- The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes. Marcel Proust
See the Caño Cristales River
Cano Cristales simply knocked my socks off. Although I’ve seen pictures and read articles about it, just as you do right now, I couldn’t imagine how astonishing it is.
Pictures won’t do justice to the river of five colors in any case. You should go there and witness the uniqueness of its beauty by yourself.
But to go there you should first overcome the fears that some security reports could have raised in your mind. Don’t let the media feed your threats but instead, open your heart to a wonderful once-in-a-liftime experience. Because only with an open heart and a genuine desire to see, touch, feel and love the very intense beauty of Caño Cristales you could go.
And with open hearts you’ll be greeted once you set foot on the ground of La Macarena, the gateway village to the Caño Cristales National park. The people of La Macarena are extremely nice, open to foreigners and most important of all have an infinite love and respect for Caño Cristales and the plant giving its colors to the river La Macarenia Clavijera.
I’ve been treated in La Macarena like a family member, an old friend, a close one. heading to La Macarena was so easy after all, a direct flight from Bogota, but leaving it was like when I left my family and friends back home…with tears.
The last morning in La Macarena, Juan and Natalie, an argetinian couple, and I were having breakfast with Arquemides a local guide of Caño Cristales, although not the one I’ve spent 3 days with. I was fascinated by his name anyway as I had just finished “The bad girl” of Mario Vargas LLorca in which Arquemides was a kind of a wizard, breakwaters builder, but then the Arquemides from La Macarena was as much a wizard.
He told us stories about the village before it could open its doors to tourists only 5 years ago with the army securing a 30km strip around it. Too many of La Macarena’s children have been victims of the guerilla and Arquemides himself lost a brother. He told us to pass the message “tell people to come and visit Caño Cristales, it is safe now and you, the ones who overcome the fears, are the ones who help us build a better future for our children”.
I would do as he asked and urge you to go there, not only for the people of La Macarena, but first ans foremost for you, for a single feeling of being a privileged witness of one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Convinced? Can I give you a hand?
The “do it by yourself” option
How to get there
La Macarena is only reachable by flights. The local airline company, La Satena, operates direct flights from bogota and back each Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. There are also flights available from Villaviciente but in very small aircrafts. Given the kind of thunderstorms that can hit the region that’s another kind of adventure. A ticket return from Bogota to La Macarena would cost around 200$.
Where to sleep
There are several options in the village. hotels or guesthouses. Prices range between 20 and 10 dollars a night for a room. I stayed at Doris’ that I’ve met when leaving the small airport of the village for 10$ a night. She was asking for 15$ but when she knew I was staying for 5 nights she agreed on 10.
Where to eat
There is one “street” in la Macarena and 2 or 3 restaurants, all cheap, all very good. A lunch/dinner would cost 5$ and breakfast 2,5$. Don’t miss the morning fresh Arepa con queso in front of the basketball field.
Excursions to Caño Cristales
I paid 150$ for 3 days excursions to the river. The first day I joined a colombien family and the 2 other days I went alone with the guide. This price includes all kind of transports to the river: Canoe or plancha and a jeep ride. It didn’t include my lunch that I needed to bring myself. If you’re more than one person you could negotiate the same price for 2 and slightly more for 2+ but excluding the transportation. That’s what the colombian family paid, don’t be a paranoid tourist :)
The agencies all inclusive tours
They would offer the exact same service you would offer to yourself except it’s more expensive and gives lesser opportunities of hanging out with locals. A 3 day/2 nights/2 days river visit would cost between 500$ and 600$. They would take a very good care of you and this cost includes literally everything from when you’re in Bogota, Medellin or Villavicente airports until you come back there again.
My take on “by yourself” vs “agency”
I wouldn’t have appreciated how it’s done by the agencies. Big groups, eating always together, same restaurant, you get to know 3 or 4 locals at most and spend all your time with other travellers. Doing it by myself was at a total cost of 450$ for 6 days/5nights/4 days visiting the rivers. Besides and that’s the most important for me, I went for crazy motorbike riding with locals in la savana, watched the sunset from the mirador with them, have been invited to attend children painting for peace in the church, played with the boys in the park, had tintos with old people in the main street, made some good friends of 3 guides, got to spend a day with a colombian family in the river and yet still managed to meet and get along with tourists: the argetinian couple who did stay in the same place as I did although they came with an agency. On the other hand, I had to worry about where I do eat and therefore could test different places, instead of the only one restaurant the agencies are taking people to, and could get one of my best hamburgers ever, a burguesa con patacones. Don’t get me wrong, agencies do an excellent job and if you feel more comfortable being taken care of, just go for one.
Now the contacts, con mucho gusto
Doris, my landlady organises all inclusive tours as well, and having witnessed how it went for Juan and Natalia I would strongly recommend her. Besides you’ll be most probably staying in her house if the 3 available rooms are not booked, and get the chance to meet her loving family.
Andres Navarro, my guide and compagnon during my stay in la Macarena. I just and simply loved the time we spent together. He is extremely nice and has a big passion for photography. He will not rush you through the trail, will take you to the best spots for pictures and spend a good deal of time taking yours if you wish so.
Andres Navarro +57 3143242159
To both, say that “La marroqui” sends her regards. That might be your promotion coupon, you never know
When to go?
You can only see the colors, and the park anyway only operates between June and end November. Still, during this period it can heavingly rain for a day or 2. Put all chances on your side and plan to stay for at least 4 or 5 days.
How about security?
If you have already read all the above, you need no answer. Just go ahead, plan your next trip to Colombia and then to Caño Cristales. Enjoy