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.

Serrania de la Macarena

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

This tableland for 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 much larger area.

Caño Cristales, Colombia
Cano Cristales / Mario Carvajal, / CC BY-SA 3.0

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 that low on nutrients that here lives no fish (what also helps to keep water crystal clear).

Caño Cristales, Colombia
Caño Cristales / Mario Carvajal, / CC BY-SA 3.0

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.

This river is world famous thanks to its unique plant and algae composition what makes its bottom unusually colorful. The dominating color is caused by water plant Macarenia clavigera – endemic plant which 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.

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

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

Caño Cristales are included in the following list:

Cave of the Crystals, Mexico
Cave of the Crystals / Alexander Van Driessche, Wikimedia Commons / free for use
40 unique natural wonders of the world[/caption] This article is a kind of wonder by itself: after meticulous work of several years here has been collected a list of absolutely unique places, where nature has outdone itself and created something unique, just in one example.


  1. Caño Cristales. Accessed in 11.07.2014.
Cano Cristales on the map
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Location, GPS coordinates: 2.2642 N 73.7945 W
Categories: Ecosystems, Lakes and streams
Values: Biology, Visual
Rating: 4.5 out of 10 stars
Where is located? 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

Landmarks of Colombia

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
This enormous and extremely diverse country has many spectacular landmarks. Many Colombian attractions are little known and even not named – there are many wilderness areas still waiting for explorers.


This is not alien planet. Group of Dragon's Blood Trees in Socotra
This is not alien planet. Group of Dragon’s Blood Trees in Socotra. (possibly taken outside Rokeb di Firmihin) / Rod Waddington, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
Biotope is rather small area with uniform environmental conditions and specific community of life. Wondermondo describes biotopes and ecosystems which have striking looks, look very beautiful or have other unusual characteristics.

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