About 6km (4miles) down the main road toward Ollantaytambo (northwest of Urubamba) is the amazing sight of the Salineras de Maras - thousands of individual, ancient salt pans that form unique terraces in a hillside. The mines, small pools thickly coated with crystallized salt like dirty snow, have existed in the same spot since Inca days and are still operable. Families pass them down like deeds and continue the backbreaking and poorly remunerated tradition of salt extraction (crystallizing salt from subterranean spring water)
The famed terraced Inca salt pans of Salineras are still in use and also take advantage of a natural phenomenon: the Inca dug shallow pools into a sloped hillside. The pools filled with water, and upon evaporation salt crystallized and could be harvested.
From Cusco to Maras are 48 km (29 mi) northwest of Cusco. To get from Cusco to Maras take a taxi (S/ 5, or $1.50) to a point near the village of Tarabamba; you can either have the taxi wait for you or hail a combi on the main road for your return. From there, it´s a lovely 4km (2 mile) walk under a huge sky and along a footpath next to the river. There are no signs; cross the footbridge and bend right along the far side of the river and up through the mountains toward the salt pans. As you begin the gentle climb up the mountain, stick to the right path to avoid the cliff-hugging and only inchestwide trail that forks to the left.
Maras is part of the Valley, that has increasingly taken on a dual personality, depending on the time of day, day of the week, and month of the year. Blame it on Pisac and its famous three-times-weekly market. Every Cusco travel agency offers a day tour of the Sacred Valley each Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday to coincide with the town´s market days, and they all seem to follow the same schedule: morning shopping in Pisac, Moray and Salineras de Maras, bufet lunch in Urubamba, afternoon browsing in Ollantaytambo. You can almost always sign up for one of these tours at the last minute -even early on the morning of the tour- especially if you´re here in the September-to-May off-season. On nonmarket days and during the off-season, however, Pisac and the rest of the Sacred Valley is relatively quiet. In any case, the valley deserves more than a rushed day tour if you have the time.