Caño Cristales is a phenomenon. Caño Cristales is “el rio mas bonito del mundo”. Caño Cristales does not disappoint. All of the aforementioned statements are true, but they do not do this anomaly of nature any justice until you have seen the blossoming of the telltale burgundy and red Macarenia clavígera plants found just beneath the water level for yourself.
I don’t normally write uniform and solely informative blogs but, I am still reflecting on this journey and indeed have to spare the best stories for some actual contracts with magazines! So, I’ll permit for some ruminations and hopefully entice you into scraping those pesos together and making a well worthwhile trip to this section of Meta, Colombia.
Caño Cristales: What You Need to Know
- You can fly all the way into the town of La Macarena from Bogota with Satena saving you the journey from Villavicencio.
- There are six decent hotels in La Macarena.
- The best time of year to visit is from June to November when the Macarenia clavígera is in full bloom.
- The park is incredibly secure with a very large presence of Colombian military all around. At no point did I once feel unsafe.
- You do need yellow fever and tetanus vaccinations.
- If you plan on swimming in the designated swimming areas you are not permitted to use sun cream due to its damaging effect on this fragile ecosystem.
- Given that the average year round temperature is between 30 and 35 degrees dress appropriately for bugs, sun and hiking.
- Keep well hydrated as you would in any equatorial situation.
Caño Cristales: Advice for Photographers
This river, el río de los cinco colores, needs no introduction to photographers since all have probably seen Andres Hurtado’s famed images. But, everything here depends on the weather. If the sun is not shining and the reflection is not going your way, be prepared to wait for that perfect shot since the colours will not resound as you would like.
Check on the weather forecast in the lead up to your visit. If it has been too dry, as it had been before I visited, water levels on the river are going to fall, burning the plant life and altering its colour from vivid red to a more subdued brown. Fortunately, we had some rain a couple of days before heading out and this permitted the colours to return with new growth plants.
You are photographing a river and there’s a great deal of reflection. Do not leave that tripod behind on a whim and pack those polarizing filters. There are photography courses that take in Caño Cristales as a workshop now and this would be a fine option for those wishing to see a true marvel and learn more about photography at the same time.
Caño Cristales: What Else is There to Do?
Aside from the obvious, amazing hikes, photographing this glorious river, bathing in the naturally formed pools carved out of the Guyanese Shield over millennia, there is plenty more to see and do over a few days in the town of La Macarena.
- There are more than 400 species of bird in the sierra here.
- If you are lucky you’ll spot primates and pink river dolphins on the trip along the Guayabero river.
- Be sure to take in a night of traditional Llanero hospitality complete with joropo dancing and delicious carne a la llanera.
- Take a charter flight in a two-seater plane over Caño Cristales.
- Learn about Colombia’s contemporary history when this part of the country made up part of the FARC demilitarized zone between 1998 and 2002.
- The preferred form of unwinding and passing time in La Macarena is to head to any one of a dozen pool halls in town.
In short, this was a fantastic trip which I would recommend to anyone interested in seeing something more exotic than the general tourist route in Colombia. You are going to be well-received here, well looked after by excellent and informed guides, and feel as if you have achieved something by making it to a part of Colombia that is only just – since 2006 – on the tourist map.
And while tourism is new here, it has been steadily increasing, albeit restricted to one very high season when the river is in bloom and then dropping off completely outside of this period, there are no real restrictions on travel here at the moment. This is something that needs to change to protect the park and the ecosystem. I for one would pay more if it included a park fee that led to greater restrictions on number of people entering per day and so on. But, for the moment the Macarenenses (as people from La Macarena are called) are more than content with this new industry.