Colorful riverbed with vibrant algae and serene landscape.

Caño Cristales is known as the River of the 5 colors. Its crystalline waters complement the exotic landscape of the eastern plains of Meta, Colombia.

In the jungle, rivers of lesser length and width are called caños, compared to giants such as the Amazon, Guaviare, Caquetá and Putumayo.

Caño Cristales in a few words

The Caño Cristales does not reach 100 km in length and does not exceed 20 m in width.
The waters of the river flow from the southern part of the Serranía de la Macarena and flow towards the east until they reach the Guayabero River, where they lose all their colors.

Caño Cristales Colombia
Caño Cristales Colombia – Photo Credit @TristanQuevilly

When the waters diminish in the summer the sun dries the Macarenia Clavígera, a plant thus identified by the biologist Jesús Idrobo and that is the one that gives the predominant red color of the river.

The Macarena rocks are 1.2 billion years old and are the western extension of the so-called Guyanese Shield of Venezuela, Guyana and Brazil, whose rocks are considered the oldest on the planet.

Because the river bed is rocky, a moderate rainfall is enough to cause its flow to increase impressively, leaving the traveler isolated on its banks. However, the river usually decreases with the same speed. Caño Cristales is a succession of rapids, waterfalls, streams and pools. The waters are of such purity that you can see the bottom.

Likewise, they are almost completely devoid of fish due to their scarcity of drag and sedimentation materials. Other streams in the Macarena also boast red plants in winter, such as the Caño Siete Machos. These red plants adhere strongly to the rocks in the places where the river has more current. But the most beautiful river is undoubtedly Caño Cristales.

Key Data

  • Altitude: Between 200 and 400 meters above sea level.
  • Temperature: Minimum 18°C. Maximum 33ºC.
  • National Natural Parks Office in La Macarena: Carrera 9 No, 5-08

The world’s richest place in fauna and flora

Kilipp, a scientist at the Smithsonian Institute in the U.S., maintains that the Serranía de la Macarena is the richest place in the world in terms of animal and plant life forms.

The biological importance of the Serranía de la Macarena is due to its participation in three ecosystems rich in diversity of flora and fauna: the Andes Mountains, the Eastern Plains and the Amazon rainforest.

In each gap the new germs hasten their gestations”, says José Eustacio Rivera in La Vorágine, referring to this type of vegetation. In the Macarena jungle, the struggle for nutrients causes the soil to grow fungi of various shapes and colors that help decompose the tree trunks.

Travelers interested in the local fauna may be pleasantly surprised by species such as the soyaco, the trepatroncos, the copetón and the tángara, as well as ocelots, tapirs and chigüiros, which feed on the fruit of a tree native to this region: the moriche.
Although the fauna and flora in La Macarena are abundant, the great attraction of the park lies in the water courses found there.

They are smaller than a river and are called “caños” in the region. In them grow aquatic plants that do not develop roots and adhere to the rocks, giving the streams a chromatic range that goes from yellow to intense red. Among all of them, the most recognized is Caño Cristales, also known as the “River of the Five Colors”.

Activities in the Macarena Mountains

Circuit through the southern zone: The main activity in La Macarena National Natural Park is wildlife observation. To do so, some circuits have been designed that go through the most outstanding and interesting areas for visitors, the most striking being the one that takes place in the southern part of the mountain range.

In this circuit is one of the greatest natural attractions of the region: the Caño Cristales, also known as the “River of the five colors” due to its characteristic red, yellow, green and blue tones, which are produced thanks to the macarenias algae that rest on its bed.

Not only the color is part of the charm of Caño Cristales, but also the course of the water, crystalline by the way, which manifests itself through a succession of waterfalls, rapids, streams and wells.

This flow is born in the south of the Serranía de La Macarena and it flows towards the east until it empties into the Guayabera River, offering one of the most beautiful natural spectacles in the country.

In addition to Caño Cristales, the circuit through the southern zone also includes other attractions such as Caño le Indio, Salto del Águila, Piscina del Turista (known for its calm waters), Salto del Gato, Guejar River and Cascada del Cuarzo, a waterfall that is among the favorites of travelers.

Tours to Caño Cristales

It is not possible to visit Caño Cristales by your own. Since the locals are protective of their heritage, (and rightly so), Caño Cristales can only be visited with a licensed guide. We then recommend that you take a tour from Bogotá or Medellin

One of the best agencies recommended by Lonely Planet is Aventure Colombia, which was one of the pioneers in offering this tour in Colombia.

How to get to Serrania de La Macarena

The most common way to reach the Serranía La Macarena is by air, starting from the city of Villavicencio to the municipality of La Macarena, but there are also flights from Bogotá or Medellin.

Note : Due to weather conditions in the region, sometimes commercial flights do not operate. Therefore, it is best to be aware of the daily information on the subject.

From this point the trip is undertaken towards Caño Cristales, navigating :or the Cuayabero river up to a place known as La Cachivera (distance 8 kms. Approximate travel time 20 min).

From there the journey is made on foot to the river, in a journey that takes approximately three hours.

Where to Stay in the Macarena Mountains

Although there is the possibility of camping on the banks of the Caño Cristales, this has been attributed to the deterioration of the river. For this reason, it is best to stay in the municipality of La Macarena.

What to Eat in the Macarena Mountains

For the stay in the area and during the hikes, it is suggested to bring the necessary food supplies, which can be obtained in the municipality of La Macarena. It is usual to give travelers a cold meat and tubers wrapped in banana leaves to prevent contamination of the region.

What to buy in the Macarena Mountains

Backpacks, chinchorros and egg baskets woven in moriche palm.

Special Recommendations

When is the best time to visit Caño Cristales ?

The best time to travel to the Sierra de La Macarena is between the months of June and November, when the flow of the Caño Cristales has increased and its colors can be better appreciated.

Do I need Yellow Fever Vaccine to visit Caño Cristales ?

Although not mandatory, it is advisable to be vaccinated against yellow fever and tetanus before visiting the area.

What to bring for Caño Cristales ?

Due to the rugged terrain, it is also suggested to bring shoes with good grip and a walking stick to climb steep areas or cross rivers.

How much does the Travel packages to Caño Cristales cost ?

For a 3 day trip to Caño Cristal, prices start at 469 Usd including all food, guides and local transportation. However, it is up to you to take care of the internal transportation costs from Bogota or Medellin