Forget Machu Picchu, the salt ponds of Maras are Peru's go-to attraction

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Forget Machu Picchu, the salt ponds of Maras are Peru's go-to attraction

Escape the tourist throng at Inca ruins, and support a site that provides a good living for its workers, writes Kate Whitehead.

Tourism in Peru is focused on a handful of star attractions – Machu Picchu, the Nazca Lines and Colca Canyon tend to hog the limelight. The Inca citadel in the sky alone attracted a whopping 1.2 million visitors in 2013 and the numbers keep rising.

Up against that kind of pulling power it’s challenging for places off the beaten track to get a look in, but one site is making a name for itself – and was around long before the Incas. With the help of high-profile Peruvian chefs, the salt ponds of Maras, 40km north of the southeastern city of Cusco, are hot property.

Rounding the corner on the long and winding road through the high Andes to the Inca site of Moray, the bleached white strip of salt ponds comes as a surprise. The steep valley slopes are rusty brown and covered with coarse scrub, making the ponds all the more striking.

Salt ponds are more commonly found on coastal plains, filled with seawater from the incoming tide. The ones in Peru are at an altitude of 3,000 metres. It’s a long way to the ocean, but it wasn’t always so; this impressive mountain range was once part the sea floor.

The movement of tectonic plates pushed the seabed up to form the Andes. The sea salt was locked into the rocks and filters out through the Qoripujio spring.

The Incas (early 13th century to 1572) are credited with many of Peru’s striking constructions, but these ponds were created during the Chanapata Culture (AD200 to AD900).

BY Kate Whitehead 25.07.15