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The town of Maras lies approximately 40km (25 miles) north-west of Cusco just off the Cusco-Chinchero-Urubamba road. The town is best known for its nearby salt evaporation pools known as the Salinas de Maras (Maras salt pans) or Salineras which lie less than a kilometre north of town. The town of Maras itself is pretty uneventful but does have one or two stores where you can buy snacks, bottled water or soft drinks.
The salt pans are well worth a visit, they are certainly unusual and there's nothing else quite like them anywhere else. They date back to pre-Inca times and are still being worked today. Warm salty water appears from a natural spring in the side of the mountain and is cleverly directed into hundreds of shallow terraced ponds via an intricate system of narrow channels. The flow in and out of these ponds is carefully controlled by the workers. When the water becomes supersaturated with salt the flow of water into the pond is closed off and the pond allowed to dry out in the sun, leaving behind a deposit of salt crystals. The salt is then collected by hand into sacks and carried away by mules or donkeys to the nearby town of Maras. Each salt pond is managed by a separate family from the local community, the number of ponds allocated depends on the size of the family. However, after the salt is collected, it is then sold cooperatively.
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