A wondrous waterway
Located 170km south of Bogotá, three diverse ecosystems – the rocky Andes mountains, the sweeping Llanos plains and the lush Amazonian jungle – converge in the remote wilderness of central Colombia’s Sierra de La Macarena National Park.
It’s an area of striking biodiversity and beauty, and if you follow the winding Guayabero River up a fork deep in the park’s southern fringes, you’ll find one of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders: Caño Cristales, a 100km-long series of crystal-clear waterfalls, rivers and streams that explode in a rainbow of colours for several months each year.
Caño Cristales is often called “the river of five colours” or the “liquid rainbow”, and according to local legend, it escaped paradise to flow through the Earth. While the river’s kaleidoscopic colours may seem like the work of supernatural forces or Colombian magic realism, it’s actually the result of a unique biological phenomenon that generally takes place from June to November.
According to Javier Francisco Parra, local coordinator of Colombia’s Cormacarena environmental authority in the La Macarena area, a rare, endemic plant called macarenia clavigera lines Caño Cristales’ rocky riverbed. Park guides explain that for much of the year, this moss-like growth appears in a muted dark-green hue. But when the rainy season returns and the water level rises and just the right amount of sunlight reaches the river’s floor, the plant erupts in a vibrant spectrum of purples, fuchsias, pinks, yellows and greens that blanket the riverbed.
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