Caño Cristales (Cano Cristales)

Caño Cristales with waterfall and the red Macarenia clavigera, Colombia. September 2012
Caño Cristales with waterfall and the red Macarenia clavigera. September 2012 / Mario Carvajal, / CC BY-SA 3.0

WorldBlue  In short

On the ancient Serrania de la Macarena tableland in Colombia is found one of the most spectacular rivers in the world – Cano Cristales. Bottom of this river is colored in seemingly unnatural, gaudy colors.

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GPS coordinates
2.2642 N 73.7945 W
Location, address
South America, Colombia, Meta, Serrania de la Macarena tableland, Rio Caño Cristales some 10 km to the north from La Macarena
Dominant species
Macarenia clavigera

Map of the site

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WorldYellow In detail

Serrania de la Macarena

Serrania de la Macarena is the far western outpost of Guiana Shield – the same geological formations which in Venezuela forms the famous tepuis with such landmarks as the world’s tallest waterfall – Angel Falls.

This tableland for the most part consists of very hard rock – quartzite and has formed some 1.2 billion years ago. Thus this tableland is much older than, for example, Andes.

Over this long period of time on tableland have evolved numerous unique species of plants and animals. Serrania de la Macarena has served as a natural laboratory where have been created many species which are now spread in a much larger area.

This tableland with its hard bedrock is very poor with nutrients and life has adapted to this – many species which are met here are not found anywhere else in the world.

Rio Cano Cristales

Over the sturdy cliffs of Serrania flow several streams and one of the largest is Rio Cano Cristales. This by far is not a large river – less than 100 km long and up to 20 m wide. In summer it can become almost dry and its crystal clear water is so low on nutrients that there lives no fish (which also helps to keep the water crystal clear).

River is fast, with many rapids, waterfalls, and unusual potholes – giant’s kettles which have been created by pebbles or larger stones turned by the stream and grinding the bedrock.

Caño Cristales - the red Macarenia clavigera and pits shaped by stones, Colombia
Caño Cristales – the red Macarenia clavigera and pits shaped by stones / Mario Carvajal, / CC BY-SA 3.0

This river is world famous thanks to its unique plant and algae composition that makes its bottom unusually colorful. The dominating color is caused by water plant Macarenia clavigera – an endemic plant that grows only in this part of Colombia. Besides the red color, the water of stream, sand, and algae create other gaudy colors – yellow, green, blue, and black. Due to this, the stream is nicknamed also "The River of Five colors" or "The Liquid Rainbow".

Especially beautiful it is in the time period after the rainy period, in late July – November when the red Macarenia clavigera thrives.

Site is protected – it is inside the Serrania de la Macarena National Park, but at the same time there is developed tourism, sustaining the life of many local families.


  1. Caño Cristales. Accessed in 11.07.2014.

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