River Of 5 Colors: A guide to Caño Cristales

River Of 5 Colors: A guide to Caño Cristales

A river of 5 colors?

I know it seems odd. Before Caño Cristales, I thought rainbow rivers were only in the imagination of three years old kids, with unicorns and flying bunnies.

But in Colombia, magic realism is more than a style of fiction used by famous writers.

Here, nature has no limit.

Read our travel guide to find out about the most beautiful river in the world.

River of 5 colors: What you must know

Where: You can admire this mind-blowing show in Caño Cristales. The national park is close to La Macarena.

When: The national park is open from mid-June till the end of November.

What is it: An aquatic plant grows in the bed river during the raining season. Its color changes because of the sun, and it makes the river looks like a liquid rainbow.

How to get to La Macarena: You can fly from Bogota with Satena. Some local agencies organize charters from Cali and Medellin.

How to visit Caño Cristales: It’s a lot easier to use the service of a local agency. Entrances per day are limited, and visitors must register at the Centro Ambiante. You can’t get in without a local guide. Geotours can help you to organize everything.

Is Caño cristales safe: Yes, 100%.

Where to stay: The accommodation will be included if you book a travel package. Otherwise, I recommend you one of the following hotels:

How many days: 4 – 5 days. The show is really extraordinary when the sun is out. By staying for 4 or 5 days, you increase your chance to get a sunny day.

Our best tips: Take long sleeves, a pant, and a hat. It’s forbidden to apply sunscreen on your skin if you enter the park – to protect the aquatic plants. The Centro Ambiente is closed on Tuesday.

Discover our guide on Caño Cristales to access, in a few clicks, all the practical information to visit La Macarena.

Read our La Macarena travel guide

Where to travel after the river of 5 colors

Where to stay? What to do? How to get there? Find easily the answers HERE

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Table of contents: The river of 5 colors

  1. Where is the river of five colors?
  2. How to get there?
  3. How to visit the national park?
  4. Our day trip to Caño Cristales
  5. How much do you need?
  6. Where to stay?
  7. Where to eat?
  8. Should you book a package tour?
  9. Use our guidebook to plan your trip
  10. Let us take care of everything
Tapete Rojo and tom Macarena

Is the river of 5 Colors real?

Yes, there is a river of five colors in Colombia.

However, the expression Liquid Rainbow river is a bit exaggerated. But the guy who found it is a marketing genius.

By the way, we wrote a gigantic post to give you more than 45 places you can visit in Colombia.

1# Why is Caño Cristales so colorful?

Macarenia Clavigera is an aquatic plant – Not an algae! – that grows in the bed river of Caño Cristales during the raining season – from June to November.

The color of this plant change according to its sun exposure. It goes from Green to Brown – When it’s burned.

Hence, the 5 colors of Rio Cristal are:

  • Green
  • Pink
  • Red
  • Purple
  • Brown

Plus, the sedimentary rocks add a 6th color, the Yellow!


2# Where is the river of 5 colors?

Within the Meta department, in the middle of nowhere.

Caño Cristales is located in the National Park Natural Serranía de la Macarena.

It was an old FARC’s stronghold for a few years. Roads and tourism infrastructures aren’t ideal :). And yes, it’s now 100% safe to visit. Read our safety post about Colombia to get a better understanding of the political situation of the country.

It’s not easy to get there.

Let’s speak about your different options.

How to travel to the river of 5 colors

First of all, you need to arrive in La Macarena. The easiest way is to take a small plane from Bogota or book a seat in a charter through a local agency.

1# How to fly to la Macarena

1. Flights Bogota - La Macarena (+)

You don’t like buses and don’t want to book a tour?

Then, you will have to take off from Bogota to reach La Macarena.

As usual, Satena is the only company that you can use.

Flight Bogota – La Macarena| Duration : 1h20 | Price: Around 240 000 COP / 80 $

  • Sunday (Mid-day)
  • Wednesday (Morning)
  • Friday (Morning)

Double-check the departure dates on their website.

2. Flights La Macarena - Bogota (+)

The plane from La Macarena to Bogota leaves Sunday, Wednesday & Friday.

In Colombia, most of the public holidays are on Mondays. Thus Colombians can enjoy 3-day weekends.

If it’s the case, Satena will modify the dates of the flights – Especially the ones planed on Sundays.

Thus, check the flights before creating your itinerary 😉

Important: The luggage allowance changes according to the model of Aircraft

2# Can you reach la Macarena by land?

San Vincente del Caguan to La Macarena (+)

It’s an adventure but it’s doable.

First, you have to arrive in San Vicente del Caguan.

From Bogota, you can take a night bus with Coomotor: 16 h | Around 85 000 COP / 26 $

The bus passes by Neiva (Tatacoa) & Florencia.

Once in San Vicente del Caguan, find the bus office Cootranscaguan and buy your jeep ticket. The road trip is bumpy. Pray to not be at the back of the car ^^.

Jeep San Vicente del Caguan – La Macarena | Duration: 5 – 6 hours | Dirt road | Price : 50 000 COP / 16 $ | Depature time: Every day 7 am | 8 am | 9 am | 12h30

Jeep La Macarena – San Vicente del Caguan | Duration: 5 – 6 hours | Dirt road | Price : 50 000 COP / 16 $ | Depature time: 5 am | 7 am | 9 am | 11h30 am

From San Jose del Guaviare to La Macarena (+)

If you plan to visit San Jose del Guaviare and la Macarena, the easiest way to do it is to take the boat on the Guayabero river.

The landscapes are astonishing. However, it’s a long trip and the boat only leaves on Saturdays from San Jose del Guaviare.

Edit 2020: This boat trip isn’t doable anymore until further notice

Book a Charter to La Macarena to get more options

From Cali, Medellin and Bogota(+)

Charters are tiny private planes that can be booked by everyone. However, it’s an expensive flight as you have to pay for the fuel.

Thus, except if you’re pooping diamonds, you won’t be able to book it for yourself.

Fortunately, travel agencies like Geotour Guaviare include a charter’s seat when you book a Caño Cristales package with them.

Charter Flights Cali, Medellin & Bogota to La Macarena | Duration: 1h20 | Price: Included in the Caño Cristales Package |Days: Monday & Friday

How to visit the river of 5 colors?

Ok. Now that you know how to arrive at La Macarena, there are still a few steps to follow to be able to observe the river of 5 colors.

1# When visiting the river of 5 colors?

Caño Cristales isn’t open to the public all along the year.

Two reasons for that:

  • The Aquatic plant Macarenia Clavigera only grows during the raining season
  • Colombian Authorities close the park to preserve the environment

You can visit Caño Cristales from Mid June to the End of November. August and September are the “best” months.

2# You have to be registered at the Centro Ambiente

Caño Cristales is a protected area. You can’t visit it as you wish.

First and foremost, you have to register at the Centro Ambiente – Environment center – managed by CorMacarena.

There is a limited number of places per day to enter within the National Park. 318 in total.

It shouldn’t be a problem – yet? – during the week. However, avoid the public holidays if you plan to admire the river of 5 colors on your own.

The travel agencies take care of it if you book through them.

Centro Ambiante | Closed on Tuesday and Sunday Afternoon | Other days: 7h00 am – 12h00 / 14h00 pm – 17h00 pm

3# There are rules to follow to visit the river of 5 colors

The main rules (+)

  • Once registered at the Centro Ambiente, you have to watch an introduction video
  • You have to hire a local guide
  • Pay the different taxes
  • Don’t use sunscreen – It affects badly the aquatic plants
  • Bring a hat with you
  • Plastic bottles, plastic bags, and repellents are forbidden – To keep the site clean. You can buy a cheap gourde
  • You need the authorization to use a drone
  • Kids under 7 years old can’t enter in Caño Cristales

Watch their video on youtube to get the complete explanation.

What does a trip to the river of 5 colors look like?

Our guide gave us a meeting point at the restaurant El Caporal for a heavy breakfast.

Ronald doesn’t speak good English, but we didn’t need it thanks to our 2 Spanish weeks with Colombia Immersion :p. Anyway, none of the guides in La Macarena speak English.

Sat at the back of the jeep, I could feel the excitement slowly growing inside me. I was looking all around like a kid while my butt played some drum beats on the car’s bunch. It was a jarring ride indeed.

Our field trip in Caño Cristales (+)

1 hour later, we arrived at the park entrance. Militaries were playing cards and gave us a quick glimpse. We were among the last visitors of the year and they didn’t even check out our bags.

It allowed us to save some precious time within the park as we had to be back before 4 pm.

The trail is only 9 km long, but it takes time to appreciate the numerous spots. We knew we would not come back any time soon!

It was an easy hike through the savanna del Parque La Macarena. Ronald led us to the different highlights of the park while communicating with the other guides. Thus, there are not dozens of people in the same spot.

Caño Escondido and Cascada la Virgen were the appetizers. We could observe the pink aquatic plants, but the water was too shallow – the end of the season – to appreciate the show.

Moreover, the pictures I found on the internet were way too edited to match with reality.

I had to admit I was a bit disappointed at first.

People should stop lying on their pictures! And we always should below our expectations 🙂

Then, after our lunch break at Cascada Los Pianos, everything changed.

The sun finally decided to show up while we were above Tapete Largo. In a second, all the colors became brighter. The contrast between the green of the vegetation, the blue of the sky, the yellow from the bed river, and the pink colors of the plants was astonishing.

We stopped at another waterfall – Los Cuarzos – for a quick dip on our way to Tapete Rojo.

After that, it was an outburst of colors. Tapete Rojo is to Caño Cristales what Guernica is to Picasso. A masterpiece.

It was my favorite spot to appreciate the river of 5 colors.

And that was not all!

Like in San Jose del Guaviare, the bed river is made of sedimentary rocks. Throughout the years, the erosion caused by the water has created mesmerizing sceneries.

Los Ochos and the Coliseo are two of the spots where we could admire Mother Nature’s work.

Then it was time to get back to La Macarena. But not without enjoying a last swim in the clear water of Piscina Cristal.

Are there other highlights nearby la Macarena?

Yes, the river of the 5 colors is the main tourist attraction. But, it’s not the only one.

  • Have fun in Caño Piedra, a place located 8 km away from the town La Macarena | Half a day | 60 000 COP – Round Trip
  • Drive in the savanna at the end of the day to contemplate gorgeous sunsets | A couple of hours
  • Enjoy a boat trip to the Raudal Angosturas on the Guayabero river. You will be able to spot birds, caimans, and turtles | Full day trip
  • Organize an expedition to Caño Canoa – Huge Waterfalls | 1 or 2-day trip | 150 000 COP for the transport | Field trip here

How much does it cost to admire the river of 5 colors?

It’s time to decide if you want to do it with or without a tour package.

1# La Macarena Without a Tour Package

Do you have plenty of time and ready to cross the savanna with your machete?

In that case, you could try to reach La Macarena on your own and organize your tours to the river of five colors once you’re there.

Get the numbers (+)

  • Flight: 80 $ *2 = 160 $
  • Accommodations: 20 $ * 4 nights – You arrive on Wednesday and you leave on Sunday = 80 $
  • Meals (L & D) = 12 $ * 5 days = 60 $
  • 3 Tax Entrances = 131 000 COP / 45 $
  • Guide + Transport to La Macarena = 50 $ – You will join a group
  • Other activities (Caño Piedra & Raudal Agosturas) = 90 $

A traveler might spend at least 485 $ (5 days) to visit La Macarena and Caño Cristales.

You might be able to reduce the cost if you take the bus to reach La Macarena. But, you will need more days to organize your trip.

2# La Macarena with a Package Tour

Like San Jose del Guaviare, it’s financially interesting to book a tour to admire the river of five colors, especially if you don’t have many days to travel to Colombia.

In average, a package tour with Geotour to La Macarena will cost 575 USD for 4 days | 625 USD for 5 days

We used their services to explore La Macarena and we had an excellent time with them.

What does this package include (+)

  • A direct flight ticket from Cali, Medellin or Bogota – Round Trip
  • Pick up at the airports
  • 1/2 day trip exploring the Savanna around la Macarena
  • Day trip to Caño Cristales
  • Day trip to the river Guayabero to reach the Raudal Angosturas and observe wildlife
  • 1/2 day trip to admire the sunrise in the Savanna around la Macarena
  • 3 nights in a Finca with a swimming pool and games
  • 3 meals per day
  • All the transportations and taxes

Where to stay in La Macarena

The river of 5 colors

You will have to find a place to stay if you want to visit Caño Cristales on your own.

We have visited different places to help you to make the right choice.

1# $ – Hostel Caño Cristales – Cheap and clean

Hostel Caño Cristales is the only hostel in La Macarena. The building is new and it will be your best chance to meet the few other backpackers. Hammocks are at disposal so you can rest after your expeditions.

Hostel La Macarena

More about this hostel (+)

The + + + | Hostel Caño Cristales

  • Hammocks
  • Cheap
  • You can find a guide easily
  • Modern

The – – – | Hostel Caño Cristales

  • Bad wifi
  • Small Kitchen

2# $$$ – El Punto Verde – Green & Clean

El Punto Verde is a nice hotel in the center of La Macarena. Lovely green alleys surround the different cabanas nestled near the river. Rooms are simple, comfortable and clean. Pleasant staff. They do their best to be eco-friendly. Also, there is a pool where you can relax after your excursions.

Punto Verde Hotel in La Macarena

More about this hostel (+)

The + + + | El Punto Verde Hotel La Macarena

  • Pool
  • Peaceful & Green

The – – – | El Punto Verde Hotel La Macarena

  • Not all the rooms have Air-con
  • Rooms are basics (For the price)

3# $$$ – La Fuente – Best hotel in Town

Hotel La Fuente is the best hotel in La Macarena. Rooms are spacious and beds are comfortable. Moreover, the staff is friendly and cooks delicious meals. Don’t forget to take a dip in the pool 😉

La Fuente Hotel La Macarena

More about this hostel (+)

The + + + | La Fuente Hotel in La Macarena

  • Comfortable bed
  • Good meals
  • New spacious rooms
  • Pools

4# $$$$ – La Manigua – Hidden Ecolodge

Albeit authentic, the town of La Macarena isn’t appealing. If your budget allows it, you’ll get a better experience if you immerse yourself in nature. La Manigua is an ecolodge located 20 min away on the Guayabero river bank. Their wooden cabins are well-built and blend perfectly in their environment. They also offer package tours.

La Manigua Caño Cristales

More about this hostel (+)

The + + + | La Manigua Ecolodge

  • Idyllic setting
  • Delicious food
  • Cozy cabins
  • Wildness
  • Animal
  • Personalized services
  • They organize day-trips for their clients

Where to eat in La Macarena

The river of 5 colors

There are not many options, and you will probably die if you’re vegan.

Every restaurant will offer a menu del dia for less than 12 000 COP – It’s a bit more expensive for dinner. I write down the most famous ones.

List of our favorite restaurants (+)

  • Punto Verde serves a tasteful buffet to their guests for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Join them and make new friends! – 16 000 COP / pers 
  • Caporal is a Colombian Llaneros restaurant in La Macarena. Huge tables and lots of overcooked meats. – Around 20 000 COP / pers | Every day from 6 am to 11 pm
  • Aramis is THE local restaurant. The menu del dia is massive and you will have to roll from your seat to quit this place. – Around 14 000 COP / pers | Every day from 6 am to 8 pm
  • Cafe Litho is a cozy coffee in the center of la Macarena. The decoration is fantastic and would make jealous most of the trendy-hipster bars in Paris/Berlin. Stop there to enjoy a good coffee and delicious pastries for 1 or 2 dollars. They also serve various meals 😉 | Open from 6 pm.

Is it Mandatory to book a Package Tour to travel to the River of 5 Colors?

No. You don’t have to.

But, it will make your life a lot easier when creating your Colombia itinerary.

  • Nobody speaks English in La Macarena. Thus, it’s a bit complicated to organize your trip on your own if you don’t speak like Antonio Banderas.
  • It will cost you almost the same if you’re traveling alone or as a couple.
  • They organize everything for you – Peace of mind!
  • You meet other travelers – You will be able to avoid your travel buddy

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