Travelling overland, the road to Muzo seems to lead back in time, a seven-hour jolting journey along cliffside switchbacks into a lost green world. The region is rich in iron, but is world-famous for its emeralds, considered the highest quality on Earth.
Known for their transparency, crystallisation and fire, Colombian emeralds have long set the highest standard of quality around the world. The value of these stones depends on 4C’s: cut, colour, clarity and carat.
From open pits, some up to two miles deep, miners have unearthed stones so precious they have names. Fura, at 15,000 carats, one of the world’s biggest, was named after a mythical adulterous king, whose wife’s tears turned to emeralds.
The Muzo region is dominated by two imposing peaks. Tena at 840 meters, and Fura at 500 m, tower over the Guaquimay River. These mountains were a place of worship for the Muzo people, who considered this the site of their gods and a sacrificial altar.
A smaller but brighter gem named after the wife, Tena, is one of the most valuable, and was once owned by the Russian empress Catherine the Great.
Plan South America organises expeditions into the Muzo hills. Guests are flown by helicopter from Bogota, accompanied by a gemologist, who will explain how the stones are formed and the processes involved in mining, transporting and preparing the emeralds for market.