How to get to Cano Cristales – the rainbow river of Colombia

JUAN MARTINEZ

March 30, 2016

How to get to Cano Cristales – the rainbow river of Colombia

Are you planning to visit Cano Cristales. Here I tell you step by step how to get to this natural wonder in Colombia – independently or with an agency.

There are only few places in the world, of which you only need to see a single picture to be captivated enough to instantly start planning a whole trip based on just a photo. For me, it was El Nido in the Philippines, the Jellyfish lake in Palau and Caño Cristales in Colombia. Now the question is: how to get to Cano Cristales in Colombia? Here I tell you how to visit Cano Cristales independently or with a local agency.

Cano Cristales is not only one of the most beautiful destinations in Colombia, but also one of the most impressive and extraordinary places on earth.

The river is commonly called the "River of Five Colors" or the "Liquid Rainbow," and is noted for its striking colors.
The river is commonly called the “River of Five Colors” or the “Liquid Rainbow,” and is noted for its striking colors.

Plan your trip to Cano Cristales

Located in the “Serrania de la Macarena”, a mountain range in the southern central part of Colombia and probably the most biodiverse area on the planet, Caño Cristales is not easy to get to, but it can make your travel in Colombia unique and special.

While visiting Cano Cristales you can see a lot of biodiversity in the whole area - how to get to cano cristales
While visiting Cano Cristales you can see a lot of biodiversity in the whole area

The river belongs to La Macarena National Park in the province of Meta (not exactly the easiest place to access from a mayor Colombian city). However, since the rise of tourism, the local departments have been investing a lot of money in not only making the region more accessible, but also protect the area.

Before going to Cano Cristales take into consideration that this is one of the most fragile parts of the world in terms of biodiversity and any impact we do, might have consequences for the environment.

Before you go take into consideration that the colorful river is only visible at certain times of the year.

To get to Cano Cristales you have to fly to La Macarena
To get to Cano Cristales you have to fly to La Macarena

When can I visit La Macarena?

The magical color of the river is only visible from late May and late November according to local tour operators. However, peak time is between July and October. This is when most of the flora in the water is blooming and you can see Cano Cristales with its true colors.

Peak season means higher prices and less availability, so remember to book your tours in advance if you are planning to visit the region during your trip to Colombia.

Cano Cristales is not as touristic as other natural wonders in South America, so you won’t have to visit the river with 200 people at the same time.

Swimming in Cano Cristales is only allowed in several parts of the river
Swimming in Cano Cristales is only allowed in several parts of the river

How to travel independently to Cano Cristales

The first and easiest option to get to Cano Cristales is to fly directly to the Serrania de la Macarena with Satena, a small local airline operating in Colombia.

The airline sells tickets to La Macarena for around 150-200 USD. Since Satena´s website has no English page and payment options require you to call a hotline, you probably need to have a Colombian friend or be in Colombia yourself already – and test your Spanish knowledge.

Read more: Exploring Colombian landscapes – Places to visit while traveling in Colombia

Cano-Cristales-Impresionante-rio-en-Colombia-681x1024
travel independently to Cano Cristales is possible – It’s just more complicated

Once in La Macarena, you have to take into consideration that you can`t visit the Cano Cristales river at La Macarena National Park by yourself. Visitors are only allowed to access the river being accompanied by a licensed tour guide and although there are several tour guides offering their services in the city, you will also have to apply for a permit to visit the park.

Due to environmental protection regulations passed not long ago there is also a limited amount of permits granted every day and most of these permits are granted to the agencies that bring travelers directly from Bogota.

Of course, traveling independently will make the experience more unique and special. Just keep in mind all these hassles you might have to handle.

Read more: Top places you can’t miss while traveling Colombia

The river was closed during some time some years ago due to the large amount of visitors coming here to bath.
The river was closed during some time some years ago due to the large amount of visitors coming here to bath.

Visiting Cano Cristales with a tour operator

There are also many tour operators all over the country offering different packages and options for travelers. These options can vary from 500-600 USD including flight tickets for a 3-5 day trip. Another option is traveling to Villavicencio by plane or bus and take a  small plane to La Macarena. However, this option takes a lot of time and the money you save won´t be worth the effort.

A trip to Caño Cristales and the Serrania de la Macarena won´t be cheap, so expect to pay around 50 to 100 USD per day as a single traveler. However, you will realize experiencing the probably most biodiverse spot on earth will be worth every penny!

Read more: Is the Lost City trek in Colombia worth it?

Now visitors have to get a permit beforehand and can only access the national park with a licensed guide
Now visitors have to get a permit beforehand and can only access the national park with a licensed guide

Why does the river looks like a rainbow?

The Macarenia clavígera glows the most in the months inbetween the dry and rainy seasons. Plan your visit between the months of July and October for a better experience. During these months expect to see the river with different tones of red, yellow, green and pink!

Lonely Planet selected Cano Cristales as the most beautiful place in the world two years ago and you can see in the photos why.

Cano Cristales is not a cheap experience (specially for Colombian prices), but I can assure you that it will be unforgettable.

My recommendation is for you to visit Cano Cristales 4 or 5 days and experience not only this magical river, but also the large amount of natural biodiversity the region has to offer.

Read more: How to pack your bags for a long trip

Visitors are also not allowed to wear sunscreen when accessing the river. This is the same regulation as in the Jellyfish Lake in Palau
Visitors are also not allowed to wear sunscreen when accessing the river. This is the same regulation as in the Jellyfish Lake in Palau

Photography source: Caño Cristales by Mario Carvajal 

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