La Macarena is a municipality located in the department of Meta, Colombia, with natural reserves such as the Sierra de la Macarena Natural National Park which has become internationally known for the seven colors river, Caño Cristales.
The sierra also has petroglyphs of ancient cultures in the Angosturas I and II sectors, in the Guayabero River. There are also enormous waterfalls, such as the Caño Canoas Waterfall, the Yarumales Waterfall, the Mico Waterfall, Soplaculos among others, which are difficult to reach due to the steep terrain.
This region of Colombia has been hard hit by the armed conflict, the planting of illicit crops, extensive cattle ranching and large-scale deforestation. Even after the signing of the peace agreement, it is a territory that continues to undergo a slow process of re-organization of the territory and the role of the people who inhabit it.
Ecotourism and community-based tourism is one of the lines that the local community is developing, taking advantage of the impressive natural wealth of the territory. Plans include the creation of ecological trails where visitors can also participate in the restoration process by planting a tree.
They also want to promote other destinations that activate tourist visits at times other than Caño Cristales, and thus have an income derived from tourism activity throughout the year.
Sierra de la Macarena is a Territory of Great Value for Humanity
The Sierra de La Macarena National Natural Park is located in the department of Meta, in a strategic location where the Andes, the Orinoco Savannah, the Guyanese Shield and the Amazonian plain converge, giving it a hyper mega biodiversity character, a true biological heritage for humanity.
The protected area also connects with the Tinigua and Picachos National Parks.
Sierra de la Macarena
The Sierra de la Macarena is an isolated mountain range that due to its nature, location and type of soil is home to endemic species of flora and fauna, that is to say that only exist in that place. An example of these is the aquatic plant Macarenia clavijera, which gives the reddish, pink and greenish colors to Caño Cristales, the region’s tourist destination par excellence.
Eighty-three percent of the Macarena mountain range is made up of humid forest (tropical humid zone) with an area of 5030 km², in addition to the herbaceous vegetation of the Amazon plain. La Macarena is considered worldwide as one of the most important wildlife refuges on the planet.
Thus, this natural treasure has extraordinary landscapes that are world icons such as the above mentioned Caño Cristales, as well as unique species such as the cumin tree (Aniba perutilis), the jaguar (Panthera onca) and the tapir (Tapirus bairdii).
Effects of the Armed Conflict and the Peace Process in La Macarena
During the 1970s, the Macarena sector experienced an increase in population due to the fur trade and foreign tourism, but unfortunately, in the 1980s, the logging boom began. Besides that, for more than 40 years La Macarena and surrounding municipalities were occupied by blocks of the former FARC-EP guerrilla and other armed groups in constant conflict.
Guerrilla occupation generated many displacements and a difficult task for the conservation processes of the National Park System and non-profit organizations such as WWF. In fact, no inhabitant could move freely without a mobility permit issued by the FARC.
At the same time, this territory has been the scene of territorial and socio-environmental conflicts related to land ownership, extensive cattle ranching, deforestation, illicit crops, and the presence of armed actors. Despite the efforts and hope brought about by the Peace Agreement, disputes and conflicts in this region were reconfigured and exacerbated after its signing in 2016, increasing the challenges for the conservation of these strategic ecosystems and for peace building in the communities.
Community Actions for Conservation
In the midst of this complex context, some small farmer families living in the Sierra de La Macarena have decided to make a commitment to conservation and are now participating in ecological restoration processes with the production and planting of native tree species, and with ecotourism entrepreneurship.
Tourism appeared as a saving option. Today, in fact, it is for 350 families who live directly from the income generated by this activity. People who work in simple but clean hotels, cooking for tourists, as guides, canoeists, and drivers. Even translators, although so far they only have three who speak English.
Thus, the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism (MinCit) o Colombia has generated strategies to promote sustainable tourism and support the communities of La Macarena.
Sierra de la Macarena National Natural park
Sierra de la Macarena NNP is in the department of Meta, in the Andean foothills of the Amazon rainforest. In this part of the country, the Andean, Amazonian and Orinoco ecosystems converge, and it has a territorial extension of 10,000 km².
This protected area was created by Decree 1989 of September 1, 1989 and covers an area of 605,793 hectares distributed in 5 municipalities in the southern part of the department of Meta.
The park’s Environmental Management Plan incorporates an ecotourism management plan, which indicates the possible scenarios for this activity. Currently, there are only two characterized scenarios with defined carrying capacity and regulations: Caño Cristales and Raudal Angosturas 1.
Other scenarios have been identified but are not yet regulated for visits, including the La Paz Ecological Trail, the Santo Domingo and Cafetales waterfalls in Mesetas and San Juan de Arama, as well as Raudal II near Puerto Concordia. Thus, these areas cannot be visited because they are still in the process of being organized.
Tourist attractions of Sierra de la Macarena National Natural Park
Today it is possible to visit Caño Cristales with its new trails and the Raudal Angosturas I, thanks to the articulated work that has been carried out since 2014 with the creation of the Mesa Ruta Sierra de la Macarena and the need to expand the supply of ecotourism trails in the Caño Cristales sector, as well as to carry out sufficient technical procedures to implement new ecotourism scenarios that will involve a larger population in the community benefits of tourism in the municipality of La Macarena.
Caño Cristales, the Rainbow River
The Macarena’s most recognized attraction in the area is Caño Cristales, better known as “the river of the five colors”, “the most beautiful river in the world” or “the river that escaped from paradise”; one poet even called it “the rainbow that melted”.
Macarenia clavigera, an aquatic plant endemic to the Macarena, is what allows the river’s crystalline and shallow waters to offer a variety of colors that visitors can appreciate. The extension of the river does not exceed 100 kilometers and has a width of no more than 20 meters, which flows into the Guayabero River. The trails established to learn more about this beautiful place are five circuits of stone and plants, ranging from 3 to 15 kilometers in length.
For more information about Cano Cristales visit our entry Travel Guide to the Rainbow River – Caño Cristales – in Colombia.
Raudal de Angostura I and Ciudad de Piedra
The Raudal Angosturas I destination opened in 2017, as a new ecotourism scenario for the enjoyment of tourists from Colombia and the world. It is a project where you can appreciate the pre-Columbian petroglyphs carved in rocks in low relief that tell the story of the ancestors of the Tinigua tribe when they lived in this area. In turn, Ciudad de Piedra is a trail composed of huge gray rock formations carved over centuries by the force of water.
Many local and national organizations worked together to create this tourist destination, among them, National Natural Parks of Colombia, Cormacarena, the Governor’s Office of Meta, the Mayor’s Office of La Macarena and other members that are part of the Technical Tourism Board: Sierra de la Macarena Route.
Raudal Angosturas I is located between the border of the Sierra de la Macarena and Tinigua National Parks and in the Recovery Zone for Southern Preservation in the municipality of La Macarena, Meta.
This natural wonder contains engraved in its petroglyphs the history of the Tinigua Indians and also the footprint of the armed conflict in Colombia.
The Military Forces of the region support this process of ecotourism management, since it will ensure the safety of those who will enjoy nature tourism in the Macarena Special Management Area.
If you wish to visit the other tourist attractions, you must have a guide specialized in the area, but you must inform the park facilities in the municipality of Granada, Meta.
How to get to Sierra de la Macarena National Natural Park
The following alternatives are the most time efficient, as it is possible to arrive by land but the time will be longer, and probably not safe.
Via Bogotá – La Macarena
Take a 1-hour flight from El Dorado International Airport (BOG) Bogotá to La Macarena Airport (LMC) at La Macarena city with Satena airline. There are also private charter flights that take you there.
Via Cali – Villavicencio – La Macarena
Take a 1-hour flight from Alfonso Bonilla Aragón International Airport in Palmira to Vanguardia Airport (VVC) at La Villavicencio city. Once at the airport, take an approximately 1- hour ride to La Macarena.
What to do in Sierra de la Macarena National Natural Park
Hiking in La Macarena
There are 6 ecotourism trails allowed, which can be done walking or with the help of a horse, and are distributed as follows:
Caño Cristales Ecotourism Scenario, Colors subarea:
- Salto del Aguila: the number of people allowed daily is 75.
- Los Pianos: the number of people allowed per day is 62.
- Caño Escondido: the number of people allowed per day is 37.
- Intermedio: the number of people allowed per day is 42.
In this scenario you can appreciate the landscape, characteristic vegetation, geological formation, waterfalls, natural pools, aquatic plants (Macarenia clavijera) red, fuchsia and pink; in addition to bird watching.
Scenario Raudal de Angosturas I
- Ciudad de Piedra: the number of people allowed daily is 37.
In this trail you can do bird watching tour geological formation and rocky outcrop, in addition to the Caño with red plants.
Scenario Mirador Cristalitos
- Mirador-cristalitos: the number of people allowed daily is 87.
This trail has pictograms, a panoramic view of the convergence of the three ecosystems along its route.
Bear in mind that the trails mentioned above are only authorized by the environmental authorities o the park and may have variations in the routes, which visitors will be informed of when registering. You cannot choose the trail to visit, it is assigned by the authorities and given in order of registration.
Birdwatching at Sierra de la Macarena
There are more than 450 bird species registered in the la Macarena, represented in 65 families, which means that 27% of the Colombian avifauna is present in the park. Dominant bird species are from the Guianas, Amazon and, to a lesser extent, the Andean region.
The following bird species have been recorded from the Amazon: Paroaria gularis gularis, Piaya melanogaster, Electron platyrhynchum pyrrholaemum; from the Andes: Asio flammeus, Trogon personatus personatus, Campephilus pollens, Cistothorus platensis tamae; migratory birds from North America: Anas discors, Pandion haliaetus carolinensis, Actitis macularia, and Coccyzus americanus americanus.
Where to stay in Sierra de la Macarena National Natural Park
Sierra de la Macarena Natural National Park does not currently offer accommodation for travelers, it is possible to stay in La Macarena. Our recommendation of hotels are is La Manigua Lodge, a beautiful ecolodge recently installed in the area. Know more about ecolodges in Colombia in our entry Complete Guide to the Best Eco lodges in Colombia.
Best time to visit Sierra de la Macarena National Natural Park
The main attraction of La Macarena, Caño Cristales, only receives visitors during the winter season, that is, between June and December; for the summer season the community allows the aquatic plants to recover. However, Raudal de Angosturas I is open all year round.
Dry season on the eastern side of La Macarena starts at the beginning of December until late of February at a temperature of 24º C (75 ºF). On the western side the rainfall regime is bimodal, it also has 2 dry periods separated by rainy seasons.
Sierra de la Macarena National Natural Park Entrance fees
The entrance fee varies depending on the nationality and age of the visitors. These are the entrance fees for 2021:
- Colombians, resident foreigners and tourists from Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru (ages 5 to 25): COP 19,500
- Colombians, resident foreigners and tourists from Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru (over 25 years old): COP 35,500
- Non-resident foreigners (over 5 years old): COP 53,500
- Children under 5 years old and Colombians over 65 years old have free entrance presenting their IDs.
What to consider before visiting Sierra de la Macarena National Natural Park
- To take any of the tours inside the park you must hire an authorized and certified guide.
- Consider wearing personal protective items (sunscreen, sunglasses, insect repellent, and hat).
- The use of flash when taking photographs is prohibited.
- Use of binoculars to watch animals’ behavior is recommended.
- Bring along valid identification documents and health insurance.
- It is recommended to be vaccinated against yellow fever and tetanus.
- If you take specific medications, take them with you a personal first aid kit.
Feeding, bothering or hunting animals, alcoholic drinks and drugs, throwing cigarette butts, burning garbage, felling, and capturing wildlife.
About the authors
The current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism-environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services, and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.
Engineer, world traveler, amateur photographer, traveling blogger, and foody.