As the helicopter flies, Muzo is a short 60-mile hop north of Bogota, the capital city of Colombia, but by road it seems to lead back in time, a seven-hour bumping journey along cliffside switchbacks into a lost green world. The region is rich in coal and iron but it is world famous for its emeralds, considered the highest quality on Earth. From open pits and dank shafts, some up to two miles deep, miners have pulled out stones so precious they have names, such as Fura, at 15,000 carats one of the world’s biggest, named for a mythical unfaithful king whose wife’s tears turned to emeralds. 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 day expeditions into the Muzo hills, home to the richest emerald deposits in the world. Guests are flown by helicopter from the Capital, 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. On a good day, there may even be access to one-of-a-kind emeralds straight from the source, as well as visits to the river areas where locals use artisanal method to pan for gold and other precious metals.