These “salineras” (salt evaporation ponds) have been in use since before the time of the Incas.
Very salty water emerges from a local spring. Its flow is directed into an intricate system of small channels forcing the water to run gradually through several hundred ancient terraced “ponds”. Most of the ponds are less than twelve feet square, and none exceeds one foot in depth. The altitude of the ponds gradually decreases, allowing the water to move gently, entering each pond through a notch in one of its sides.
As moisture evaporates, the solution thickens, allowing salt to collect as crystals on the floor and walls of each pond. A worker closes the entrance allowing the pond to go dry. After a few days, the salt is scraped from the dry surface.
The proper maintenance of this system requires close cooperation among the members of the community. The local people, a high percentage of which are workers at the site, say this cooperative management system is at least as old as the Incas.
We will be here on July 5, so you can see for yourself!
At just over 11,000 feet, Maras and its salt ponds are at roughly the same altitude as Cuzco. The air will be thin, so take it easy.