at Moray. MIL offers an updated spin on traditional cuisine, and yes, they feature dishes made with Maras salt.

While the salt flats are Peru’s secret tourist destination now, they’re bound to hit the international stage soon. That is, if only for their Instagram-worthy views.