The Colorful Transformation of a Colombian River

Have you ever wondered what could be waiting for you at the end of a rainbow? While popular belief suggests that it might be a pot of gold, what if it was actually something else entirely? Imagine a stunning and vibrant river that takes your breath away with its beauty.

The Serrania de la Macarena National Park in Colombia is home to the stunning Cano Cristales, also known as the “river of five colors,” “liquid rainbow,” or “melted rainbow.” This beautiful river showcases a variety of hues that can be seen through its crystal-clear waters. Under certain lighting and water conditions, vibrant greens, yellows, reds, and purples can be seen flowing down the river. At times, the river can also appear in bright blue, hot pink, orange, or deep maroon.

The vibrant colors seen in bodies of water may seem like a mystical phenomenon, but they are actually caused by a type of weed known as Macarenia clavigera. This aqua plant is distinct from algae or moss and thrives under specific weather conditions and water levels, leading to the emergence of different hues.

The Macarenia clavigera is a type of plant that can be found clinging onto the ancient quartzite rocks in the riverbed. It grows in various rivers across Serranìa de la Macarena and is named after the region. However, it is in Caño Cristales where this plant thrives and displays its most vibrant colors, thanks to the ideal conditions present there.

The ideal season to visit is during the full sun period when the colors are reflected beautifully. It is important that the waters are at a suitable high level for the plants to flourish, without becoming too dry and turning brown. However, they should not be so high that the river bottom cannot be seen. Typically, the colors are most vivid between July and November.

To reach the river, one would need to take a flight to Villavicencio in central Colombia followed by a charter plane ride to La Macarena. Upon arrival, tourists can enlist the services of a guide to take them on a journey to Serrania de la Macarena – a remote mountain range that serves as the gateway to the river.

Various tour companies such as Viator, Uncover Colombia and Amazon Adventures offer tours that allow visitors to swim in the rainbow-colored waters, a truly unforgettable activity. However, it is essential to practice responsible tourism when doing so. Avoid using sunscreen, insect repellent or any other product that could harm the color-emitting plants or local wildlife that depend on the river. Taking measures to protect the natural environment while enjoying these activities should be a top priority.

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