No, You’re Not On Drugs: Colombia’s River Of Five Colors Is Real

Published August 6, 2014
Updated February 27, 2024

Head deep into the Colombian wilderness to find Caño Cristales, also known as the River of Five Colors, a national technicolor treasure.

River Of Five Colors

Source: Distractify

Deep in the isolated mountain range of Serranía de la Macarena, Colombia is the river Caño Cristales. For nearly half the year, there is nothing remarkable at all about this particular river, but from July through November a phenomena occurs that would leave one to believe that Mother Nature has hand painted this pristine locale.

River Of Five Colors Photographs

Source: Sights World

Purple Waves

Source: Second Globe

Because of the burst of colors that occurs during this time period, Caño Cristales has been long referred to as the most beautiful river in the world. “The River of Five Colors” and “The liquid rainbow”, as this water has also been called, features a grand display of the color spectrum: yellow, green, blue, black, and a remarkable red hue burst through the landscape that draws in visitors from across the world.

Dual Riverbed

Source: Rough Guides

Caño Cristales

Source: Tops Travel

The most vibrant of these colors is the deep red, which is caused by the growth of the Macarenia clavigera, a plant that grows on the bottom of the riverbed. Depending on the time of day and amount of sunlight coming through, the Macarenia clavigera can appear anywhere from magenta, to bright red, to a deep purple. It is because of this red’s brilliance that the other colors of the river pop against nature’s backdrop.

Algae In The River Of Five Colors

Source: Wikipedia

River Of Five Colors Waterfall Ledge

Source: Xcite Fun

The blue waters, black rocks, green sands, and yellow algae of the river combine with the Macarenia clavigera to produce a cornucopia of tones that rush the senses. The breathtaking beauty is elevated to yet another level by the pristine waterfalls of various sizes that turn up along the length of the waterway.

Over millennia, the waterfalls have eroded cavernous holes into the rock, and created deep pools into the riverbed. These deep, clear pools in the middle of the otherwise plant-life covered river are a remarkable place for swimming-inclined sightseers who want to take in the surrounding sights and sounds of the River of Five Colors in a more intimate way.

Another unique feature of this particular river is a complete lack of wildlife within the waters. Though there are some amphibian and reptile species in the area, the river itself is lacking any fish or mollusk populations, as the river’s solid rock surface and bed lack nutrients necessary for fauna to survive. Nature-wary visitors know that they will be unfettered by any unwanted creatures sharing the relaxing pool.

It should come as no surprise that this unique river is a favorite spot of nature and geography photographers alike. At 62 miles long 65 feet wide, the river gives countless vantage points and views for capturing that perfect picture—even enough to populate an entire portfolio. One could spend days in the region and never run out of sights to photograph.

What is the downside, you might ask? For starters, traveling to the river is not an easy task.

You first must fly into the small town of La Macarena, and then trek through unmarked trails into the national park. There are no campsites available to visitors, so at the end of each day you must make the hike back to La Macarena. If this sounds like too much adventuring, at least there are fruits of other’s labor to enjoy on the internet.

Erin Kelly
An All That's Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she's designed several book covers in her career as a graphic artist.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.
Cite This Article
Kelly, Erin. "No, You’re Not On Drugs: Colombia’s River Of Five Colors Is Real.", August 6, 2014, Accessed April 20, 2024.