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Caño Cristales: Colombia's Incredible Rainbow River
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If you are lucky enough, you might just be at the right place at the right time to bear witness to something that can only occur when all the elements involved are in perfect balance. Such is the wonder and magnificence of the Cano Cristales at a certain time of the year, because that’s when the Rainbow River comes to life.

Explorer Andres Hurtado named it thus in the 1980s, when he brought the attention of the world to this wonder of nature. For most of the year, this waterway looks like most other rivers, the crystal clear waters tumbling over rocks covered with nondescript green and grey plants and algae, but for a short period of time each year, a most amazing transformation occurs.

In the few days between the wet and dry seasons, the water level drops enough for the sun to warm the moss and algae on the river's bottom, and this warmth leads to an explosion of blooms, as the flora bursts into incredibly colourful life. The many varieties of algae and moss bloom in a dazzling display of colors, from fuschia red, through yellow, green, bright blue, black, all accentuated by dramatic waterfalls and lazy watering holes.

Also known as "the river that ran away to paradise", "the most beautiful river in the world" and "the river of five colours", the Rio Caño Cristales, found near the town of La Macarena in Colombia, is well known for its glorious colours. Reaching the river at the critical moment is a fine art. Some Colombian tourist agencies will fly visitors to the nearby town of La Macarena, and from there they can reach the river on horseback. But, for now, many locals are still nervous about entering the area. cristales6Photo: atlasobscura.com

It is quite difficult to access the area of river where the spectacular show of colour happens, as there is no road in the immediate vicinity. It is possible, however to get to it by other means. An airplane ride to the town of La Macarena will enable you to contact guides willing to take you to the sita on foot, showing you the highlights. Terrorist activity in this area had kept tourists away for some years, along with concerns about the environmental impact of tourism, but visitors were once again granted access from 2009. Strangely enough, the number of foreign visitors is as yet quite small, but the hope is that these numbers will soon swell.


If you are headed for that part of the world, it may well be worth timing your visit so that you get the chance to see this amazing river and experience the glory of it at first hand. This has to be seen as one of nature's wonders and it should be on any wish-list for those visiting the area. The Rainbow River. What a gem! My thanks to Atlasobscura and MaFee for the use of images shown in this post.

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