River Of Five Colors, Insider Travel Guide To Caño Cristales (2019)

River Of Five Colors, Insider Travel Guide To Caño Cristales (2019)

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A river of five 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.

While I’m still looking for Mr. Easter Bunny, I know now where to find and admire one of the most beautiful rivers in the world.

The journey isn’t easy. You will have to take boats and jarring jeep rides.

Follow the guidelines in this article to get the smoothiest trip possible.

Ps: After this trip, some of your friends could blacklist you on Instagram. Don’t blame them.

Short video about Caño Cristales

Do you like off the beaten path experience? Check our San Jose del Guaviare travel guide!

The river of five Colors la Macarena
Caño Cristales

Is the river of Five Colors real?

A] How is it even possible?

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

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

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!

Tadam!

B] Where is the river of 5 colors?

Caño Cristales is situed in the Meta (+)

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.

It’s not easy to get there.

First of all, you have to arrive at La Macarena.

Let’s speak about your different options.

Ps: Another option would be to visit Caño Sabana near San José del Guaviare

El Colisé Caño Cristales
El Colisé Caño Cristales

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II] How to get to the most beautiful river in the world

A] How to fly to la Macarena

1. Flights from Bogota to 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.

Not all districts are equal in Bogota. Find out the best ones.

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

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

2. Flights from La Macarena to Bogota (+)

The flights La Macarena – Bogota leave the same days: 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

B] Is it possible to arrive at la Macarena by land?

1. How to arrive by car at 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

Don’t forget to check out our Map of Colombia to find your next destination!

A chicken Truck in La Macarena
A chicken Truck in La Macarena

2. How to arrive by boat 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.

Get all the information about San Jose del Guaviare – La Macarena

C] Book a Charter to La Macarena to get more options

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 Caqueta Travel create air routes to make it affordable.

But, you won’t be able to only buy the flight ticket. It’s part of their Caño Cristales package.

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

Viewpoint on the Llanos Orientales - Savanna
Viewpoint on the Llanos Orientales – Savanna

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How to admire the Rainbow River in Colombia?

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 five colors.

A] What are the best months for Caño Cristales?

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

Note: August and September are the icings on the cake.

The best way of transportation on The Guayabero River
The best way of transportation on The Guayabero River

B] 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 come with a package.

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

C] There are rules to follow to visit the river of five colors

Learn the rules to follow (+)

  • 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 kills the aquatic plants
  • Take a hat
  • 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 for a more in-depth explanation (English & Spanish)

Ronald, our guide in La Macarena
Ronald, our guide in La Macarena

D] What does a day trip to the river of five 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.

1 hour later, we arrived at the entrance to the park. Militaries were playing cards and gave us a quick look. We were among the last visitors of the year and they didn’t even check 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 will not come back there soon!

Militaries at the park entrance of Caño Cristales
Militaries at the park entrance of Caño Cristales

1- The different sections within the National Park Caño Cristales

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 – end of the season – to really appreciate the show.

The Bridge above Cano Escondido
New Wood Bridge above Cano Escondido
Macarenia Clavigera

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 rocks in the bed river and the pink colors of the plants was astonishing.

Carpete Largo in Caño Cristales
Tapete Largo in Caño Cristales

Read the rest of our field trip in Caño Cristales (+)

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 five 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.

Carpete Rojo in Caño Cristales
Tapete Rojo in Caño Cristales

E] What are the other activities other than the river of five colors?

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

More highlights near La Macarena (+)

  • 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
The Raudal Angosturas
The Raudal Angosturas
Caiman resting on the bank of the river
Caiman resting on the bank of the river

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

A] 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 and calculations (+)

  • 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 $

Total La Macarena Without a tour package | 1 pers | 5 days | 485 $

It’s possible to reduce the cost if you take the bus to reach La Macarena. But, it will take more days to organize your trip.

Our Lunch break in Caño Cristales
Our Lunch break in Caño Cristales

B] 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 to with Caqueta Travel to La Macarena will cost 550 USD for 4 days | 610 USD for 5 days

During our trip to La Macarena, we explored the area with Caqueta Travel.

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

We had an excellent time with Caqueta Travel and we highly recommend them 🙂

Caqueta Travel& Geotour offers tours from Bogota & Medellin. The dates are already scheduled for 2019. Don’t hesitate to contact us.

Sunset in the Savanna
Sunset in the Savanna

Where to stay in La Macarena

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.

$: Less than 18 $ | $$: From 18 to 50 $ | $$$: From 51 to 118 $ | $$$$: More than 118 $

Get our favorite options for staying in la Macarena (+)

A] $ – Hostel Caño Cristales – [For Backpackers]

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.

Wifi: Bad | Clothes washing: Yes | Breakfast: No | Air-con: Yes | Kitchen: Yes

The + + + | Hostel Caño Cristales

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

The – – – | Hostel Caño Cristales

  • Bad wifi
  • Small Kitchen
Hostel La Macarena

B] $$ – Finca Tinigua – [Pools & Lovely]

Finca Tinigua is a nice place outside of La Macarena. The place is reserved for the clients of Caqueta Travel. Each night, events are organized to entertain the guests. They can relax in the vast swimming pool and play Tejo – Colombia local game.

Wifi: No | Clothes washing: No | Breakfast: Yes | Air-con: No | Kitchen: No

The + + + | Finca Tinigua in La Macarena

  • Nature
  • Swimming pool
  • Quiet

The – – – | Finca Tinigua in La Macarena

  • No Air-con
  • Basic rooms
Finca Trinigua La Macarena

C] $$$ – 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.

Wifi: Bad | Clothes washing: Yes | Breakfast: Yes | Air-con: Yes/No | Kitchen: No

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)
Punto Verde Hotel in La Macarena

D] $$$ – 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 😉

Wifi: Bad | Clothes washing: Yes | Breakfast: Yes | Air-con: Yes | Kitchen: No

The + + + | La Fuente Hotel in La Macarena

  • Comfortable bed
  • Good meals
  • New spacious rooms
  • Pools
La Fuente Hotel La Macarena

Where to eat in La Macarena

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 23 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 20 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 main dishes 😉 | Open from 6 pm.
Cafe de Lithos in La Macarena
Cafe de Lithos in La Macarena

Is it Mandatory to buy a Package Tour to travel to the River of Five Colors?

No. You don’t have to.

But, it will make your life a lot easier.

  • 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
  • They do a great job

Important

All the tours with Caqueta Travel are in Spanish. But the explanations are pretty basic anyway.

The period to visit Caño Cristales is from Mid June to the End of November

Cascada Los Coarzos in Caño Cristales
Cascada Los Coarzos in Caño Cristales

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The river of five colors travel guide La Macarena
The river of five colors travel guide La Macarena

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