Did you know that the Uruguay amethyst is considered the best in the world? Or that world’s largest amethyst-filled geode was from Uruguay? Or that Uruguay is part of the top 100 geological heritage sites in the world? So if you’re looking for things to do in Uruguay, a visit to Uruguay amethyst mines is a must.
Both Brazil and Uruguay are leading producers of fine amethyst, but according to the American Gem Trade Association, due to its clarity and rich, dark colour. The world’s largest amethyst —a hollow rock with a crystal-lined cavity—is called the , the twenty ton behemoth now located in a private collection in Australia.
An international body on the world’s geological marvels selected Uruguay for its top 100 because “amethyst deposits in Uruguay are unique due to the concentration of mega-geodes, their enormous reserves, their gemstone quality and variations in size and forms, and by the abundance of giant geodes.” They also declared that the very best amethysts lie in the Las Catalanes region close to the capital of Artigas in northern Uruguay.
To get to Catalanes, your mining safari—you’re literally going to hunt amethysts—starts at the Hotel Casino San Eugenio in Artigas where you meet your guide. Together you’ll drive out sixty kilometres to the mine. During the safari, you’ll enter tunnels still filled with geodes (Uruguay’s mines have so many geodes they are only concentrating currently on extracting the largest, highest value ones). It’s thrilling to be underground in a constant 18°C temperature surrounded by gemstones created 135 million years ago, when the now continents of South America and Africa separated.
There’s also an exhibition of prized gemstone pieces, audiovisuals, and even a meditation zone (with a Reiki practitioner available on demand).
In the outdoor mine, you learn how geodes are extracted using controlled explosions. Your guide will help you locate, extract and clean small gemstones which you can take home. Before returning to your starting point, you will visit a showroom with pieces many which will be exported to China, the USA, Germany, Australia and Brazil (the main importers). It’s your opportunity to buy. Your tour gives you exclusive access to the workshop floor to see the gem preparation and polishing close-up (weekdays only).
What you should know
- Sustainable tourism Uruguay amethyst is exported to over 50 countries and mining employs almost 2000 people. It is probably the biggest employer in north Uruguay. All of the thirty or so mining companies adhere to Uruguay’s strict environmental and labour laws. You’ll see a consistent use of protective equipment. Most mine workers nowadays have qualifications.
- Tours leave the Hotel Casino in Artigas twice daily at 8:30 and 2 pm from Monday to Saturday. I recommend weekdays as the workshop (a highlight) is closed on Saturdays. The safari lasts approximately 4-5 hours.
- The tour is not officially offered in English The guides speak Spanish and Portuguese. For now guides use technology to help translate. Where there’s a will there is a way!
- You must book your safari in advance See contact details below. The cost of the safari ****varies with the number of people who book but expect to pay between around 40USD per person. Transportation is not included. Most people follow the guide in their own vehicle. Consult for the cost of transportation and also an interpreter if understanding every word is crucial.
- Lunch underground Groups of 10+ can book an underground asado.
- Recommended viewing Safari Minero experience
What’s close by
- Artigas has a number of activities. The reception at Hotel Casino will have details
- Experience Uruguay’s Gold Rush at Minas de Corrales (1 hour drive)
- Experience life on an Uruguay farm at Finca Paraíso Escondido (2 hours drive)
- Trek and stay in Lunarejo Valley National Park
- Visit the Brazilian border and the cities of Rivera (in Uruguay) and Santana do Livramento (walk into Brazil).
- Visit Bodega Cerro Chapeu.
Photos: Safari Minero