Caño Cristales, Colombia

Red water in Caño Cristales  

Caño Cristales is also known as ‘el río de los 5 colores.’ (The river of five colours) or the ‘Liquid Rainbow’.

A truly magical place that will live up to all of your expectations. At Caño Cristales you will witness a place where a rainbow becomes a river – an ecological phenomena that happens nowhere else on Earth.

Located close to the municipal of La Macarena in the tropical and humid area of Los Llanos (Meta) in Colombia, Caño Cristales is an incredible place to see nature at its most magnificent. Well worth the mission to get there!

Until recently, the area was deemed off limits to tourists by the government due to the risk of FARC activity (the FARC are the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). In the past people had been kidnapped by the FARC and held to ransom and therefore, the area was closed to tourism since 1989. Today, however with an increased social and economic stability in Colombia, tourism has increased rapidly (particularly with holidaying Colombians at the weekends!) and the FARC have been pushed out of the area almost altogether.

During the rainy season (approx. September until January) the river rises, the aquatic plants grow in bright and varied colours, such as a deep blood red or brilliant green and create a bizarre rainbow-like affect in the water. Upon first glance it looks as if the water is actually flowing different colours, but on closer inspection, you can see the blanket of aquatic plants underneath the surface. The unique species of plant that causes the amazing image are called Macarenia clavigera, which is a type of algae.

*The best time to travel to Caño Cristales is from June to mid December when the plant life is in full bloom. (After a storm is even better!) The season runs from mid May to the beginning of December and it’s not possible to book tours outside of these dates.

Caño Cristales

Rio cristales

Rio cristales 2

*It is forbidden to use sunscreen or mosquito spray when you swim in the river to avoid pollution. Thanks to excellent conservation laws in the area, this is why the water is so remains so clean and so clear that you can see every single plant and every stone on the ground.

Caño Cristales 2

Where to stay in order to visit Caño Cristales?

The only place to stay is the nearby town of La Macarena. There are a few hotels and only one hostel, the Hotel San Nicolas, who have dorms for 40.000 COP per night. It’s located just five minutes walk from the centre, so that you don’t hear the party noises of the locals at night! The staff are really friendly and helpful and they can organise tours to Caño Cristales for you.

In La Macarena you’ll find many decent local restaurants and shops and the people are really welcoming to foreign visitors who come to marvel at what has been deemed ‘the most beautiful river in the world’. Food and drinks are a little bit more expensive here than in other parts of Colombia, because they have to import almost everything from other bigger cities.

How to Visit Caño Cristales?

There are different options, offered by local travel agencies and tour guides to visit the river. You cannot go independently and must be accompanied by a tour guide as you need permission to enter the area.

Money and time-wise a two day-trip from La Macarena is probably the best option. (You can also arrange package tours from Bogota which include flights, accommodation, tour and food from around COP$1,150,000 for three day  or COP$1,300,000 for four-day packages).

On your trip, you will hike through awe-inspiring nature until you reach the river. There are also many waterfalls and natural pools along the river where you can swim and you may also spot some unique wildlife, such as turtles, iguanas to macaws, aguilas (Colombia’s national bird, not the beer!) and hoatzins (tropical pheasants).

rio colombia 2

swimming caño cristales

* Take a hat with you, because the sun is burning! Even during raining season.

How to get there?

  • Take a cheap flight fromVillaviciencio – There are different options go get there, but one of the easiest is is to take a small airplane (4-8 people) from the city of Villaviciencio to the city of La Macarena, which costs about 430.000 COP (135 USD) for a return ticket. To get to Villaviciencio you can easily catch a bus from Bogota (22.000 COP).
  • Fly direct from Bogotá – You can also catch a direct plane from Bogota to  (ran by the Colombian airline, Satena).

Where to go next?

  • El Desierto de Tatacoa: The Smallest desert in Colombia, this destination is off the beaten track and one for adventurous backpackers!
  • Salento: Hike the beautiful Valle de Cocora with the highest palm trees on earth or visit a Coffee farm.
  • Bogota: In need of a city fix? Head to the capital city of Colombia, with many restaurants, a unique night life and city comforts.

About the writer: This article was written by Anne Schmitz. Check out her Facebook page ‘Anne’s Road’ here!

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