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Originally built by the Incas, the manmade salt pans in Maras, Peru, have endured for over 500 years. Beneath the Qaqawiñay mountains runs a salty fresh spring, which empties into 3,000 mountainside pools. The sun heats them, evaporating the water and leaving the natural salt crystals behind. Each pool is still hand-mined, much the same as when the Incas were there. On this breathtaking hillside, it’s easy to marvel at Mother Nature and the ingenuity of humankind.

Cascading down a hillside valley like uneven steps, the Salinas de Maras (as they are known in the local tongue) were first created sometime in the 1400s by the Incas. While there is no transcribed record of the ponds’ creation, they seem to have been passed down and expanded by a small number of owners over hundreds of years. Salt is harvested from the patchwork of shallow pools via a process of evaporation. A natural spring feeds a salt-rich stream that flows down into the pools, which are then opened and dammed individually as needed. Once one of the pools is filled, the water is allowed to evaporate, and then the salt crystals are scraped off the ground with simple instruments. Then the whole process begins again.

The area is not widely industrialized, and the salt is still just bagged up, packaged, and sold at market. Today there are about 3,000 pools that are still harvested by the community of local families who control the salt pans, the transport roads to the valley, and generally the entire salt production from the site, which remains much the same as as it was when the Inca discovered it over 1,000 years ago.

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