Two years ago, I came across Caño Cristales on a random Facebook video from Business Insider. I was blown away by the natural colours in this river, and even more excited that it was located in my birthplace of Colombia.
So without a doubt, on this trip to Colombia, Caño Cristales was at the top of my list.
Caño Cristales, also known as the “river of five colours,” is a Colombian river located in the Serrania de la Macarena National Park. From June to November of each year, the river becomes a spectacle of vibrant colours from the aquatic plants that grow beneath the water.
Getting to Caño Cristales was a journey in itself. We travelled by air from Bogota to La Macarena (flight time 1h20), got on a boat, jumped on a 4×4, then reached the inside of the park by foot.
Fun Fact: Our luggage had not arrived from our initial Vancouver to Bogota flight yet…
So we were literally travelling to La Macarena with what we had on hand. An extra T-shirt, a lightweight jacket, toothbrush, contact solution, and pair of underwear was all I carried. Thankfully, in the town of La Macarena, I managed to buy a swimsuit and a pair of cheap hiking boots.
Back in the mid-2000’s, this place wasn’t the most tourist-friendly. There was guerilla activity (yes, guerilla) that made this area inaccessible and dangerous. However, the Colombian military took back control a few years ago, and La Macarena is now considered safe.
For precaution, there’s still a military presence in La Macarena. Here is a photo of a few Colombian military friends we saw on the way:
When we arrived at the hacienda (our home for the next two evenings), we were welcomed by a talking parrot and the smell of fresh-made arepas con queso (corn flour flatbread with cheese).
As you can see from the photos, this was no five star hotel.
This rustic home was owned and operated by Armando and his family. Armando and his nephew Mario were our tour guides, while the aunt took care of everyone’s meals. We were warmly welcomed into their home, and little did we know that by the end of the trip, we would all become great friends.
Tired from the day’s travel, we unloaded our things and headed to the nearest river for a quick swim before dinner.
There’s no better authentic rural experience than waking up to roosters at 4:30am in the morning. Thanks to them, I was right on time for the 5:00am sunrise hike.
Imagine this: You are seated on a rock and hear nothing but the sound of water trickling and rushing through the rocks. You look up at the sky, and watch it slowly open up to reveal the sun. You watch the tranquil mountains, as you inhale the purest air imaginable.
Everything is still, yet everything is flowing.
And that my friends, sums up the most memorable sunrise hike I’ve done in my entire life (so far).
After a hearty breakfast of arepas, scrambled eggs, and tinto (black coffee), we headed out on a hike to see the official Caño Cristales.
Have you ever seen anything this amazing in your life before? I was completely blown away. I literally kept repeating “que belleza” (what a beauty) while furiously snapping as many pictures as possible.
Making our way upstream, we also found other amazing treasures that the nature here had in store for us.
Finally, we ended the hike in a part of the river where we were permitted to swim.
On this day we actually got pretty sunburnt. We weren’t allowed to wear sunscreen, lotion, deodorant, nor insect repellent when entering the water. This is done to protect the river and the aquatic plants from the chemicals in those products.
While my mother (who is Chinese) would highly disapprove if she knew I went two days in the blazing sun the without sunscreen, the chance to swim in the river was something I was not going to pass up.
This morning we went on the last sunrise hike before leaving Caño Cristales.
I honestly never realized how much happiness nature could bring me until I came here.
Growing up in the city and being a pageant girl, I honestly did not care that: I hadn’t properly showered in 3 days, had been wearing the same clothes for the last 3 days, had no wifi to go on Instagram, and was not getting enough beauty sleep.
This trip made me realize that being able to experience the beauty of nature with incredible people was one of the most amazing gifts I could ever ask for.
So I speak from the heart when I tell you that if you ever plan on travelling to Colombia, please visit Caño Cristales.
Tips for Travelling to Caño Cristales:
- A yellow fever vaccine is required. You may be asked for proof that you have this vaccine before you board your plane.
- If you’re planning on swimming, don’t wear sunscreen, lotion, insect repellent, deodorant, etc.
- Bring all your swimming essentials: swimsuit, goggles, and waterproof shoes
- For the hikes, bring a good pair of hiking shoes, lightweight clothing, and a hat
- Bring a reusable water bottle as plastic bottles are not allowed inside the park
Lastly, don’t go crazy searching up pictures of Caño Cristales before arriving. Let the nature do the talking. A lot of the pictures on Google and tourism sites are edited to make the colours of the water appear more vibrant and vivid.
More to Know about Caño Cristales:
Serrania de la Macarena National Park is one of the most biodiverse areas of Colombia. This is where three ecosystems meet: Amazon rainforest, Andes mountain range, and savannah plains of the East Llanos.
With more than 500 species of birds, 100 species of reptiles, and over 2,000 species of plants, this protected national park has all the best that nature has to offer.
While tourism is developing quite rapidly, only 200 tourists are allowed inside the Macarena National Park per day to conserve the area. Reservations must be made a few months in advance. We made our trip reservation through Colombia Oculta.
So we were extremely lucky and a huge shout out to my dad for booking this trip! Gracias papi.