Peru’s Maras Salt Mines (Salineras) are located near Urubamba in the Sacred Valley, not too far from Cusco. Here, the salty water from a mountain stream fills the shallow pools. Salt has been mined from the evaporation pools since Inca times and is now run by a collective of local families. We found a way to visit the Maras Salt Mines without a tour, helping us to stay on budget!
We visited a few of the many tour agencies around Cusco to find the prices for a tour to these salt mines. The price was only 35 soles per person, which isn’t too bad (about $10 US per person). But the tour also had a stop at the Moray terrace circles, which required the 70 soles boleto turistco. The tour also didn’t include the entry to the salt mines (another 10 soles) or lunch. When it was all added up, including a tip to the guide, we were looking at about 150 soles or $45 US per person.
Since we were on a tight budget and weren’t that interest in Moray, we decided to get to the salineras on our own and discovered that the entire trip can be done for 23 soles (about $7 US) per person. Here is how we did it from Cusco:
Step 1: Get A Collectivo From Cusco to Urubamba (Cost: 6 Soles)
Find your way to where the collectivos (vans or small buses) leave to Urubamba. To find this location you can type “Av Grau 504 Cusco” into Google Maps. This isn’t the exact address, but will get you to the right general area, then just ask around for the collectivos to Urubama.
When we arrived there was only one seat left in the van, so we waited for the next one. The next van was filled and ready to go in about 20 minutes, and then we were off. Be sure to tell the driver that you want to get off at the Maras junction (several of the locals on the collectivo also got off here). The ride took just a little over an hour.
Step 2: Get A Collectivo to Maras (Cost: 1 Sole)
When you get off at the junction to Maras, there was a collectivo waiting to take passengers to the small town of Maras (there are also taxis waiting that could take you straight to mines and save you the hike).
The ride took about 10 minutes. If you’re really desperate to save money, you could save 1 sole by walking to Maras instead taking the collectivo. This walk will probably take about an hour and will be mostly flat with just a few hills. If you walk, you will see the road that the tour vans take to get to the salt mines, but I don’t recommend taking this road. Keep walking until you get to Maras and you will find a trail there that (I think) is easier.
Step 3: Walk To The Salineras (Cost: free)
When the collectivo arrives in Maras, take a few minutes to explore the main plaza in the town, and maybe grab something to eat if you’re hungry.
Now that you are ready to make your way to the salt mines, begin walking back on the road that the collectivo took to get to Maras. You’ll be backtracking for only a few minutes. Then you’ll come to where there is a big bend in the road. This is where you’ll get off the road and begin walking on the dirt trail. There is a sign at this point. Take the path that goes to the right of the sign.
After a few minutes you will come to a small water reservoir. Keep making your way straight.
As you continue you will see smaller paths that branch off to the left and the right of the main path. Keep going straight on the main path. You will pass by some fields and eventually a small canyon on your right.
Enjoy the beauty surrounding you
You’ll also see the tour vans and buses on the road on the other side of the canyon on your right. The entire trial is downhill and not super strenuous. A local taking the trail eventually caught up with us and guided us the rest of the way (we gave him 10 soles for a tip).
The entire walk should take roughly 1-1½ depending on your speed. It took us a little over an hour. We started out walking slowly but then picked up the pace when the local started leading us because he seemed to be in a hurry.
Step 4: Explore the Salineras (Cost: 10 Soles)
Eventually you’ll see the salt mines off in the distance. Make your way down to the main entrance and pay the 10 soles for the entry ticket. We spent about 30-45 minutes exploring the mines.
We had read that you could wander around the mines on your own, but we were required to stay on the main path at the top of the mines.
Step 5: Walk toward The River (Cost: free)
When you are done exploring the mines, you want to make your way to the far end, on the opposite end of the mines from the main entrance (most of the other tourists will not go this far into the mines). Look for “Maras” sketched in white onto the side of the hill and make your way to that point.
This is where the trail toward the river begins. You’ll be able to see the river off in the distance, so just follow the trail toward the river. Again, the trail will be downhill the entire way and it should take about 30-45 minutes to reach the river depending on your speed.
When you cross the bridge over the river, make you way to the main road that connects to Urubamba (just a few minutes walk from the bridge).
Step 6: Walk Or Wait For A Ride To Urubamba (Cost: depends)
Once you get to the main road and see the train tracks, turn right and make your way toward Urubamba.
We had originally planed to walk from here to Urubamaba and expected this to take about 1-1½ hours (the road is mostly flat but with a few hills). But by this time we were tired and there were some storm clouds developing, so we decided to try to flag down a collectivo or taxi along the main road. A very nice man in a truck stopped and offered to take us to Urubama. He picked up some other locals along the way, and refused to take any payment from us.
You can take some time to explore Urubama or grab something to eat.
Step 7: Take a Collectivo Back To Cusco (Cost: 6 Soles)
Make your way to the Urubamba Bus Station. You can see it on Google Maps by searching for “Terminal Terreste Urubamba”. This is where you can get a van or small bus back to Cusco.
We left Cusco around 8:15 and arrived back at around 5:00. Remember to add extra time if you plan to walk from the junction to Maras or walk all the way to Urubamba from the Salineras. Also, you can save time by taking a taxi from the Maras junction straight to the Salineras, or from the Salineras back to the junction or to Urubamba.
You can also do the trek in the opposite direction, making your way to the Salineras from Urubamba. If you do it in this direction, you’ll be walking uphill instead of downhill the entire way (consider the altitude if doing it in this direction).
We found that this was a great day trip from Cusco. Seeing (and tasting) the Maras Salt Mines without a tour was fun, good exercise, and friendly to our budget.
Keep in mind that prices go up, things change, and the descriptions here might not be 100% accurate by the time you are ready to do this trip yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask locals for help or advice.