There are pink lakes, real-life desert oases, and lavender labyrinths…and now you can add rainbow rivers to the list of surreal jaw-dropping wonders you need to see to believe. The Caño Cristales river in Colombia is 100km long and features vibrant hues of orange, red, yellow, green, and blue. In fact, it’s the only place on earth here you’ll see such an otherworldly natural masterpiece.
Located in central Colombia, the Caño Cristales is found in Meta’s Serrania de la Macarena province in a remote, isolated area not easily accessible by road. Tourists can now fly into the nearby town of La Macarena followed by a short trip to “Serrania de la Macarena”, the national park in which Caño Cristales is located.
Locally, the Caño Cristales river is known as the “River of Five Colors”, and it’s often named among the most beautiful natural wonders in the world. Between the wet and dry seasons (from July until November) the colors that make up the river are at their most vivid.
A Liquid Rainbow
One of the reasons the Caño Cristales river is so special and produces such a unique feature, is because it’s surrounded by three very diverse ecosystems: the Andes, Amazon rainforests, and the plains of the Eastern Llanos. Therefore, the diversity of animal species, flora and fauna, and geological conditions all contribute to the area’s special qualities.
There are many potholes along the river, this is due to the fact that the river is fast-flowing, with quite a few rapids. How the potholes are formed is pretty rad…basically when a big rock falls into a small pit the current forces it to naturally rotate and carve the pit into a larger pothole.
The Caño Cristales river in Colombia is alive
The river water of the Caño Cristales is ridiculously clean and clear. The color of the river comes from a water plant called “Macarenia Clavigera”, an endemic aquatic species. The red plant grows and sticks to the rocks. This is what gives the water its’ colorful vibrancy. Though it fluctuates subtly year to year, the best time to see the river’s many colors is between June and December. This is because the dry season typically falls between January and May, during which time visitation by tourists is prohibited.
Featured image by Mario Carvajal via wikimedia commons.
The Caño Cristales river was closed to tourists for several years because it was the heart of Farc (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrilla territory. 10 years ago, the state military went on the offensive to take La Macarena back from Farc. However, the area remained closed to tourists because of conservationalists having concerns about the impact of unregulated tourist traffic.
This was revoked in 2009 and in 2014, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office removed Caño Cristales from the warning list to avoid “all-but-essential travel”.
Today you’ll find that there are many guided tours to the Caño Cristales river by reputable Colombian Tourist Agencies. Trips include flights into La Macarena, three days and two nights in the town, followed by traveling by horseback (or donkeyback) or by foot to the river. Some packages may also include jeep ride, short canoe trips and one-hour hikes.