Mexican Opal Mine: Hunting Opals in Magdalena de los Opalos
The small town of Magdalena de los Opalos is worth a visit, although it is a bit far from the city of Puerto Vallarta. Indeed, this town of 16,000 inhabitants is of a typical Mexican style, its very clean streets allow you to walk around the central square and the surrounding streets while enjoying the freshness that you cannot find in Puerto Vallarta. The many opal mines surrounding the city have made it a recognized place of exchange for this gem and the visit of the mines as well as the search for opals for leisure have made it an interesting tourist destination to spend a day or two there.
View of the center of Magdalena de los Opalos which is a typical Mexican village
Located on the highway linking Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara, 20 kilometers from Tequila and 80 kilometers from Guadalajara, so it is easy to plan a stopover during an excursion in the region. It will take 3h30 or 3h45 by car from Puerto Vallarta, taking into account traffic.
View of the highway to get to the opal mines of Magdalena from Puerto Vallarta, soon a more direct highway going through the jungle with help to get there faster.
Opal Mines, the main attraction of the town
Founded at the beginning of the 16th century, the current town is organized around the church, the chapel and the convent located opposite the central square.
If this small town is pleasant when you are passing through, it is not exceptional either, the interest of this one being the visit of the mines and the possibility of looking for opals there. Several dozen mines are scattered in the region around the city, where miners search the volcanic soil for fire opals and noble opals that they can sell to lapidaries and jewelers in the city center.
Mine tours are organized by different jewelry stores. I don't think there is a tourism union, because when I went there, no one was able to tell me about any organization managing tourism in the locality. You will have to organize yourself both for accommodation and to organize your visit.
The Opalos de México jewelry store located at 115 Calle Independenia (main street crossing the city) and the lapidary workshop La Sorpresa at 43 México Street (30 m from the central square) offer you the opportunity to visit opal mines. The visit is generally paying with the food included.
To organize your visit, I advise you to take a look at the Opalos de México site, whose website is well done and will give you enough information to know what to expect. Of all the opal shops and jewelry stores, Opalos de México seems to be the reference and especially the one that promotes itself best and offers (in my opinion) the most beautiful stones in the city.
Visiting the opal mine and going down to opal hunt
During our excursion to Magdalena, we were lucky enough to meet an ex-miner who offered to show us around an opal mine. So here we are on the way at 10:30 in the morning to a mine (whose name I forgot) north of the city. It will take about half an hour to get there.
I have not been able to find a map showing the opal mines that surround the city. To find out where they are, you have to meet miners or jewelers who can provide you with information. It is certain that the satellite views of Google Maps are a good way to locate mines from the sky as can be seen in the following photo, the latter leave an easily recognizable mark on the ground seen from the sky.
Visiting such a mine is definitely worth a visit, as it is an interesting experience. On the one hand, the mines being open pit, it is not necessary to sneak into a dirty and poorly shored blast hole, one can stay on the edge and have a good overview of how minors work in the mine.
They perforate the rock with drills and then insert explosives that fracture the rock. The miners then finish crushing the rubble into small pieces in search of flashes of light betraying the presence of opals. While you are unlikely to find an opal in this way when you visit, it is common to find opal fragments in rubble piled up by miners outside their working area. This photo is an example of such waste showing encrustation of opals.
The miners work on the ground with a hammer and gloves for all tools. The use of machine tools risking damaging the opals, they are only used to evacuate the rubble out of the mine. Our visit was an opportunity to meet a friend of Felipe (pictured below) who experienced the opal rush in the early 60s and spent his whole life in the mines around Magdalena. That day, a Saturday, he was looking for opals to pass the time. After all, why watch TV if you can hunt for opals.
The next photo shows a couple of slightly better equipped miners hunting for opals. The cavity where they work has been dug with dynamite. They finish breaking the rock with a hammer in search of the presence of opals in them.
Mexican Opals and Fire Opals
The three types of opals extracted from Mexican mines and used in jewelry are the common opals, opaque and of variable color, the fire opals which are translucent and of color varying from yellow to dark orange and finally the noble opals which have play of light characteristic of the diffraction of light rays on the microscopic structure of silica constituting the opal.
This mexican opal was extracted for a mine of Magdalena de los Opalos and weighs 22 carats
And here is the kind of the jewelry that can be done with such a unique opal gemstone.
Good to know
For accommodation, I recommend the Real Quinta Minas hotel, located at the corner of Calle Allende and calle Francisco Javier Mina #49 (telephone 386 744 0546), it is really comfortable with the choice between a double bed , a Queen size bed or a King size bed. The rooms are spacious and clean with a bathroom and hot water. The TV is a flat screen with cable included. Prices are very reasonable ranging from 250 pesos for the double bed to 350 pesos for the king size bed. It is located close to the square where it is possible to eat both lunch and dinner.
For your opal purchases, you will have the opportunity to buy wholesale opals in rough stones in bottles with water. It's a rip off, most contain boring stones and hydrophane opals which have great light shows when in water and are opaque with no light show when dry. I advise you to go to a jewelry store to choose either your stones or your jewelry with opals, it will be safer.
- Visit of the central square and the religious sites located there
- Visit of the Magdalena distillery authorized to produce Tequila, this one is outside the town, the best thing is to contact them to find out how to get there.
- Visit to the old Hacienda de San Andrés and La Quemada, the first located 25 minutes from the city and the second just 10 minutes.