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Exploring the depths of Merelani's tanzanite mines: A guide for curious travellers

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

The first thing to point out is that visiting tanzanite mines in Tanzania is not a tourist activity.

As a gemmologist and author, this was a bucket list experience I wanted for professional reasons. Personal curiosity too, of course.


Thankfully, within just days of arriving in Arusha, as I was fortunate to meet someone who owns a mining plot at the tanzanite mine and agreed to take me.


From Arusha, it’s a one hour drive towards Kilimanjaro airport and Merelani is at least half an hour beyond that. However, as you will discover whilst driving around Tanzania, there are several police check-points along the way. A word of warning - adhere to the speed limit and if your insurance, car permit or driving licence is out of date, this could add a lot of time to your journey – unless you have some magical powers of persuasion to talk your way out of it!


If you are asked to pull over, friendliness and patience will go along way! If you're heading towards the tanzanite mines, you can expect to be stopped. The whole area is heavily protected, as you would expect. They want to know who is coming and going. Afterall, tanzanite is one of Tanzania's most precious gemstones.


Need to know: visiting the Tanzanite mines:


- You must have a business visa stamped in your passport.

- You need a permit to visit the mine, which means visiting the nearby Immigration Office.

- You'll need to know someone who works at the mine and can show their mining permit.

- You’ll need a valid business reason for visiting. An interest in investing, is a good example.

- You need to be confident riding on the back of a motorbike.


The entrance to a tanzanite mine in block-d | Gemstone Detective
Entrance leading down into a tanzanite mine in block-d | Gemstone Detective

The tanzanite mining area in block-d | Gemstone Detective
The tanzanite mining area in block-d | Gemstone Detective

A tanzanite mine in block-d | Gemstone Detective
A tanzanite mine in block-d | Gemstone Detective

Tanzanite minining area in block-d | Gemstone Detective
A tanzanite mine in block-d | Gemstone Detective

The Immigration Officer will process a permit, which involves a letter of invitation, a copy of your passport and business visa and a copy of your invitee’s mining permit. You’ll be given five copies to give to the Officer at the mine, which are later distributed to five other official departments including the Ministry of Minerals. The fifth copy is for yourself. I'm keeping mine for posterity.


Simply put, getting the necessary paperwork together for visiting the tanzanite mine can be a bit of an ordeal so be prepared for any number of unexpected holdups.


The general area with mines scattered around | Gemstone Detective
The general area in d-block with mines scattered around | Gemstone Detective

A glimpse of the blue tanzanite on it's host rock | Gemstone Detective
A glimpse of the blue tanzanite on it's host rock | Gemstone Detective

A geological surveyor / miner | Gemstone Detective
I stopped to talk with a geological surveyor / miner | Gemstone Detective

A tanzanite miner taking a break | Gemstone Detective
I chatted with a tanzanite miner taking a break | Gemstone Detective

A kitchen at the tanzanite mine | Gemstone Detective
A kitchen at the tanzanite mine | Gemstone Detective

If you are a tourist on holiday with an appetite to learn more about the history an background of tanzanite, you can visit The Tanzanite Experience. It's an interesting tourist attraction with a make-shift mine so you can get a feel for a real tanzanite mine . You'll also be invited to buy yourself a piece of tanzanite jewellery as a souvenir of your holiday. They are located in Arusha, the Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Karatu.


Keep an eye out for a future blog post. I'll give a more in-depth and personal account of my visit to the tanzanite mines. Or, if you would like to hear more about my first-hand experience, I’d be delighted to give a Gem Talk for you. I have a lot more photos too!





Kim Rix GG GIA

Be sure. Be smart. Buy with confidence




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