Travel Guide : Caño Cristales

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Caño Cristales, nicknamed the river of the 7 colors or the rainbow river or liquid rainbow, is one of the most beautiful rivers in the world. This natural wonder is located near La Macarena, in the department of Meta. It was considered a dangerous area for a long time, but today, Colombians and foreigners visit it safely.

It is complicated to get to this National Park, especially if you go by yourself. To better enjoy this experience (and thus be able to propose it to you), I decided to visit Caño Cristales with a local agency.

We have been traveling in Colombia since 2015, and this destination has blown me away because of its natural beauty.

Bruce and his team can plan you a fantastic multi-day trip to Caño Cristales.
👉  Find out how on this partner page.

In this guide, you will find the best information about Caño Cristales, the famous rainbow river:

  1. 15 points of great interest
  2. Plan your Caño Cristales Tours with a local agency
  3. Visit the Rainbow River on your own
  4. My tips

Ready to get to know paradise?

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15 things to know about Caño Cristales

This section will help you decide if it is a place in Colombia that you want to visit. And if so, how to organize it. Ready to discover this “liquid rainbow”?

 

1# Why is Caño Cristales famous?

Caño cristales Colombia (1)
The Caño Cristales river

There are two reasons for this. 1 – Caño Cristales is nicknamed the Rainbow River because of its multicolored appearance, as you can see in the photo I took on this adventure. It is the most beautiful river of south america that is trending on Instagram accounts. This natural phenomenon only happens during a few months of the year. In some places, geological transformations have given way to natural pools and other splendid forms. 2 – For many years, the area of La Macarena, Caño Cristales, and around was under FARC control. No one could go there. Consequently, travelers wanted to admire it even more – like when your mother tells you, “you can’t touch that glass, Tom.” And you automatically want to touch it even more.

 

2# How can this beautiful river have 7 colors?

Macarenia Clavigera Macarena
Macarenia Clavigera

Thanks to an aquatic plant! Macarenia Clavigera grows in the Caño Cristales river during the rainy season. The color of this plant changes according to its exposure to the sun. It goes from green to brown. Therefore, the five colors of this plant are:

  • Green
  • Pink
  • Red
  • Purple
  • Brown

In addition, sedimentary rocks add a sixth color to the river, yellow! The seventh color is still missing. Actually, I don’t know, maybe orange, what do you think?

 

3# Where is Caño Cristales?

Caño Cristales sur Google Map

The river of 7 colors is located, in south america, in Colombia, inside the National Natural Park Serranía de la Macarena, at the end of its mountain range, in the department of Meta. First, you have to get to La Macarena (point 4#) and fulfill several obligations (point 12#).

 

4# How to get to Caño Cristales?

To get to Caño Cristales, you have to reach the village of La Macarena. There are 2 ways for this.

By Plane to La Macarena

The easiest way is to take a flight from Bogotá, the capital city,  with the company Satena. Please note that there are no daily departures. During the opening months of Caño Cristales National Park, there are usually 3 flights per week: Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday (or Monday if it is a 3-day weekend). There are also small planes (with few seats) departing from Villavicencio or Medellín (less frequent). In both cases, you can choose Bruce’s local agency to take care of everything.

By Road to La Macarena

That’s what we did. It’s long and exhausting, but doable. From Neiva:

  • By bus: From Neiva terminal to Florencia. Departures every 30 minutes. Company: Coomotor. Duration: 5 hours.
  • Then, by cab or shared jeep from the terminal of Florencia to San Vicente del Caguán. Departures every 20min until 20h : Company: Cootranscaqueta : Duration: 3h.
  • Finally, by jeep from the terminal of San Vincente del Caguan to La Macarena. There are 4 departures per day: 7h, 8h, 9h, and 12h30. Schedules are subject to change! | Company: Cootranscaguan. Duration: 6 hours. Note: It is a long trip, and the route San Vicente del Caguán – La Macarena is an unpaved road. Do not expect too much comfort

From San Agustín:

  • By bus: There are many departures all day from “4 Vientos” from San Agustín to Pitalito | Companies: Cootrans Huila, Cootrans Laboyana and others | Duration: 30min – 1h depending on the transport chosen
  • Then by bus from the terminal of Pitalito to Florencia | Companies: Pony Express and others | Duration: 3 hours
  • Finally, from Florencia to La Macarena (see explanation above).

NOTE: the trip by car is not recommended. In addition to being long, uncomfortable and exhausting, the road passes through areas that are not very safe. The option of the plane remains to be preferred. 

 

5# How much Caño Cristales cost?

Caño Cristales is a place you will not be able to visit if you are traveling on a tight budget. These are the costs to expect if you go on your own:

  • Flights Roundtrip: 500 000 COP/pers
  • Lodging: 40 – 120 000 COP/pers/jour
  • Meals: 40 000/pers/day
  • Local taxes: 50 – 120 000 COP/pers
  • Guide + Transportation to Caño Cristales: About 200 000 COP/pers. You will join a group
  • Plus other activities (item 15#)

The total amount will depend on the number of days you need to visit Caño Cristales Park and its 7 colors river. If you do your research, you can find local agencies that sell all-inclusive tour packages for a reasonable price. I recommend you book your experience with Bruce’s agency. I will talk about this in more detail in the next section.

 

6# How long do you need to visit the Rainbow River in Colombia?

Caño Escondido Macarena
Dentro del Parque

Normally, you need one day. There is a 9 km trail that you must follow with your guide. The route is very well done and allows you to admire the river of the 7 colors from several viewpoints. But there are other factors to take into account.

  • You have to register with the administration of the park and listen to an introductory talk.
  • Find a guide.
  • Plan your other days.
  • Catch your flight home. Remember that there are no flights every day.

If you are going alone, I advise you to take at least 5 days. The other option is to use a local agency. They sell packages of 3, 4, or 5 days.

 

7# Caño Cristales is safe

You have nothing to worry about. There is a strong military presence, and many tourists come every year. I never felt unsafe in the town of La Macarena. The locals were lovely to us. Some areas of Meta are not considered safe by the authorities. That is why it is recommended to come by plane, rather than by land.

 

8# Best time to visit Caño Cristales

Opening date Caño CristalesYou have to manage the wet and dry seasons. So, the best time to visit Caño Cristales is from mid-June to the end of November. Two reasons for that:

  1. National Park is close to the public to preserve this environment.
  2. The aquatic plants only grow during the rainy season, from June to November. For the rest of the year, during the dry season, they are in “survival” mode in the riverbed.

 

9#What is the weather like in Caño Cristales?

Caño Cristales Sun protection (1)
To protect us from the sun

Why are we dressed like desert nomads? This is because the sun hits hard and you are not allowed to apply sunscreen (to protect the aquatic plants when you bathe in designated swimming areas). Keep in mind that you will be there during the rainy season. It is warm, so it won’t bother you if it rains. On the other hand, bring a waterproof bag to protect your things.

 

10# Visiting Caño Cristales is not for everyone

Boat ride La Macarena
Our 5 star boat

Caño Cristales is an adventure in nature. You take a small plane to a remote area. You navigate the river in a canoe with plastic chairs for seats. The roads are unpaved, and your butt will bounce 100 times a minute in the jeep. I loved it. But travelers who are used to luxury adventures may be surprised. If you don’t have mobility limitations, you should be able to visit Caño Cristales without too much trouble. The longest hike is 9km, and there is no ascent.

 

11# A limited number of entries

Caño Cristales is a protected area. You cannot visit it as you wish. First of all, you must register at the Centro Ambiente, managed by the organization CorMacarena. There is a limited number of visitors per day allowed in the National Park: 318 in total. This should not be a problem during the week. However, avoid holidays if you want to organize your trip to Caño Cristales at the last minute. Travel agencies will take care of all that if you go with them. Ask Bruce

 

12# Requirements to visit Caño Cristales

Cormacarena is the place where you will have to register and listen to the instructions in order not to damage the National Park and its Rainbow River. Take a look at their video. It is complete ;). In short, you must:

  • Register at the Centro Ambiente
  • Watch a video presentation.
  • Hire a local guide (mandatory).
  • Pay the municipal tax of 50 000 COP
  • Pay the National Park tax
    • Nationals over 25 years old $64.700
    • Nationals under 25 years old $49,200.
    • Nationals under 12 years old $33,100.
    • Nationals over 65 years old EXEMPT.
    • Foreigners from CAN countries (Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru) pay the same as Colombians.
    • Foreigners from the rest of the world $98.300
  • Do not use sun cream. They seriously affect aquatic plants.
  • Plastic containers (bottles, bags…) are prohibited in the national park, as well as repellents. The objective is to keep the place totally clean and natural.
  • You need the authorization to use a drone.
  • Children under 7 years old are not allowed in Caño Cristales Park.
  • Yellow fever vaccination is not mandatory but strongly recommended.

Centro Ambiente | Closed on Tuesday and Sunday afternoons | Opening hours: 7:00 – 12:00 / 14:00 – 17:00

 

13# The hotels in La Macarena

La Manigua Caño Cristales
Credit: La Manigua

The choice of accommodation in La Macarena is limited.

  • Posada Los Cristales: It will be your best option to meet the few backpackers in the area. It’s basic and cheap.
  • El Punto Verde: Nice hotel in the center of La Macarena. Nice green alleys surround the different cabins located near the river. The rooms are simple, comfortable, and clean. The staff is friendly. They do their best to be respectful of the environment. There is also a swimming pool where you can relax and cool off after your excursions.
  • La Fuente: The best hotel in La Macarena. The rooms are spacious and the beds are comfortable. In addition, the staff is attentive and prepares delicious meals. Don’t forget to refresh yourself in the pool at the end of the day 😉
  • La Manigua: Although authentic, the village of La Macarena is not very attractive. If your budget fits, you will live an incredible experience by immersing yourself in nature. La Manigua is an ecolodge located 20 minutes away, on the banks of the Guayabero River. Its wooden cabins are well designed and blend in perfectly with their surroundings.

 

14# Discover the Llanera culture in La Macarena

The “llenera” culture is very present in La Macarena. People eat a lot of meat. There are harpists in the music bands.

15# There are other tourist sites around La Macarena

Raudal Angosturas
Raudal Angosturas

Caño Cristales is undoubtedly the main tourist attraction. But it is not the only one.

  • Have fun in the Caño Piedra River. It is an excellent place to swim because the clarity of the water is incredible. The site is located 8 km from the town of La Macarena. | Duration: half a day | About 60 000 COP – round trip.
  • Go to El Mirador to contemplate the savannah at sunset, which stretches as far as the eye can see. | Duration: a few hours.
  • Discover El Raudal Angosturas during a boat ride on the Guayabero River. You will be able to observe prehistoric birds, caimans, and turtles. | Duration: one-day excursion.
  • Organize an excursion to Caño Canoas – Gigantic waterfalls in a beautiful place | Duration: 1 or 2 days trip | about 150 000 COP for transportation.

With all this information, you should already know if you would like to go to Caño Cristales and see the Colombia’s Rainbow River. The next question is: How will you get there?

Plan Your Caño Cristales Tours With a Local Agency

The main advantage of using the services of a local agency to visit Caño Cristales is that you will eliminate all stressful situations:

  • Find a plane from Bogotá on your own.
  • 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.

Visit Caño Cristales with Bruce’s agency

There are many tour agencies but I recommend Bruce without any hesitations. He is a travel expert who organizes many trips each year.

His agency offers package tours that allow you to adapt your experience to your desires and budget.

In addition to the local guides, a translator will accompany you on your excursions so that you can enjoy the explanations even if you don’t speak Spanish.

Choose the package for your Caño Cristales tour

→ The standard group tours package will allow you to visit Caño Cristales for a reasonable price. You and your private translator will join a small group.

→ With the private/comfort option, you will stay in the best hotel in the area —in the middle of nature, outside the city.  Your Caño Cristales tour will be private. You won’t join another group.  

Choose how many days to stay in Caño Cristales 

Bruce’s first offer is a 3 days and 2 nights tour. It is a pleasant stay, but I always recommend at least 3 nights on site.

You will enjoy the area more and visit other places of interest, even if less spectacular than the Rainbow River. And, you could have the opportunity to revisit Caño Cristales if the weather was not good during your first visit.

More surprises

In addition to the Caño Cristales tour, you’ll enjoy other activities during your stay.

  • The first day, you will land at La Macarena airport. From there, you will discover Caño Cristalitos & El Mirador.
  • On the second day, you will visit the Rainbow River.
  • On the third day, you will pass by Los Pilones before leaving for the rest of your trip.

If you decide to stay 1 or 2 more days, ask Bruce what other exceptional places he can include in your itinerary.

Visit The Rainbow River On Your Own

Do you have time and speak Spanish? Then you may be tempted to plan your adventure in Caño Cristales by yourself. I’ll tell you how to do it here.

Visit The Rainbow River On Your Own

La Macarena is a secluded place that is difficult to reach by road and easier to get by plane.

 

Essential steps to take:

  • Find a plane from Bogota.
  • Register at the Centro Ambiente.
  • Be among the 318 travelers authorized to enter the Park.
  • Hire a guide.
  • Create your itinerary.
  • Knowing where to stay.
  • You will need at least 1 full day in La Macarena to get organized.

Organize your Caño Cristales tours

You will have to organize all your activities once you arrive in La Macarena.

Once there, you can’t do much on your own. Why not? Because there are no signs and you will need transportation and a guide to get to the different places of interest.

To discover the Rainbow River, you will need to register at the Centro Ambiante. Plan to arrive when the office is open. Hopefully, there will be some space left to enter the Park on the day you want to visit.

Finally, almost no guides speak English on site. If you don’t speak a little Spanish, you will struggle to schedule your Caño Cristales tours.

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Tips for Caño Cristales

These are our last tips to enjoy Caño Cristales to the fullest.

 

What to bring to Caño Cristales:

You have to be prepared to walk in a tropical area, under the rain and the sun.

  • Personal towel; you are going to swim in a beautiful river.
  • Clothes for warm weather, light colors (do not overdress, do not wear jeans for the day of the visit of the Rainbow River). Wear a T-shirt with long sleeves to protect you from the sun, a sweatshirt and long pants to avoid rubbing against the savannah vegetation.
  • Swimming suit.
  • Mask or goggles.
  • Hat or cap.
  • Shoes. Preferably tennis shoes that have a good grip and can get wet.
  • An extra pair of sneakers or sandals.
  • Water bottle or Camelback (no plastic bottles allowed).
  • Small flashlight and extra batteries.
  • Sunglasses.
  • Small one day backpack to be used on excursions.
  • Waterproof poncho.
  • Personal hygiene items in small quantities.
  • Cash for small purchases such as drinks, tips, souvenirs, personal expenses and extra activities. Each purchase is a contribution to peace, which generates a better quality of life for the inhabitants of this beautiful part of the country.
  • Personal documents (identity card for Colombians and passport or foreigner’s card for citizens of other countries, vaccination card).
  • Camera.

 

Advice from our partners:

We asked our ally to give us his best tips to visit the Rainbow River in good condition.

  • Plan and prepare your trip in advance.
  • Inform the travel agency at the time of purchase if you are vegetarian, vegan, or are restricted for medical reasons from eating red meat or if you are allergic to any type of food.
  • Respect the fauna and flora.
  • Respect other visitors and local people.
  • Do not wear items of private military use (camouflage clothing).
  • Do not carry or consume toxic, psychoactive, or hallucinogenic substances, and do not consume alcohol in excess.
  • Do not wear jewelry or other valuables that are not necessary.
  • It is not necessary to wear gala clothing or footwear, such as cloth suits, heels, jewelry, etc.
  • You are visiting a nature area.
  • Do not touch the aquatic plants.
  • The use of chemical substances such as repellents, sunscreens, makeup, etc., is prohibited. This avoids water contamination and protects the Caño Cristales ecosystem.
  • It is advisable to be vaccinated against yellow fever 10 days before the trip and to carry the vaccination certificate. Do not forget that you will be visiting an area with varied climates, but mainly tropical.

 

Festivals:

  • November: FESTIVAL DE LA VELLOUSSEA

 

Where to eat:

  • Punto Verde offers its guests a good buffet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Approximately 16,000 COP / pers.
  • Caporal is a Llanero restaurant in La Macarena. Huge tables and lots of meat. Around 20 000 COP/pers | Every day from 6 am to 11 pm.
  • Aramis is a popular restaurant. The menu of the day is huge and it will be difficult to get up from your seat if you eat it all. About 14 000 COP/pers | Every day from 6h to 20h.
  • El Café Litho is a cozy cafe in the center of the Macarena. The decor is fantastic and would make most trendy bars in Paris envious. Go there to enjoy a good coffee and a nice cake for about 6000 COP. You can also dine there 😉 | Open from 6 pm onwards.

 

My opinion about Caño Cristales

With its 7 colors river, Caño Cristales is a unique and spectacular place. It is not easy to get there, and it is expensive. But if your wallet allows it, go ahead! You can organize your own adventure to visit La Macarena. However, I don’t think it is worth it.

The price difference if you go with a local agency is not huge, and the experience will be much better (and easier). Keep in mind that Caño Cristales is part of one of the best national parks in Colombia. So, try to enjoy this place as best as possible.

Bruce’s agency offers 3, 4, and 5-day trips (or more) to explore Caño Cristales. Discover his partner page and do not hesitate to contact him directly using our online form. I recommend them 100%. Choose 4 or 5 days if you can.  

 

Alternatives to Caño Cristaleles

  • This natural phenomenon also occurs in San José del Guaviare. This aquatic plant offer a spectacle less extraordinary than in Caño Cristales but there are more activities, and it is cheaper!

 

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