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You’ve seen the pictures: the clouds mirrored in the salt pond and white colored earth as far as the eye can see. This describes, of course, the famous Bolivian Salt Flats, the result of a dried-up lake high in the Andes. It is remarkable and photogenic, but it isn’t the only stunning salt flat in South America. Here’s why you should skip Bolivia for the overlooked Maras Salt Flats, the most beautiful in South America.
At an unheard of 3,00 meters (9,842 feet) above sea level lie Peru’s labyrinth of salt ponds, sitting like little white pools on the hillside. After paying the 10 soles ($3) entrance fee and navigating your way from the parking lot, walking down through all the gift shops selling salt related products, you discover the magical beauty of the salt flats. One part natural wonder and another part human ingenuity meet at the Maras Flats and result in cloud white salt with brownish-red hues. The pallet of colors is just as unique and remarkable as a salt flat at this elevation, engineered to trap salt by Peruvian inhabitants that predate the Incas.
An active stream from the Andes feeds all of the roughly 5,000 ponds that fan out and stagger down the hillside. The location itself is easily one of the most beautiful spots in all of Peru and can be easily accessed by tourists on their way to Machu Picchu. The flats are just above the Sacred Valley city of Urubamba, in the heart of the Sacred Valley. But it wasn’t its beauty or its ideal location that put it on the map for Peruvians and tourists alike.
The renowned and celebrated Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio garnered attention for the site after proclaiming Maras’s salt as some of the best in Peru and revealing a little secret: he uses Maras salt in his dishes. In Peru, anything Gaston says is gold. The attention transformed the flats from a tourist site to a place to buy some of Peru’s best salt while also enjoying one of its natural wonders. The now famed salt can be purchased at one of the many shops that lead from the parking lot to the flats and is found on the tables of Peru’s best restaurants.
A visit to the Maras salt flats isn’t just another stop on your way to Machu Picchu, but it is now a signifiant landmark in Peru’s bourgeoning culinary revolution. You get to see a mystery from Peru’s ancient and storied past, a clever engineering method that helped both the Incas and their ancestors. You get one of the most photogenic spots in all of Peru and, perhaps more than that, you get to enjoy the country’s finest salt while giving money back to the locals with a purchase. You get a chance to experience Peru while engaging all of your senses.