Is there a rainbow river in Colombia?
I know it seems odd. Before Caño Cristales, I thought rainbow rivers were only in three years old kids’ imagination, with unicorns and flying bunnies.
But in Colombia, magic realism doesn’t only exist in Gabriel García Márquez’s books.
Here, nature has no limit.
It is not easy to plan a trip to Caño Cristales, and travelers make many mistakes. Stick with us to find out how to visit the most beautiful rainbow river in the world.
Colombia Rainbow River in a few ⏱️
If you’re in a rush, quickly learn about the most important topics in this post. ⬇️⬇️
Where: You can admire Colombia’s rainbow river in Caño Cristales. The national park is close to La Macarena, in the Meta department.
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 rainy season. Its color changes because of the sun, and it makes the river looks like a liquid rainbow.
Is Caño cristales safe: Yes, 100%.
How to get to La Macarena: You can fly from Bogota with Satena. Some local agencies can organize charters from Cali and Medellin too.
How to visit Caño Cristales: It’s a lot easier to use a local agency’s service. Entrances per day are limited, and visitors must register at the Centro Ambiente. You can’t get inside the park without a local guide. Geotours can help you to organize everything.
Where to stay: The accommodation will be included if you book a travel package. Otherwise, I recommend one of the following hotels:
- Caño Cristales Hostel | Affordable.
- La Fuente | Most comfortable hotel in La Macarena.
- La Manigua | Lovely eco-lodge surrounded by nature.
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. Moreover, there are many interesting sights to visit in addition to the rainbow river.
Our best tips:
- Take long sleeves, pants, 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.
Our partner Geotours del Guaviare will assist you in organizing your trip to Caño Cristales. It’s a dynamic local agency, and we love to work with them. Moreover, their rates are among the most affordable on the internet!
Based on the quality of their services, we have decided to partner with Geotours del Guaviare. Use our online form to contact them easily and get a 5% discount on all their tours!
T. contents: Trip to the rainbow river
- Does the Rainbow River in Colombia exist?
- How to travel to the Rainbow River in Colombia
- How to enter inside Caño Cristales National Park
- Our field report to Colombia’s Rainbow River
- The other highlights nearby La Macarena
- Where to stay in La Macarena
- Where to eat in La Macarena
- What budget for visiting Caño Cristales
- The program to visit La Macarena & Caño Cristales
- The agency’s recommendations
- Pros & Cons to book a tour to La Macarena
- Book your trip to Caño Cristales
Does the Rainbow River in Colombia exist?
Yes, it does!
It’s real name is Caño Cristales.
The expression rainbow river is a tiny 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 the Rainbow River so colorful?
Macarenia Clavigera is an aquatic plant – Not an algae! – that grows in the bed river of Caño Cristales during the rainy season – from June
The color of this plant change according to its sun exposure. It goes from green to brown – when it’s burned by the sun.
Therefore, the 5 colors of the Rainbow River in Colombia are:
Plus, the sedimentary rocks add a 6th color, the Yellow!
2# Where is the rainbow river in Colombia?
Caño Cristales is located in the National Park Natural Serranía de la Macarena, in the Meta department, in the middle of nowhere.
It was an old FARC’s stronghold for a few years. Roads and tourism infrastructures aren’t fantastic. However, it’s more than enough to welcome you in good condition.
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 to La Macarena.
Let’s speak about your different options.
How to travel to the Rainbow River in Colombia
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.
Travel to La Macarena
Click on the filters below to learn how to reach La Macarena. ⬇⬇
How to fly 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.
- Flight Bogota – La Macarena| Duration : 1h20 | Price: Around 240 000 COP
During the opening months of Caño Cristales National Park, there are usually 3 flights per week: Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday (or Monday if it’s a 3-day weekend).
Important: The luggage allowance changes according to the model of the plane.
By jeep from 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.
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 not to sit on the back seats ^^.
Find below the prices & schedules for 2019.
- Jeep San Vicente del Caguan – La Macarena | Duration: 5 – 6 hours | Dirt road | Price : 50 000 COP | 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 | Depature time: 5 am | 7 am | 9 am | 11h30 am
By boat from San Jose del Guaviare to La Macarena
Edit 2020: This boat trip isn’t doable anymore until further notice
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.
Plan a trip to the rainbow river with a local agency
Charters are tiny private planes that everyone can book. However, it’s
Fortunately, travel agencies like Geotours del 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
Want to know more about Caño Cristales all-included packages? Click here to jump directly to this section of the article.
How to enter inside Caño Cristales National Park
Ok. Now that you know how to arrive at La Macarena, there are still a few steps to follow to observe Colombia’s Rainbow River.
Caño Cristales National Park
Click on the filters below to learn how to enter inside Caño Cristales Park. ⬇⬇
1# When observing the rainbow river of Colombia
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 rainy season.
- Colombian Authorities close the park to preserve the environment.
You can visit Caño Cristales from Mid June to the End of November.
You will need to be lucky with the weather to be able to enjoy Caño Cristales fully. Ideally, the river level should be high enough (so regular rainfalls), and the sun should be shining during your visit (so that you can admire the colors of the Macarenia Clavigera aquatic plants).
August and September are considered 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 wish to plan your trip to the Rainbow River at the last minute.
The travel agencies take care of it if you book through them. Want to know more about Caño Cristales all-included packages? Click here to jump directly to this section of the article.
Ambiante| Closed on Tuesday and Sunday Afternoon | Other days: 7h00 am – 12h00 / 14h00 pm – 17h00 pm
3# There are rules to follow to visit Colombia’s Rainbow River
- 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 or repellent- It affects the aquatic plants badly.
- 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 authorization if you want to use a drone.
- Kids under 7 years old can’t enter Caño Cristales.
Watch their video on youtube to get the complete explanation.
Our field report to Colombia’s Rainbow River
Our guide gave us a meeting point at the restaurant El Caporal for a heavy breakfast.
Ronald doesn’t speak good English, but it doesn’t matter. Anyway, almost none of the guides in La Macarena speak English.
Sat at the back of the jeep, I could feel the excitement slowly rising inside me. I was looking all around like a kid while my butt played drum beats on the car’s bunch. It was a jarring ride indeed.
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 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 savannah 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. Suddenly, colors became brighter. The contrast between the green of the vegetation, the blue of the sky, the yellow from the bed river, and the plants’ pink colors 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 rainbow river.
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 crafted 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
The other highlights nearby La Macarena
Yes, the Rainbow River 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. It’s a great place to swim because the clarity of the water is incredible. | Half a day | 60 000 COP – Round Trip.
- Drive through the savannah at the end of the day to contemplate impressive 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 Canoas – Huge Waterfalls | 1 or 2-day trip | 150 000 COP for the transport.
Where to stay in La Macarena
Colombia’s Rainbow River
You will have to find a place to stay if you want to visit Caño Cristales on your own.
- Hostel Caño Cristales: The only hostel in La Macarena. The building is new, and it will be your best chance to meet a few other backpackers. Hammocks are at your disposal so that you can rest after your expeditions. Cheap.
- El Punto Verde: 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.
- La Fuente: 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 😉
- Ecolodge La Manigua: 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.
Where to eat in La Macarena
Colombia’s Rainbow River
There are not many options, and you will probably die if you’re vegan 😀
You’ll be able to find various menu del dia for lunch – around 12 000 COP. It’ll be a bit more expensive for dinner – around 20 000 COP.
- 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 huge, 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.
What budget for visiting Caño Cristales
It’s time to decide if you want to organize your trip to La Macarena with or without the help of a local agency.
1# Travel to La Macarena without a travel agency
Do you have plenty of time and ready to cross the savannah with your machete?
In that case, you could try to reach La Macarena on your own and organize
Knowing that there are no flights every day, you will have to be VERY efficient in the organization of your stay.
Costs to be expected to visit La Macarena and Caño Cristales:
- Flights: 240 000 COP *2 = 480 000 COP
- Accommodation: 60 000 COP * 4 nights – You’ll arrive on Wednesday and leave on Sunday = 240 000 COP
- Meals (L & D) = 40 000 * 5 days = 200 000 COP
- Taxes to pay = 150 000 COP
- Guide + Transport to La Macarena = Around 200 000 COP – You will join a group.
- Other activities (Caño Piedra, Raudal Agosturas, Cristalitos, El Mirador) = Around 350 000 COP
A traveler will spend on average 1 620 000 COP to visit La Macarena and Caño Cristales.
You might be able to reduce the cost if you take a bus then a jeep to reach La Macarena. But, you will need more days to organize this trip.
2# Travel to La Macarena with a local agency
Like San Jose del Guaviare, it’s financially interesting to book a tour to admire the beautiful Rainbow River of Colombia, especially if you don’t have many days to travel to Colombia.
We used the contacts of Geotours del Guaviare to explore La Macarena and had a great time with them.
This agency is now one of our partners for the tailor-made travel services we offer with Colombia Insider.
The rates (2021) of our local partner to organize your trip to La Macarena: 1 950 000 COP (+ 150 000 COP corresponding to the park taxes)
The program to visit La Macarena & Caño Cristales
The main advantage of using the services of a local agency is that you will eliminate all stressful situations:
- Find a plane from Bogotá.
- Register at the Centro Ambiente.
- Be among the 318 travelers authorized to enter the park.
- Find a guide.
- Create your itinerary.
- Know where to sleep.
Key points: All-included Caño Cristales Package
Click on the filters below to learn all about the tour to La Macarena + Caño Cristales ⬇️⬇️
Departure days for Caño Cristales
The agency organizes charter flights from Bogotá. There are 2 days per week:
- Departure on Monday & return on Friday | 5 days
- Departure on Friday & return on Monday | 4 days
The prices remain the same and the agency offers you the extra night, as well as breakfast and dinner.
There are various optional tours to show you the area if you choose to stay 5 days.
The tours to Colombia’s Rainbow River start on 21/06/2021 and end on 12/11/2021.
What are you going to do at La Macarena
The agency proposes a very pleasant plan to enjoy the surroundings of La Macarena and discover the Llanera culture.
- Day 1: Departure from Bogotá, then a jeep tour through the Llanera savannah to admire Caño Piedra, el mirador del rio losada, and Caño Escondido.
- Day 2: Discovery of Caño Cristales National Park.
- Day 3: Excursion by boat to admire Caño Cristalitos and the Terecay turtles. In the evening, the organization of a cultural show on Los Llaneros’s theme (the cowboys of Colombia).
- Day 4: Departure to Bogotá in the morning.
See the “optional” tab for extra activities if you have chosen the 5-day all-included package to La Macarena.
What is included in your trip to La Macarena
The agency takes care of:
- Plane tickets.
- Transportation to various tourist sites.
- The activities mentioned in the program.
- Meals and snacks.
- Local guides.
- Medical assistance.
- Cancellation insurance in case of force majeure (including COVID). Confirm conditions with Geotours del Guaviare.
What’s Not Included
Caño Cristales’s park is a magnificent protected reserve, and it is logical to ask travelers to contribute to its existence.
In total, foreigners have to pay 150,000 COP/pers.
Yes, it is quite expensive to visit the most beautiful river in the world.
Optional expenses for La Macarena
Whether for the 4 or 5-day tour to La Macarena, it is possible to see the sunrise over the Llanera savannah. The most beautiful sceneries are always for travelers who are willing to get up early. | + 80 000 COP
There are also two optional activities for travelers who stay 5 days at La Macarena:
- Ride up the Guayabero River to get to Raudal Angosturas. On the way, you will be able to observe many animals such as caimans and turtles. | Prices vary according to the total number of people. From 190,000 COP/pers (5+)
- Ride up the Guayabero River to reach the mysterious Laguna del Silencio. | Prices vary according to the total number of people. From 220,000 COP/pers (5+)
It is also possible to use the services of a translator (in English) for 120 000 COP/day – Max 6 pers.
Conditions of reservation and cancellation
To confirm your reservation, you will have to pay a 20% deposit. Geotours will send you a payment link where you can pay by credit card through a secure platform.
The balance must be paid at least 15 days before departure.
If you wish to cancel (without this being a reason of force majeure):
- 10% of the total amount is non-refundable in case of cancellation 15 days and more.
- 50% of the total amount is non-refundable if the cancellation is made between 8 and 15 days before the tour’s departure date.
- 70% of the total amount is non-refundable if the cancellation is made between 2 and 7 days before the tour’s departure date.
- No refund if the cancellation is made less than 2 days before the tour’s departure date.
A few other little details
- 10kg max of checked luggage and 3kg of cabin luggage for the charter flight.
- If there is a public holiday during the 4-day tour, there is an extra charge of 90,000 COP to be paid.
- There is a maximum of 19 travelers per tour.
The rates (2021) of our local partner to organize your trip to La Macarena: 1 950 000 COP (+ 150 000 COP corresponding to the park taxes)
The agency’s recommendations
The agency sent us a list of recommendations before travelers leave for La Macarena and its beautiful rainbow river.
Take the time to read it 😉
The agency's advice
- Plan and prepare your trip in advance.
- Inform the travel agency at the time of purchase if you are vegetarian, vegan, or medically forbidden to eat red meat, or are allergic to any food.
- Respect the fauna and flora.
- Respect other visitors and residents.
- Do not carry items of private military use (camouflaged clothing).
- Do not carry or consume toxic, psychoactive, or hallucinogenic substances and abstains from excessive alcohol consumption.
- Do not wear jewelry or other valuables that are not necessary.
- It is not necessary to wear gala clothes or fancy shoes, such as heels. You are visiting a natural area.
- During the hikes, do not separate yourself from the group. The guides will do their best to take care of you, respecting the place’s conditions and culture.
- Do not touch aquatic plants.
- The use of chemical substances such as repellents, sunscreen, make-up, etc., is prohibited. This prevents water contamination and protects the ecosystem of Caño Cristales.
- It is advisable to be vaccinated against yellow fever at least 10 days before the trip and to bring the vaccination certificate. Don’t forget that you will be visiting an area with varied climates, but mainly tropical.
What to bring with you
- Personal towel; you will swim in rivers.
- One spoon (reusable).
- Clothing for a warm climate, light colors (do not bring too many clothes, do not wear jeans on the day of the visit to Caño Cristales). Wear a long-sleeved t-shirt to prevent sun exposure, a sweatshirt, lycra, or long pants to avoid rubbing against the savannah vegetation.
- Bathing suit.
- Mask or goggles.
- Hat or cap.
- Shoes, preferably tennis shoes that have a good grip and can get wet.
- An extra pair of tennis shoes or sandals.
- Water bottle or Camelback (plastic bottles are not allowed).
- Small flashlight and extra batteries.
- Small backpack to be used for hiking.
- Waterproof poncho.
- Personal hygiene items in small quantities.
- Cash for small purchases such as drinks, tips, souvenirs, personal expenses, and extra activities. Each purchase contributes to peace, generating a better quality of life for the people of this beautiful part of the country.
- Personal documents (identity card for Colombians and passport or foreigner’s identity card for citizens of other countries, ID card, vaccination booklet).
Pros & Cons to book a tour to La Macarena
Now it is up to you to decide whether you want to use a local agency’s services or organize your trip to La Macarena by yourself.
Here is a short list of pros and cons in order to make the right decision:
The advantages of an organized tour to La Macarena and its Rainbow River
- The agency takes care of the entire organization.
- You are guaranteed to be able to visit Caño Cristales.
- You will discover more about Llaneras culture.
- You don’t need to speak Spanish.
- You maximize your time on site.
- You will meet many locals and travelers.
The downsides of an organized tour to La Macarena and its Rainbow River
- Groups are generally bigger (19 travelers).
- You cannot decide to stay an extra day if the weather is bad.
- The agency does not offer a tour in Caño Canoas.
In a nutshell, if you are not in a hurry and you speak good Spanish, then you may consider organizing your adventure to La Macarena on your own. If this is not the case, use the services of a travel agency.
Book your trip to Caño Cristales
We have an exclusive partnership with the local agency Geotours del Guaviare. As the reader of Tomplanmytrip, you have got:
- a 5% discount on the 4 or 5-day all included package to visit Caño Cristales and La Macarena.
1# The easy steps to book your trip
- Click on the “Start” button of our form (at point 2# 🔽).
- Answer a few quick and simple questions to help Geotours fit your needs.
- You will receive an email from us to confirm that everything went well.
- Geotours will contact you via WhatsApp or email within 24 hours to organize your trip.
- You will then have to pay a 20% deposit (secure online platform) to confirm your reservation.
2# Our online form to plan your trip!
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