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Caño Cristales: Travel Tips for Visiting Colombia’s Rainbow River

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For much of the year, the Caño Cristales looks like any other normal river you could see anywhere in the world. Nestled in Colombia, even getting to this river is a difficult adventure.

Accessible only through the community of La Macarena, you can take a DC3 cargo plane from Villavicennco or a weekend flight from Bogota that requires a stayover.

Between June and November, however, the Caño Cristales transforms from a basic river to the “River of Five Colors,” filled with endemic flora and fauna that will give you a once-in-a-lifetime viewing experience.

If you like the idea of adventure, then seeing this river when it is in full bloom should be on your bucket list.

What is Caño Cristales?

Cano Cristales River

Caño Cristales is a river that runs through the Serranía de la Macarena National Park in Meta, Colombia. The River of Five Colors gets its name from the different endemic plant species that line the river and provide vibrant colors of green, yellow, blue, black, and red.

The most notable plant is the Macarenia clavigera, also known as “La Mesita” (the little table), which covers the riverbed and rocks with a thin layer of green moss.

When the sun hits at just the right angle, this moss reflects all the colors of the rainbow onto the clear water surface – hence why it’s called the Rainbow River.

How to Get to Caño Cristales

Caño Cristales Hike

This beautiful river is located in the national park called Serranía de la Macarena on the border of the Amazon rainforest and is truly a sight to behold.

The colors of the river range from yellow to green to blue, and it’s full of plant and animal life that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Visitors to the national park can take boat rides down the river, hike through the jungle, and camp under the stars. It’s an experience you’ll never forget!

The only way to get to Caño Cristales is through La Macarena. You can take a direct flight from Bogota that will have you in Villavicencio in about an hour. From there, it is a quick 20-minute flight on a small plane to La Macarena.

Or, you can take a longer but cheaper route and fly into Villavicencio on a Friday evening, stay the night, and then take the early Saturday morning flight to La Macarena.

Once in La Macarena, you must arrange for transportation to Caño Cristales. You can do this through your hotel or a tour agency in town.

What to Expect When You Visit

Colorful Caño Cristales River in Colombia
sunsinger / Adobe Stock

A trip to Caño Cristales tour is not your typical river tour. This is an all-day adventure with you, hiking through the jungle, wading in the water, and swimming in some of the most beautiful waters you have ever seen.

You will be up close and personal with nature, so expect to get dirty and sweaty. Wear comfortable clothes that can get wet and shoes you don’t mind getting muddy. Most importantly, remember to pack your sense of adventure.

While the Caño Cristales may only be a river, it is a natural world wonder. The colors, wildlife, and scenery combine to create an unforgettable experience.

If you can visit this amazing river, don’t hesitate – it is an experience you will never forget.

The Easiest Way To Get There Is To Purchase a Caño Cristales Tour

River of Five Colors

You can make an effort to arrange everything on your own for this trip to save a few bucks, but purchasing a full package that includes your flights, lodging, and guide to the river will save you a major headache.

The liquid rainbow river is becoming increasingly popular, and tour groups routinely book all the lodging available in La Macarena. Unless you want to go camping immediately, booking your full trip in advance will help you get the accommodations you want.

A typical tour includes three days and two nights in La Macarena. Two-day hikes, consisting of a short canoe trip, a Jeep ride, and a short hike of less than an hour, are typically booked.

In return, you see the incredible plants and corals that call the Caño Cristales their home. Most trips can be booked for around 1 million pesos, or about $500.

Best Tours of Caño Cristales – Colombia’s Rainbow River

Panoramic view of Colorful Caño Cristales River
Daniel / Adobe Stock

The best way to explore Caño Cristales is by joining a tour. Many reputable companies offer tours, so you can be sure to find one that fits your budget and travel style.

Most tours depart from the town of La Macarena, which is located about an hour’s drive from the river. You’ll need to arrange transportation to La Macarena in advance, as it’s not accessible by public transport.

Once you arrive in La Macarena, your tour guide will take a short hike to the river. The hike is relatively easy and should only take about half an hour.

Once you reach the Caño Cristales River, you’ll see why it’s called the Rainbow River. The water is crystal clear and has a unique turquoise color. You’ll also see a plethora of fish swimming in the river.

After you’ve had a chance to explore the river, your tour guide will take you back to La Macarena. You can arrange transportation back to your hotel or the airport from there.

If you’re looking for an unforgettable experience, be sure to add a tour of Caño Cristales to your Colombia itinerary.

What to see at Caño Cristales River

Cano Cristales Scenery

Yes, rainbows exist. Okay. That appears to be a very natural thing. Even though the Caño Cristales River is long, the trees and their lovely colors never reach their entire length.

There are several trails that run through the park that lead not just into the different portions of the river but to different waterfalls, pools, and other sights.

Caño Cristales is a river in Colombia that is well-known for its vibrant colors. The water is stained by different minerals, giving it a rainbow appearance. The Córdobo Cristales river itself is actually quite long, though the trees and their pretty colors never grow throughout the entire length.

There are several trails that run through the park that lead not just into the different portions of the river but to different waterfalls, pools, and other sights.

Caño Cristales is a popular destination for tourists, and many people come to see the water’s unique colors derived from aquatic plants. If you’re planning on visiting Caño Cristales, be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring plenty of water, as the trails can be fairly challenging.

Unfortunately, we haven’t seen them yet, but we’ve witnessed the park’s major attractions over our two days there. Here’s a rundown of the sights and experiences I saw while arguing about arranging it so we could visit different places on a trip.

Cao Piedra

Colorful Caño Cristales River Landscape in Colombia
camaralucida1 / Adobe Stock

It’s what I’ve done in the past. The motorcycle cab driver arrived early to witness the sunrise on the grassland outside La Macarena, as he had previously.

There are tiny sections of the creek where people can swim. Locals like the openness of this location. Sure, but it doesn’t compare to what our buddies saw on their last day at Caño Cristales.

Similarly, if our flight had left early, we might try Laguna instead. Nonetheless, there is a nice way to spend some time outside of La Macarena and see a small bit of the surrounding landscape, particularly when you are tired of hiking.

Los Ochos

Los Ochos, Cano Cristales

Los Ochos is a waterfall series in Colombia that is known for its unique shape. The waterfalls are circular or conical, and they are a fascinating sight to see. If you’re visiting Los Ochos, be sure to bring your camera, as you’ll want to capture the beauty of these falls.

It’s a maze with several Macarenia clavigeras that flow through it before cascading into the formation. The falls may be easily visited, but you should not swim or touch them.

Laguna del Silencio

Laguna del Silencio Scenery

The park is located in the Serrana Macara region east of Cano Cristales. The opportunity to observe animals and a variety of birds, as well as the reflecting water on the lake and surrounding trees, is one of the main draws. It was not the first tourism attraction established due to the Peace Agreement.

This is a great place for a picnic lunch or to relax and take in the scenery. If you’re interested in birdwatching, be sure to bring your binoculars, as over 100 species of birds have been spotted in the park.

While we didn’t see any animals or birds, the scenery was still beautiful, and it was a nice place to relax after our hike.

Pozas Azules

Landscape  of Caño Cristales in Macarena national park, Colombi
camaralucida1 / Adobe Stock

Pozas Azules is a series of blue pools that are located in the Cañon de la Cola de Caballo. The water in these pools is crystal clear, and the views are breathtaking. If you’re visiting Pozas Azules, be sure to bring your camera, as you’ll want to capture the beauty of these pools.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the Pozas Azules, which is located in a different part of the park, and we didn’t have time to hike there. However, from what I’ve seen in the pictures, they are definitely worth a visit.

See Related: Cheapest Places to Visit in the World

Why is the Caño Cristales So Colorful?

Caño Cristales

One of the biggest reasons the Caño Cristales can stay in bloom throughout the entire season is because it is completely devoid of fish life.

This beautiful river contains no drag or sediment, making it impossible for fish to survive. But aquatic plants in the river make this into a liquid rainbow and one of the most spectacular natural wonders in the world.

Though the experience is a little less impressive outside the regular season, the different channels of the Caño Cristales also contain red flora throughout the Winter.

Another reason for the tremendous display of color is the mineral content of the water. The flowing water and high mineral content have formed many circular “pits” throughout the river basin.

As the minerals are deposited on the rocks, they begin to build up, providing life for the flora and fauna of the river. With yellow, green, black, blue, and the ever-present red during the season, nature does put on a colorful show in the Caño Cristales!

Can You Swim in Caño Cristales?

Colorful Caño Cristales river in Macarena national park, Colombia
sunsinger / Adobe Stock

Despite its name, swimming in the Rainbow River is not advised. The currents can be quite strong, and many hidden rocks and boulders can make for a dangerous swim.

In addition, the water temperature can vary drastically depending on the time of year; during the rainy season (usually between May and November), the water is much colder than it is during the dry season.

There are designated swimming areas, but remember you should only go in if you are a good swimmer.

Also, the designated swimming areas are not prohibited if you apply sun cream or bug spray on your body. These products can destroy the precious river plants and algae, making this beautiful river a normal river. Let’s keep Caño Cristales natural and the most beautiful river in Colombia.

Best Places to Stay Near Caño Cristales River

Cano Cristales Nature Scenery

Visitors to the vibrant Caño Cristales River often lodge in La Macarena, a quaint town roughly sixty minutes from the river. This town is well-equipped with a variety of hotels designed to accommodate tourists. Check Booking.com for the best available accommodation in the area.

Alternatively, Villavicencio, located a few hours from Caño Cristales, provides additional lodging options. This area boasts various hotels and resorts with many guest facilities.

Nestled within the department of Meta in Colombia, Caño Cristales River is but one of the many attractions this region has to offer. Villavicencio, the department’s bustling capital, is also located here.

The river lies within the Sierra de la Macarena mountain range, an ecosystem rich with diverse flora and fauna, including the iconic red-and-green macaw.

Moreover, the Caño Cristales is a smaller river branching from the Guayabero River. The expansive Orinoco River, one of South America’s major rivers, supports many fish species.

In addition to the red-and-green macaw, the river’s surroundings are a sanctuary for numerous plant and animal species, such as the majestic Aquilas, the national bird of Colombia.

When is the Best Time to Visit Caño Cristales

Landscape  of Caño Cristales Colombia
RAW6262PRL / Adobe Stock

The best time to visit the Caño Cristales River is June and November. This is the dry season in Colombia, and the river’s water level is at its lowest. This is also the time when the red-and-green macaw is most active.

See Related: Best Black Sand Beaches Around the World

Travel Tips for Visiting Caño Cristales

Colorful Caño Cristales in Colombia
JorgeIvan / Adobe Stock

When considering a trip to the Caño Cristales River, remember that it’s nestled in Colombia’s remote regions, necessitating a well-prepared trek. The river’s jungle environment is home to a diverse array of wildlife, including numerous insects and creatures you might come across.

Additionally, given that the area has a reputation for criminal activity, taking every precaution to ensure your safety while traveling there is crucial.

Are You Thinking About Going to the Caño Cristales?

Caño Cristales, La Macarena National Park
camaralucida1 / Adobe Stock

Tours to see the Caño Cristales can be purchased directly from the La Macarena community website, as well as through several other reputable travel agencies.

Considering the relatively low price that brings about the reward of seeing the River of Five Colors, it isn’t easy to find a better deal for such an incredible experience. The Caño Cristales is calling for you to visit this year… are you ready to see it yourself?

FAQ

How much does it cost to visit Caño Cristales?

Typical Caño Cristales tours cost between $150 and $200 per person.

What is the best time of year to visit Caño Cristales?

The best time of year to visit Caño Cristales is between June and November when the water levels are at their highest and the colors are at their most vibrant.

What should I bring with me on a Caño Cristales tour?

You should bring sunscreen, hats, insect repellents, comfortable walking shoes, and plenty of water.

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  1. arne says:

    Hello!

    Would it be possible to get in touch with someone who can arrange a tour to Cano Cristales from Bogota? We would like to leave in Bogota on 19th of August and get back in Bogota or Villavicencio on 22th of August in the morning.

    Our budget is around 1.200.000 COP !

    Thank you in advance,
    Kind regards,

    Arne

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