Often called the “River of Five Colors” or “Liquid Rainbow,” Caño Cristales is one of the world's most beautiful rivers. Set in Serrania de la Macarena National Park, Caño Cristales flows over a riverbed that, several months per year, blooms with vibrant aquatic plants, creating a natural phenomenon that has to be seen to be believed.
The only way to explore Caño Cristales and the national park is with a guide, and it's best to book a 3- or 4-day tour from Bogotá, Medellín, or La Macarena Airport. Excursions typically include activities such as a boat cruise along the Guayabero River, hiking the rain forest, swimming in natural pools and waterfalls, and photo stops at locations such as Los Ochos, Karol Cristal pool, and Brazo Pianos.
Things to Know Before You Go
- There are few visitor facilities in the national park but most tours include accommodations, meals, and 4WD transport.
- Swimming is only permitted in designated areas, and swimmers are forbidden to wear sunscreen, mosquito repellent, or other substances that might damage the fragile ecosystems.
- Tours include a fair amount of hiking and are best suited to travelers with a moderate fitness level.
How to Get There
Caño Cristales is located in a remote area of central Colombia, just north of the town of La Macarena. This sight is only accessible with the help of a guide. Charter flights run to La Macarena, and from there, your tour guide can take you into Serrania de la Macarena National Park.
When to Get There
Visit between September and November to see Caño Cristales in full bloom. The most impressive time to visit is after heavy rainfall, when the aquatic plants will be at their most lush and vivid.
The Natural Wonders of Caño Cristales
During much of the year, Caño Cristales looks much like any other river, but during the months between the wet and dry seasons, Caño Cristales blossoms with vibrant colors. This natural occurrence is caused by an eruption of aquatic plant life, which transforms the river into a blanket of brilliant red—thanks to the macarenia clavigera growing on the riverbed—offset by dark oranges, and deep greens and yellows, from various other mosses and algae.