That was our first reaction when we heard we were going to see the Salt mines. We were sort of expecting a walk through cave with salt on it’s walls. Our tour guide informed that there are only two major salt mines in the world, one in Peru and another in Turkey. We were in for a surprise, pleasant one that too. Back in India, I’ve seen heaps of salt collected at corners of the local ponds, but I’ve never seen salt mines like the ones I saw in Peru.
The drive to the salt mines in Maras, takes you through rolling hills and vast wilderness. The mines are visible from the top of the hill that takes you down to these Salt Mines.
The walk to the salt mine is through a maze of shops that sell you food (mostly snacks), water, sodas and souvenirs. Pretty much all of them selling the same thing. As we walked out of this maze, the salt mines opened up in front of us. Hundreds of small salt evaporation ponds white and brown, people working on these ponds and carrying salt to be processed in a factory close by.
Our informative tour guide, explained that the spring water from the glaciers flows over salt rocks, so it gets salty and they are collected in small salt ponds. The water is allowed to evaporate for three days and the salt is left behind in the ponds. Then the spring water is allowed to fill up the ponds again, allowed to evaporate to leave behind another layer of salt. The process is repeated several times, until the salt collected is pure white in color. The top layer of salt, which is the whitest in color is the purest form of salt and is used for cooking. The bottom layers, which are really not the best quality are used to make bath salts. These salt ponds are owned and operated by families for generations and they are not allowed to sell this property outside their families.
There is no clear walkway to walk along these ponds, unless you consider a small foot path (used for both ways), with no support on either side as a walkway. This really tests your balancing skills. Good thing, if you lose your balance, you’ll land in one of these ponds, bad thing, you’ll get your shoes salty and wet.
I had my eyes just on the walkway for the most part, it wasn’t easy as I was scared, a bit. We walked through the salt mines, seeing all the salt ponds and hiked down the mountain, crossed the river and took the van to go back to Cusco. The hike through the mountain was a gorgeous one with beautiful views of salt mines when you turn around, gorgeous views of the valley ahead and the stream flowing by!