Known as “The River of Five Colors,” “The River that Ran Away from Paradise,” and “Liquid Rainbow,” Caño Cristales is one of the most beautiful rivers in the world – for a few weeks of the year. During the short time between the wet and dry seasons, the river, which is located in the Sierra de la Macarena region of Colombia, flows with vibrant colors. With rich yellows, greens, blues, and especially reds, the river is a biological wonder that lives up to its name – literally the crystal spout river.
Delving into the science a bit, the red hue is created by Macarenia clavigera, a unique plant species that grows on the river floor. The beautiful color, which attracts tourists willing to travel to the remote area, can only be seen when the water level is just right – the flow is too strong during the wet season and the plants don’t receive enough sun to grow. During the dry season, there isn’t enough water to sustain plant life. Different species of moss and algae account for the spectrum of other colors that contribute to this natural phenomenon.
When to go: For a few weeks from September through November, the river shows its colors. This is the time in between the wet and dry seasons.
What to know: The part of the river that exhibits this colorful marvel is isolated and not easily accessible. Daring travelers can fly into the nearby town of La Macarena. To get to Sierra de la Marcarena, the national park in which Caño Cristales River is located, you have to take a 30 minute boat ride from the Guayabero River, followed by a 30 minute drive in a 4×4 vehicle, followed by a 30 minute trek on foot. Judging by the trip required to get there, this is a site reserved for only the most seasoned travelers.
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