Located within Colombia’s Serranía de la Macarena national park, in the country’s Meta province, is one of the most unusual natural wonders on the planet: A multi-colored river called Caño Cristales, sometimes referred to as “River of Five Colors.”
Surrounded on all sides by lush green jungle, the river cuts through tiered rock formations. But this is no normal river: The river bed is blanketed in rare red, yellow, green, blue and black plant life that resembles algae or seaweed. In fact, these plants are called macarenia clavigera and are actually a type of riverweed – and they don’t bloom with such abundance anywhere else on earth.
According to CNN, Colombia is the only place in the world where this exact phenomenon takes place, because of its position at the convergence of the Colombian Amazon and Orinoco rivers – making it one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet.
The best time to visit Caño Cristales
The best time to visit Caño Cristales is from July and October, when the flourishing plant life is at its most vivid. However, the colorful plant life is still visible from the end of May into November.
You don’t want to visit too early – like in April, for instance – when Colombia is experiencing its rainy season. The river runs too high and deep for sunlight to penetrate the river, giving the plants the light they need to grow.
How to get to Caño Cristales
The closest town to the river is La Macarena. There is no camping or overnight stay allowed in Serranía de la Macarena, so if you’re planning to visit, you will need to stay in La Macarena. There are flights to the local airport from both Bogotá and Medellin. Make sure you are vaccinated for yellow fever before booking your flight; sometimes passengers are not allowed to board the plane without proof of yellow fever vaccination.
Overtourism to Caño Cristales became such a problem that it closed to tourists in 2019 for 18 months, which helped the river recover from the impact of an overwhelming human footprint. Today, potential visitors can only visit the river with a government-licensed tour guide, and visitors will also have to purchase a permit before entering the park. Some tour guides offer three days packages that include hotels and airfares in the total price.
Booking a tour guide in advance will guarantee that you can get a permit for the park. Only 200 visitors are allowed to travel to the section of the park where the river is located per day, so having your permit in advance is essential. Tour guides will also lead their groups to the parts of the river where it’s safe to swim without disturbing the delicate plants.