Last weekend, Jorge and I went on an exciting weekend trip to Queretaro State. We spent the days wandering through Pueblo Magicos, drinking local wine, and exploring the magnificent, local geology. Not only is Queretaro State home to the world’s third tallest monolith, but it’s also one of the only places in the world where you can find Fire Opals. The best part is that you can mine for these fiery-hued opals yourself! We took a tour out of the tiny town of La Trinidad, less than 30 minutes from Tequisquiapan. We had a blast hammering away at the rocks and got very lucky with the opals we found! If this sounds like an activity you’d also enjoy, keep reading for all of the details on how to find your own Mexican Fire Opal gemstones!
What are Mexican Fire Opals?
Mexican Fire Opals are opal stones that have a red, orange, or yellow color to them. Our guide, Saul, spoke to us about four qualities that they look for in the Fire Oplas: size, color, transparency, and the play-of-color. First, the larger the opal, the more valuable it is. Second, the more transparent the stone is, the more valuable it is. Third, he showed us the range of colors that are found in the Fire Opals, ranging from almost clear or white to the more burnt colors. Lastly, and probably the most recognizable characteristic of opals is the play-of-color. Play-of-color is the brilliantly colorful flecks that you see on an opal that shimmer and dance when you put the stone up to a light. While most opals that we saw in the mine had no play of color but were still beautiful bright reds, oranges, and yellows, we did get lucky and find one rock that sparkled with that beautiful play-of-color atop orange and white opals.
The majority of Fire Opals come from Mexico, specifically the Jalisco and Queretaro States. In Queretaro, where we went mining, the opals are found in a beautiful, pastel pink rhyolite deposit. A lot of Mexican Fire Opals are sold in a polished rhyolite matrix because it would be too risky to extract the opal without damaging it. These make for very unique stones because you can see their origins.
How to Get to La Trinidad
La Trinidad is a tiny town about 30 minutes outside of Tequisquiapan in Queretaro, Mexico. Tours run from La Trinidad everyday with tour operator Hector Montes, and Saturdays and Sundays with Mina Opalos. La Trinidad is 3 hours and 20 minutes from Mexico City.
We first drove about 3 hours to Tequisquiapan and then the 30 minutes from Tequisquiapan to La Trinidad. You’ll pass through two tolls between Mexico City and Tequisquiapan. Each toll costs 89 pesos or about $9 USD in total. Like most toll roads in Mexico, it’s a very safe and well-kept highway.
Tour Options and Costs
As I previously mentioned, there are two tour operators running out of La Trinidad, Hector Montes, and Mina Opalos. Each has their own mine that they take you to and each charge $120 MXN ($6 USD) per person and lasts around 3 hours. Luckily Jorge has done both so I can share with you his take on the two tours.
With the Hector Montes tour, Jorge said it felt less personal and not as focused on finding opals. He felt that the spot they took you to look for opals was heavily picked over. They also take a lot more people out at a time so it felt more crowded.
With the Mina Opalos tour, there were fewer people and the experience felt more personalized. Saul took the time to tell us everything he knows about opals before we left to go hunting ourselves. Our guide out in the field, Pilon, showed us the best spots to look for opals and helped us find a marvelous, orange fire opal with beautiful color play! Mina Opalos only offers tours on the weekends because during the week their miners are out looking for opals in the same spot they take you to on the weekends!
Overall, we’d recommend Mina Opalos because it felt more like an authentic experience rather than a tourist attraction.
Finding Fire Opals
We arrived at Mina Opalos’ shop as soon as they opened at 10:30 am. Saul gave us an explanation of the opals found in the region and showed us a huge variety of fire opals that were found in his mine. Afterward, we waited for more people who were interested in taking the tour to show up. The pick-up truck fits 6-8 people, so if at least 6 people go on the tour it costs MXN 120 per person, whereas if it were just the two of us it would have cost us MXN 600 total. Once we had a full group, we piled into the back of the pick-up and drove about 15 minutes down a cactus-lined dirt road.
We reached the end of the road and bailed out of the truck. We each got a rock hammer and then hiked about 15 minutes to the mine. It was not a hole in the ground like I was expecting or even a cave. The first mine consisted of a cliff face that the miners have slowly been picking away at. As we got closer, the ground we were walking across was completely covered by the peach-colored rhyolite fragments that have been hammered off the cliff face over time.
We immediately got to work, smashing the fallen rocks with our hammers, eagerly looking for precious opals inside. After a few minutes, Jorge went to ask our guide, Pilon, for some tips on how to choose rocks with the most opal potential. A few minutes went by and I thought I heard Jorge shout my name. I wasn’t sure so I kept hammering away until I finally decided to go find him. He was about twenty feet above the ground with Pilon. I grabbed the rope and climbed up the rock to meet them. As soon as I made it, Jorge pulls out a shimmering orange fire opal with dazzling play-of-color. It was beautiful!
After that, we decided to stay close to where Pilon was looking. He was the expert after all! Jorge managed to free a few opal-filled rocks from the cliff while I gingerly tried to crack them open without breaking any of the opals that might have been hiding inside. There was one rock I noticed that had some of the shimmering play-of-color on the outside and when I managed to crack it open I picked out a tiny, sparkly opal!
After about an hour and a half of mining (it went by so fast) we had a couple of rocks with pretty orange and yellow opals, a rock with opals that sparkled with play-of-color, and the larger orange opal with play-of-color that we managed to extract from the rock.
From there, we walked five minutes further down the trail to another part of the mine where the miners have dug small caves into the mountainside. We spent a few minutes looking there and then continued along the trail for about twenty minutes until we were back at the truck.
It was such a thrilling experience and our luck of finding beautiful Mexican opals made it all the more exciting. It’s been five days since we went, and I’m still dreaming of cracking open a rock and finding a massive opal inside!
What to Consider & Helpful Tips
It can get very hot, so make sure to bring plenty of water!
No food is provided during the tour. Make sure to eat beforehand and bring snacks!
No safety equipment is provided, but if I were to go again I would 100% bring protective glasses or at least sunglasses. When you’re smashing rocks, shards go everywhere, and a few that hit me broke the skin. You don’t want that happening to your eyes!
If you’re interested in buying opals, Mina Opalos has a shop with a nice selection. Additionally, just about everyone in town has opals for sale in their garage. Jorge bought a beautiful pink rhyolite rock with exposed opals all around it.
Bring comfortable shoes and clothes to protect you from the sun. You won’t be doing much walking, but you will be maneuvering around rocks so dress comfortably.