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Rulebook for Caño Cristales: The World’s Most Beautiful River

Sometimes rules are definitely made to be broken, but when it comes to preserving something beautiful we should all be on board to follow the rules. The Caño Cristales, a many-coloured river located in the Serrania de la Macarena National Park, Columbia, is at risk of losing what makes it so special.

The Caño Cristales, also known as the ‘river of five colours’ or the ‘liquid rainbow’, gets its colour from an aquatic plant, called macarenia clavigera, that is local to the area. The ecosystem is very delicate and disruptions to the environment could lead to a reduction in the colourful aquatic plant.

With early intervention and respectful visitors like yourself, the future of tourism to the river looks bright. So just this once please follow the rules.

Colourful Caño Cristales river surrounded by vibrant green shrubs

Rule #1

Let the river rest

For half the year the colours that make the Caño Cristales famous are non-existent and the river is closed to tourists. During this time the river is given a break from human interaction allowing the ecosystem to repair and, given the right amount of rainfall, for the colours bloom again. The park is generally open to tourists from June to early December when the “liquid rainbow”, as the locals call it, returns. Access to the park may also be restricted at other times for the health of the river, make sure you check before arriving and respect the restrictions.

Rule #2

Respect the locals, learn from them.

Tourism to the site and the protection of Caño Cristales is very much a local project with hundreds of local families playing a role. They serve as tour guides and hosts and many are undergoing training to learn other languages and more about the ecosystem.

They’re a great source of local knowledge and definitely deserve your respect and attention when visiting the national park.

Waterfalls of the Caño Cristales


Respect the ecosystem.

Up until the mid-2000’s, the area was occupied by Farc guerrillas, meaning that access to the area for tourism wasn’t a reality. Since then, however,  Caño Cristales has been visited by up to, and at times over, 16,000 tourists a year. The ecosystem is adjusting to human interactions and we also need to adjust to the ecosystem, aiming to leave as small an impact as possible on the national parks flora and fauna. If you are going to swim in the Caño Cristales please only do so in the designated areas, respect the signs and follow the instructions of your guide.

Take only photos, leave only footprints – remember this.

Rule #4

Things to leave at home and things to bring with you.

One way to reduce your impact on the river is by keeping chemicals out of the water. Make sure that if you are swimming in the Caño Cristales you do not bring or use sunscreen or insect repellent. The chemicals in your creams and sprays can be harmful to the native water plants, bring a hat and appropriate clothing for the sun instead. Bring waterproof shoes for the walk and if you do decide to go swimming, goggles and snorkels are a great idea.

You cannot take plastic bottles into the national park and should not leave any other rubbish behind. Smoking is not permitted in the national park, so leave your cigarettes at home. If you see any wildlife including fish, please do not feed them.

All of this will be explained to you at a briefing before you enter the national park but it is always good to be aware ahead of time.

Make sure you have your Yellow Fever vaccination before travelling to Columbia. You may be asked for proof of the vaccination before boarding the plane.

Ensure you have enough of the local currency on you to pay the park entrance and tourism fee. Bring extra cash as you will be travelling in rural areas and electronic payments and ATMs will not be regularly available.

Vibrant pinks and yellows in the Caño Cristales river

Rule #5

Don’t go alone.

There is a limited number of people permitted to enter the national park each day and you cannot enter without a guide from a tour company. To get to Caño Cristales you have to go through La Macarena, a town of 30,000 people, and from there you will take a mix of 4×4, boat and walking to reach the river. There is no accommodation in the national park so ensure you have booked a round trip with your tour company.

As the popularity of this river increases so will the restrictions on access to the park, so book your tour early and follow the rules to not damage this incredible wonder of nature.

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comment section below. If you’re ready to get planning your next adventure to this wonder of nature check out our tours or for more information on the Caño Cristales, read on here.