Caño Cristales Blog
According to local legend, the Caño Cristales River escaped from paradise to wander among the mountains and prairies. The river had been known to the native indigenous forever and a day, but it was only discovered in recent times in 1969 when a group of cattle farmers stumbled across the river in full bloom.
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*Caño Cristales can be visited in our 3-5 day five colored river package
The now famed Caño Cristales river is one of Colombia’s most beautiful natural sites and arguably one of the most stunning water phenomena on the planet. The river is born in the southern plateau of the La Macarena mountains range in Meta and is a tributary of the Guayabero river. Flowing for about 100kms/62m, it does not exceed 20 meters in width.
However, there is a lot more to a Caño Cristales tour than just the river. Besides the absolute beauty and allure of the colors of the river, visiting Caño Cristales is worth it alone to see the landscape and features of this region. This expanse is the Serrania de la Macarena and is unique as it is the meeting point of three different ecosystems rich in diversity with flora and fauna, The Andes mountains range, the Amazon, and the eastern plains or Llanos Orientales.
The river itself is located alongside the massive Macarena National Park which is an area home to savannahs, incredible rock formations, and jungles teeming with birds and mammals.
Rare and bountiful wildlife populate an incredibly diverse ecosystem that, for a few months out of the year, gives rise to one of the most fascinating natural wonders on earth, the Caño Cristales liquid rainbow.
*Get all the information you need to start planning your trip to this magnificent destination, check the weather and climate facts of Caño Cristales here!
From December through May, the river is mostly ordinary, albeit composed of interesting rock formations and deep hidden pools.
In June, it erupts into a vibrant spectrum of purples, fuchsias, pinks, yellows, and greens that blanket the river bed. This incredible metamorphosis remains through late November and, although it may seem like magic, it actually takes place as a result of a combination of algae, mineral deposits, and the presence of the endemic plant species macarena clavígera.
One of the miracles of this fragile and finicky ecosystem is that with each new season, the river appears different than it was the year before.
As autumn leaves on a tree, the macarenia clavigera’s growth and color are determined by the annual rainfall, temperature, and sunlight. So, while one year a stretch of the river may be carpeted in crimson, the next it could appear bright green or yellow.
This flowering water plant is incredibly rare, growing only in a few tropical climates of the world. Caño Cristales is the only place where it blooms so prolifically and spectacularly.
Caño Cristales is located in a remote, isolated area not easily accessible. You will fly into the nearby town of La Macarena, and from there it is a short trip to the national park in which Caño Cristales is located.
Hiking in La Macarena mountains over rocks, narrow paths, and up and down slopes, bearing the hot and humid weather of the region, is for adventurous travelers.
Once in the area, in the company of your local guide, you will go by motorized canoe a few kilometers upriver, past monkeys perched in the trees and caimans sunning themselves on the banks, to the cusp of the national park by the mirador (viewpoint), a small hill that rises above the Guayabero river and will give you an unforgettable panoramic view. There are many different trails to pursue before arriving at the Caño Cristales, with great variety and diversity and indeed a degree of difficulty. You will complete one of the trails which can be, among others, Caño Cristalitos, Caño Piedra, or Laguna del Silencio.
A progressive hike up a path before emerging from the jungle will plunge you into landscapes of rocky savannah with lithophyte vegetation. Along the way, you discover traces of the first inhabitants of the region estimated to be about 5,000 years ago.
You will have a fabulous outdoor lunch to recharge your batteries.
A refreshing swim in the crystal water is sensational and seeing the unbelievable variety of colors up close is exhilarating.
After ending the hike you will return to La Macarena and will have a special night with local music and a typical dinner.
*Working out the budget for your travels to Colombia? Then be sure to check out our article on the costs of a package tour to Colombia, and our article on how much money you’ll need while traveling through Colombia.
An early rise with steaming coffee to bring in the dawn on the rooftop of your hotel.
Breakfast follows and then you navigate the Guayabero river to await 4×4 transportation to take you to the start of today´s hike.
This trail leads you through the dry landscape typical along the banks of the river. Look for orchids and other epiphytes that shelter from the scorching sun in the shade of palm trees. You will arrive at today´s site of the Caño Crisatles which consists of an impressive staircase waterfall at the bottom of a narrow gorge. The falls, interspersed with large fuchsia algae colonies are particularly photogenic. This is the upper stream of Caño Cristales for you to enjoy these backdrops that look to have been painted by famous artists.
There is a section that you can climb to reach the base of the waterfall. Here you can swim and listen as the falls tumble down the zig-zag steps, with each step producing its own unique sound.
You may snorkel and discover the few species of fish living in these waters.
A magical experience.
Return to Macarena for the evening. An appetizing dinner with music groups of the Llanos with guitar, maracas, and harp.
*You can also see this amazing phenomenon in Guaviare along with a lot of history and more jungle check out our 4-Days El Guaviare
Up early once again to get the best of the day, you board
your canoe, heading upstream. It pulls up below a magnificent waterfall and you begin your hike up the side of the mountain along a forested path.
Once at the summit, you have a panoramic view of the river stretching for miles in either direction. It is a great moment to appreciate the geography of the region. The landscape then flattens out and you progress across a paramo, characterized by low shrubs, grasses, and even a few palm trees. An hour later, you finally get the first glimpse of a shallow stream carpeted by the scarlet-colored macarenia clavigera unique to this region.
Bend down over the water for a closer look, the unusual plant clings to the underlying rocks and pulsates in the current.
Follow the stream along to a deeper pocket of water where you can jump in to cool off.
Upon retiring to your lodgings you will be invigorated by the experience of the last few days. The extreme effort to reach the Cristales via different trails has reaped a reward of great magnitude.
An evening to reminisce with a splendid dinner and refreshments will leave you enthralled.
Reaching Caño Cristales is one of the bold adventures of life. Few will ever make the escapade.
A great story you will be able to tell for the rest of your life.
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