Travel Guide to the Rainbow River – Caño Cristales – in Colombia 

Known as ‘the most beautiful river in the world’ or ‘the five color river’, Caño Cristales is a must-visit natural attraction in Colombia. Since it is nestled in the wildlife haven that is Sierra de La Macarena National Natural Park, traveling to Caño Cristales is a wonderful ecotourism adventure to enjoy Colombia’s nature at its best.  

In this post, you will find all the information you need to know to travel to Caño Cristales, such as what exactly Caño Cristales is, how to get there, the best time to visit, and also what other attractions you can find at La Macarena National Natural Park. 

Discovering Caño Cristales 

A crystal-clear river flows through the rock formations on a steep plateau in a tropical moist forest reflecting a red tone, with yellow, blue, green, and black hues. This is what Caño Cristales is.  

The unique color of the river is caused by the endemic aquatic plant called Macarenia clavigera, which adheres to the rocks on the riverbed to feed on their minerals. You can find many circular pits, or giant kettles, along the river, which only makes it more authentic. Also, you can enjoy small cascades, rapids, and natural pools that guarantee a relaxing time. 

Caño Cristales is born in the southern plateau of La Macarena mountain range, in the department of Meta, and is a tributary of the Guayabero river. Flowing for about 100 kilometers (62 mi), it does not exceed 20 meters wide. 

How to get to Caño Cristales 

Caño Cristales is located to the north of La Macarena town, in the Meta department, in the center of the country.

The best way to get to La Macarena is by air because the road from Villavicencio is not in good condition and takes too long.

You can drive to Villavicencio from Bogota (2.5 hours) and then take a flight to La Macarena, though.  

Bogotá – La Macarena 

Having said this, there are direct flights from Bogota to La Macarena with Satena airline, only from June to December. These flights leave every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday before midday and take about 1 hour.

The flight back to Bogota leaves the same days in the morning. The other option is to book a charter flight to La Macarena, which departs from El Dorado Airport in Bogota on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. 

Villavicencio – La Macarena 

From Villavicencio’s Vanguardia airport you can also take charter flights any day of the week at different hours, but they usually depart in the morning and fly back in the afternoon. 

Take into account that these planes have small capacity, so you shouldn’t carry a suitcase over 15 kg or a handbag over 5 kg. 

La Macarena – Caño Cristales 

Once in the rural town of La Macarena, an adventurous trip awaits. You must cross the Guayabero river by boat for 20 minutes, a dirt road through the Colombian plains in a 4×4 for 25 minutes and, finally, you must walk 40 to 50 minutes to the entrance to the river.

Here is where all the guided tours to Caño Cristales begin. 

Take a look at the tour map: 

Best Time to Travel to Caño Cristales 

By this time you are probably to add Caño Cristales to your Colombian destinations checklist for your trip to Colombia. Unfortunately, you cannot visit the ‘liquid rainbow’, as it’s otherwise known, all year round.

The tourist season lasts 6 months, from early June to late NovemberThe start or end of the season may vary, depending on weather conditions.

Colombia

During the first half of the year, the entrance to the river is closed since it is when the plants that color the waters have their reproductive period.

So even if you could get to Caño Cristales, you wouldn’t see the majesty of the red water. You can still visit Sierra de La Macarena Park and have a great time. 

Travel to Sierra de La Macarena National Natural Park 

Right in a place where elements from the Orinoco, the Amazon, the Andes, and La Macarena range converge is Sierra de La Macarena National Natural Park. La Macarena range is a western extension of the Guiana Shield and an isolated mountain on Colombian territory. 

This protected area of 605,793 hectares is also an Important Bird and Biodiversity (IBA) due to its avifauna diversity. 

The reserve that comprises 5 municipalities in Meta has variety of vegetation ranging from rainforests, floodable forests, to scrub and herbs. Members of the Guayabero ethnicity are the park rangers that preserve the reserve. 

What to do in La Macarena NNP 

Hiking

Hiking in La Macarena mountains through rocks, narrow paths, up and down slopes, bearing the hot and humid weather of the region, is for adventurous travelers. 

Birdwatching

Birds such as the Speckled Tanager (Tangara guttata), the Straight-billed Woodcreeper (Xiphorhynchus picus), the Red-capped Cardinal (Paroaria gularis), the Black-bellied Cuckoo (Piaya melanogaster) and other 450 species can be found here. 

Wildlife observation

The park hosts incredible fauna, including snakes, Capuchin monkeys, and one of the largest crocodiles on the planet – the Orinoco crocodile. 

Photography

Nature photographers are delighted to shoot amazing postcards of the landscapes in La Macarena NNP. 

Relaxation

The calmness felt in the park, along with the sounds provided by nature are ideal for practicing relaxation activities such as yoga. 

Heritage observation

Near the Guayabero river torrent, where it goes from 300 m to 30 m, there are petroglyphs -or carvings, and pictographs made by the former indigenous inhabitants. Anthropomorphous figures, as well as birds and celestial symbols, stand out.  

Recommendations

Please consider  the following tips for your travel to Caño Cristales and Sierra de La Macarena NNP:

  • You can only enter the park and Caño Cristales with a local tour guide 
  • You have to be vaccinated against yellow fever ten days before your travel to La Macarena. 
  • The entrance fee is COP 53,500 for foreigners. Most agencies take care of the formalities. 
  • If you want to take a refreshing dip in the river, remember not to apply sunscreen or insect repellent before traveling to Caño Cristales since the chemicals are harmful to the aquatic plants. 
  • Know that you are not allowed to swim in certain areas of the river. 
  • Wear appropriate clothes for the hot weather, and also a good pair of hiking shoes with a grip. 
  • Bring enough cash for the trip as it may be hard to draw money from the only ATM in the town. 

This is all you need to know to travel to Caño Cristales in La Macarena!

If you are planning a trip to Colombia, we are happy to help you have an unforgettable nature experience! Contact us

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 About the author

Ana María Parra

Modern Languages professional with an emphasis on business translation. Interested in the cultural adaptation of written and audiovisual content.  Passionate about knowing new cultures and languages, tourism, and sustainable living.