Caño Cristales, Colombia

Red water in Caño Cristales  

Updated January 10th, 2019.

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 phenomenon that happens nowhere else on Earth.

The river runs red - the amazing Caño Cristales River in Colombia.
The river runs red – the amazing Caño Cristales River in Colombia.

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!

The water of the Caño Cristales is so clear you can see right through.
The water of the Caño Cristales is so clear you can see right through.

Caño Cristales Off Limits – A Dark History

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 effect in the water.

The rainy season is the best time to see Caño Cristales in all its glory.
The rainy season is the best time to see Caño Cristales in all its glory.

Upon first glance, it looks as if the water is actually flowing in 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 is called Macarenia clavigera, which is a type of algae.

The Macarenia clavigera algae causes the river to seemingly flow in different colours.
Wondering what causes the different colours? It’s algae! The Macarenia clavigera to be precise!

When is the best time to visit Caño Cristales?

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.

NOTE: 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 remains so clean and so clear that you can see every single plant and every stone on the ground.

Swimming in Caño Cristales, Colombia.
You should not wear sunscreen or mosquito spray when you swim in the river to avoid pollution.

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

Where to stay in order to visit Caño Cristales?

The only place to stay to visit Caño Cristales is the nearby town of La Macarena.

There are a few hotels and only one hostel in La Macarena, seven of which you can find and book on Booking.com.

Our Pick! The Hotel San Nicolas have dorms for 40.000 COP per night ($13 US). 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’.

Visit Caño Cristales on a guided tour from La Macarena, Colombia.
Visit Caño Cristales on a guided tour from La Macarena, Colombia.

Do be aware that food and drinks in La Macarena 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 tour 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. 

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).

Experience amazing nature during your visit to Caño Cristales!
Experience amazing nature during your visit to Caño Cristales!

Caño Cristales Tours from Bogotá: You can also arrange package tours from Bogota which include flights, accommodation, tour and food from around COP$1,150,000 ($365 US) for a three-day tour or COP$1,300,000 ($415 US) for four-day packages).

How to get to Caño Cristales?

Take a cheap flight from Villavicencio

There are different options to get there, but one of the easiest is to take a small aeroplane (4-8 people) from the city of Villavicencio to the city of La Macarena, which costs about 430,000 COP ($135 USD) for a return ticket. To get to Villavicencio you can easily catch a bus from Bogota for around 22,000 COP ($7 US).

Fly direct from Bogotá

You can also catch a direct plane from Bogota to La Macarena (ran by the Colombian airline, Satena).

The most beautiful river in the world! Caño Cristales River, Colombia.
The most beautiful river in the world? Caño Cristales River, Colombia.

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 nightlife and city comforts.
Anne Reina

This article was written by Anne Reina, a travel blogger from Germany who loves to write about off the beaten track places. Check out her Facebook page ‘Anne’s Road’ here. Interested in becoming a writer for us?

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