Crystal Channel or Caño Cristales: The River of Five Colors in Colombia

Caño Cristales or Crystal Channel locally known as the River of Five Colors or the Liquid Rainbow, is a natural occurring water feature found in the geographic center part of Colombia. Noted for its outstanding coloration, travelers have often referred to it as being the most beautiful river on earth.  It is the 16th stop in the travel series “A World Far And Away.

The Crystal Channel or Caño Cristales river is just over 62 miles long (100 kilometers) and features a spectacular coloration, that include hues of red, orange, green, blue and yellow. It is the only place in the world, where travelers can see this sort of vibrant color assortment in such abundance.

Often named as one of the most stunning natural wonders in the world, the Caño Cristales is best visited during summer and autumn season. Colors are most evident during the months of July through November. In Colombia, that is between the wet and dry seasons.

The River of Five Colors has a wide variety of aquatic plants, despite the extremely clear waters, which are the result of the absence of the usual smaller particles and nutrients.

Almost unique to the Caño Cristales is the pink to bright red coloration, caused by the large quantities of the aquatic endemic plant species known as Macarenia clavigera.   The reddish colored plants adhere themselves to the rocks, where the river’s current moves the fastest.

National Geographic relates the Crystal Channel, to that what must have existed in the fabled Garden of Eden.

Caño Cristales remains a fast-moving river with numerous rapids and waterfalls. The rapid movement of the water has created pits, known to enthusiasts as giant’s kettles.  These are formed by smaller rock fragments, which are carried by the river current that continue to carve into the underlining quartzite tableland, formed some 1.2 billion years ago.

The above formation is known as the Serrania de la Macarena and are a western extension of the Guiana Shield of Venezuela.

This aquatic geographic wonder is not easily accessible by road. Most tourists fly into the nearby town of La Macarena.  Caño Cristales is then just a short trip away, located in the national park of Serrania de la Macarerna.

The park is surrounded by three diverse ecosystems that include the plains of Eastern Llanos, the rain-forest of the Amazon and the towering Andes mountains. This provides the area with a wide diversity of plants and animals, as well as giving it a unique quality not easily matched.

The region is home to near 420 species of birds, 10 varieties of amphibians, 43 species of reptiles and even 8 primates.

Caño Cristales was closed to the public for years, due to the fact that is resided inside the territory of FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). More than a decade ago, the region was finally taken back by the Colombian military.

Following this, is took some time for conservationists to determine whether the Crystal Channel and the surrounding area, would be able to bear the burden of an expanding tourist trade. Beginning in 2009, guided tours have escorted travelers from all over the world, to this natural wonder.

Colombian tourist agencies can include flights into La Macarena and will provide accommodation in the town for three days and two nights. They will then take tourists to the “Liquid Rainbow” on foot or by horseback.

Some of these companies will also provide added amenities, like additional hikes in the region, jeep rides to various areas of the park and even short canoe trips on the river.

Location: National Park of Serrania de la Macarerna, in the central part of Colombia

Address: Via Rio Caño Cristales Vista Hermosa, 505027 Colombia

Getting There: Best way is to fly to the town of La Macarena by way of Villavicencio. One can then contract a tourist firm or hire a local guide.

Days and Hours of Operations: July through November during daylight hours.

Lodging: Is available in the nearby town of La Macarena.

Valuable Tips:

  • Caño Cristales is located in a remote and isolated area, not easily accessible by road. It is best to hire a guide or be part of a tour once you arrive in La Macarena.
  • Swimming is only permitted in designated areas. Travelers should not be wearing sunscreen before they enter the river. It could damage the fragile aquatic ecosystem.
  • Tourists who wish to take photographs need to consider weather conditions. If it is cloudy or even raining, there will be far less illumination of the colors.
  • If rainfall is normal than lower, the drop-in water level of the river, may kill the fragile plants that provide the varied coloration.
  • Visitors to the Caño Cristales are not permitted to start fires for cooking or any other purposes.
  • There are no overnight privileges allowed, for travelers to the river. One must make accommodations elsewhere.


  1. A magnificent place to visit is the waterfall at Grunas. It is located in Theth where you can also visit The Blue Eye.

  2. Thank you for this article. I have come across many photos of this natural occurring in Internet and was really looking forward to read an article about it. This article is just what I was looking for. I wish one day I could visit this beautiful place and witness the beauty of nature. Thank you once more for writing in detail about Crystal Channel.

  3. wow, amazing article.
    i have never seen such beautiful river, which contains different colors.
    What an experience you had, wish i could be part of same journey.

  4. The colors in this region are absolutely spectacular! Never seen anything like it! So many species of birds too! Good tips on considering the weather in regard to the outcome of colors. Thanks so much for your lovely post!

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