Locally called the Caño Cristales, this fast flowing and unique river is located in a national park called Serranía de la Macarena in Colombia. The river serves as a tributary for the Guayabero River. In English, the name of the river translates to the “crystal channel.” Other translations may be glass spout, crystal spout, and liquid rainbow. However, the river is most commonly called the “River of Five Colors.”
The river is made up of several waterfalls, rapids, and plenty of pools. The length of the Caño Cristales is around 62 miles and lies entirely within the national park.
The park the river is located in, the Serranía de la Macarena, has a rich ecosystem with large amounts of diverse and beautiful plant and animal life. This diversity is especially true since the park borders three of the world’s major ecosystems namely the Amazon rainforest, the Eastern Llanos, and the Andes. Within the harsh environment of the park, there are at least 400 species of birds, ten amphibian species, 69 primate species, and around 43 reptile species.
The river itself is teeming with aquatic life such as the widespread Macarenia clavígera which is also found in other rivers within the locality such the Caño Siete Machos. There are no documented fish species in the river.
For one to truly experience the beauty and uniqueness of the river, they have to visit during the period between July and December. During this time, the river bursts into rich colors. During this time, after the water level achieves a certain height, the plant species in the water called Macarenia clavígera turns into a bright shade of red. Splotches of other colors are provided by the blue water and the yellow and green sand. The effect is that the river turns into a jaw-dropping rainbow-like feature.
The reason for this transformation by the plant is rather simple. Normally the Macarenia clavígera is green because it is obscured from sunlight. However, when the water level is just perfect between seasons, then the plant gets the required sunlight to explode into glorious colors.
The tourism department around the River of Five Colors flourishes between the months of July and December. Visitors can use either one of two ways after they arrive at the municipality of La Macarena which is situated in Meta. From there, they can board a cargo flight from Villavicencio or a direct flight from Bogota. Everyone entering the national park where the site is situated is required to be accompanied by a guide. No visitors are allowed to stay overnight.
The biggest threat to the river, as is the case with most natural sites, comes from humans. Within the park, there was a lot of guerilla activity that posed a serious threat to the river and to tourists. Unregulated tourist movement within the park and the guerilla activity led to the park’s closure for twenty years until it was opened to the world again in 2009.