Caño Cristales – Colombia’s rainbow river

By Stef Zisovska
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Caño Cristales – Colombia’s rainbow river

Stef Zisovska
 
Caño Cristales - Author: Mario Carvajal - CC BY 3.0
Caño Cristales - Author: Mario Carvajal - CC BY 3.0
 
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Caño Cristales or the Crystal Channel is a river in Serrania de la Macarena in the province of Meta in Colombia. The river is also known as the Liquid Rainbow or the River of Five Colors.

Caño Cristales’s bottom is a palette of vivid color from June to November, therefore is considered as the most spectacular river in the world. Yellow, green, blue, black, and red are the colors that paint the riverbed, and attract plenty of tourists each year.

Caño Cristales – Author: Astromario – CC BY-SA 3.0
Caño Cristales – Author: Astromario – CC BY-SA 3.0

Firstly people thought that the colors come from the algae and the moss that grow at the bottom of the river. The real reason for the red color is Macarenia clavigera which is a rare plant species that grows in the river. When the plant gets the precise amount of sunlight and water flow, it turns brilliant red. The red plants grow around black rocks, and together with the green algae and the yellow sand, they produce a spectrum of different colors. So actually the liquid rainbow has a good backup explanation. Macarenia clavigera can be seen in other colors as well, which gives the river even greater colorful effect.

Caño Cristales in Los Ochos sector – Author: Mario Carvajal – CC BY 3.0
Caño Cristales in Los Ochos sector – Author: Mario Carvajal – CC BY 3.0

When the level of the water is not that high, then the M. clavigera gets the sunlight it needs to turn red. When the river gets deep during the rainy season, then there is just not enough sun reaching the bottom where this magnificent plant grows. The colors are visible from June when the plant starts to grow, but they are most intense in September and October. It’s also possible to swim in the river, and the water is always warm.

Caño Cristales has lots of rapids and waterfalls along the flow. Also, there are natural stone pools in the river, formed when big rock formations fall into one of the cavities, it is rotated by the water current and begins to carve at the cavity wall creating the pool. These rock fragments are another interesting thing that complements the magical scenery. Serrania de Macarena has a diverse flora and fauna species due to its position between three ecosystems: the Amazon rainforest, the Andes, and the Eastern Llanos. There are more than 420 species of birds, 43 species of reptiles, and 69 primates. The water of Caño Cristales is extremely transparent and clean because of the solid rock bottom formed 1.2 billion years ago. There is a lack of nutrients in the river which increases the water clarity.

Macarenia clavigera up close – Author: Peter Fitzgerald – CC BY 3.0
Macarenia clavigera up close – Author: Peter Fitzgerald – CC BY 3.0

Caño Cristales is located in a remote area not easily accessible by road. Adventurers can fly from Villavicencio to La Macarena and then take a short trip to Serrania de Macarena. From there local guides will help you get to Caño Cristales. You can either take a walking or horseback tour to get to the river. For many years the site was a restricted area for any visitors due to guerrilla activities in the area. Since 2009, the park reopened and there are many tour agencies that offer one day trips to Caño Cristales. Tourists are not allowed to camp, stay overnight or cook. You need to satisfy yourself with just a few hour trip, take a swim, and make some awesome pictures.

Caño Cristales – Author: Astromario – CC BY-SA 3.0
Caño Cristales – Author: Astromario – CC BY-SA 3.0

Caño Cristales is just one more gift of nature that that provokes jaw-dropping reactions. It looks so unreal or like something from a different world. If you ever visit Colombia, make sure to visit this place because it’s worth all the effort. Be nature-friendly and take care of the environment. We don’t have a spare planet, so we must appreciate and love the beauties of this one. Good luck!

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