LA MACARENA, Colombia – Every morning as the sun is rising, a palette of beautiful colors begin to appear in the bed of Caño Cristales, “the prettiest river in the world,” a natural marvel that Colombia is just beginning to offer as a tourist destination after the end of the armed conflict with the FARC guerrillas.
The gentle waters of the river move through rock formations cut over millions of years and creating strange shapes and circular pools such as “the Roman Coliseum” and many others.
The multiple colors along the streambed are formed by various kinds of algae, all of them bordered by the deep green of the vegetation in this zone between the Orinoco and Amazon Rivers.
According to Javier Francisco Parra, the coordinator of Cormacarena, the entity responsible for the La Macarena region, in which Caño Cristales – also known as the “river of five colors” – the most beautiful time of year to see the hues is between May and November, “during the rainy season.”
Parra talked with reporters accompanying Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on a visit to the area.
The town of La Macarena, in Meta province, for decades was one of the redoubts of the now-demobilized guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
It was one of the areas demilitarized between 1999 and 2002 by then-President Andres Pastrana in exchange for peace talks with the FARC, and during that time the rebels were the only ones with access to the site, which was called the “FARC’s resort.”
Santos referred to the area as “the country club of Mono Jojoy,” the bloody guerrilla chief who ruled the zone but was killed in a military operation in 2010.
And with the signing of the peace treaty between the government and the FARC, Caño Cristales is moving to the forefront as a tourist destination, despite the fact that it is in a remote location conveniently accessible only by air.
The owner of the only store for miles in any direction, Epaminondas Bernal Martinez, told EFE that now that peace has come he hopes the government will build a highway to the area, given that the only roadway is a precarious route leading to the neighboring province of Caqueta, farther to the south.
The government says that tourism is increasing and the 1,500 visitors to the area in 2010 increased to 16,225 last year, with 16 percent of them being foreigners from 77 nations.
Such is the natural beauty of Caño Cristales that it was selected to be among the 11 tourist destinations the government is promoting abroad.