The natural paradise of Caño Cristales has been given many names ranging from the most beautiful river of the world, river of the five colors until Colombia’s liquid rainbow – and I would say all of these words describe it perfectly.
Since I arrived in Colombia, Caño Cristales had always been on the top of my travel list. So with my friends Adriana and Yicel we decided that it would be time to discover this unique destination of Colombia. We actually began our trip in the middle of the night as we took a car to Villavicencio which is about 3 hours from Bogota to catch our flight at 8am. After a delicious breakfast we checked in our luggage – it was just a small house where a guy was handwriting our boarding passes and luckily we didn’t need to pay overweight with each of us carrying only 5kg ;)!
Then we were ready to take off! A small airplane with only 6 seats awaited us to bring us in an hour to La Macarena – Caño Cristales. What an amazing adventurous ride! During our flight we were able to observe the great landscapes and passed from the flatlands of Los Llanos to complete jungle and also overflew the river of Caño Cristales. We were impressed that we were already able to see the red plants in the river from this distance in the air!
After a smooth flight and landing, we knew right away that we have landed in a very small village or should I say “in the middle of nowhere”?! A farmer sitting on its “waggon” led by a donkey were responsible for our luggage which they took to the “terminal”. Here our guide welcomed us and the police man wrote down our names and origin in a notebook for the statistics to skeep track of the development of tourism in this beautiful place.
Then our “taxi” in form of a “threecicle” took us to the office of the National Parks where a short presentation with information of the area as well as some important rules were given to us. One of the most important thing is that you are not allowed to use sunscreen or mosquito spray during the walks along Caño Cristales if you want to take a bath in the natural pools because this damages the beautiful plants. Furthermore they explained to us that the access is restricted to 200 people a day and one guide always accompanies 7 persons. This is necessary in order to protect this natural paradise. Furthermore they recommended us to wear shoes which could get wet as there would be some small parts where we would need to cross small rivers. After the presentation we headed on through the bumpy roads to the hotel which was also just a couple blocks away. The hotel Cascada lies in the middle of the town and provides everything one needs – we were actually surprised as we were expecting an accommodation more basic!
Then we started our first excursion and headed to the river. Here we took a small boat for about 10 minutes to the other side of the river. From here we took a jeep for another 40 minutes and then started walking. After 2 minutes we already saw the first red plants in a river that we needed to cross. Then we walked another 30-40 minutes and arrived at the “piscina del turista” where we were amazed by the stunning landscape of beautiful red plants in the river! To be honest I have always thought that the pictures I have seen of Caño Cristales have been edited very well by photoshop but now I saw this natural paradise with my own eyes and was even more impressed as these colors are for real!!! As it was pretty hot, it was just the best place to go for a swim in the refreshing river! Then we continued walking along the branch of the river and discovered more plants as visiting places like “paso de la danta”, “las tablas de ley” or “el tapete”.
Then another highlight awaited us – “la cascada de los cuarzos“. We were able to walk behind the waterfall and sit down right under it to get the best shower ever…what an amazing feeling! In the natural pool we went for another swim and got a massage sitting below other small waterfalls before we enjoyed our delicious lunch wrapped into a banana leaf. Then we continued our walk back and passed through different landscapes ending with a bath at “los ochos”. From here we returned to the meeting point where we took the jeep to the river and from there went back to town by boat. After a well deserved shower we had dinner in a typical local restaurant.
The following day we discovered another branch of the river passing by different sites with the bright red plants and taking a refreshing bath in different natural pools! Bright sunshine and blue sky let the red plants in the river shine even more – we really couldn’t believe the beauty of this place!
At night a cultural highlight awaited us: We were served a delicious dinner with fresh grilled meat from Los Llanos while listening to the typical traditional music of the region. Then some dancers also presented the typical dance Joropo which was quite impressing! Afterwards we were taught the basic steps of this traditional dance and the pro’s stepped with us across the dance floor!
The next morning we went to a view point and “Cristalitos”. From the view point we got a great impression of the surroundings and after a 30 minutes walk we reached “Cristalitos” which was just a small part of the river where the red plants could be discovered.
Then it was time to head back to town because we took the direct flight from La Macarena to Bogota operated by Satena! We entered the plane with our handwritten boarding pass and after an hour landed safely in the capital city! Caño Cristales definitely belongs to one of the natural treasures of Colombia and is a place that nature lovers should not miss to visit! Please be aware that the season to go to this beautiful destination is from June to November!
NOTE: If you are interested in voluntary work in Colombia (including homestay with a local family), in Caño Cristales you will have the possibility to support the development of this beautiful tourist destination by teaching English to guides and also kids in school. Just drop me a line, if this sounds like an amazing experience to you (and I can tell you, it will be!) and I will connect you with the school director & tour operator there!