Caño Cristales is the name of an amazing multi-coloured river in a jungle region nearly 300km south of Bogotá. It is in an area called La Macarena, like the dance.
On this trip to Colombia, we were lucky enough to organise some amazing mini holidays within our big holiday, and this was one trip that we’d decided to go on that we were so excited about. Caño Cristales is known as the most beautiful river in the world, but it has only quite recently become a tourist location. It is really hard to get there as you can’t get there by road, as it’s in an area of jungle that goes on for hundreds of miles. Also, there used to be a lot of fighting nearby between the government and the FARC guerrillas and it wasn’t safe for tourists. Then when they were trying to negotiate peace in 1998 it became part of a huge area (over 42,000 square kilometers) that was called the demilitarized zone, and wasn’t controlled by the government any more. The FARC held control of it and it was an area where they grew lots of coca, and people didn’t go there.
Diana, our friend, has travelled a lot around Colombia but even she hadn’t been to Caño Cristales, so we were so happy she decided to come with us. You need to visit the national park with a local guide and we had been told by some people that maybe the guides used to be in the FARC or they used to work picking coca for them. But we also found out that tourism had brought new opportunities for the people to work there doing something legal instead of what they did before, and that now tourism was safe. Although we didn’t really know exactly what to expect, we had decided that we really wanted to go and it was worth it.
The person who organised our flight had told us to meet at the main airport in Bogatá at 5am. Diana phoned to confirm the day before and it turned out that we had been told to go to the wrong airport! :oIt was very lucky that she checked. In fact, we were leaving from a military airbase and Diana was as surprised as us. She said that no-one ever went there and it was very unusual.
We took our bags to be weighed but it wasn’t only the bags that ended up on the scales. We had to be weighed too! I don’t know what they would have done if a really heavy person came! We had to wait quite a long time because our airplane was so small that it couldn’t fly in the rain and it was raining in La Macarena. When we finally got on the plane, it was teeny tiny; it only had about 15 seats!
After the flight arrived at the airport (I say airport, but it was actually a field with a tiny building in it!) we were reminded of the heat in Colombia. Bogotá is quite cool, especially at night, as it is so high in the Andes mountains, but the jungle of la Macarena was boiling. First, we went to our hotel and we had half an hour to organise ourselves before our guide, Jefferson, arrived. I went to tell him that we were almost ready but suddenly I went all dizzy and when I opened my eyes I was on the floor with a pain in my hip, elbow and head. I was quite surprised when I found out that I had properly fainted! Jefferson said it might have been because I had woken up early and had not eaten much breakfast. This was excellent news as now I can make the most of this excuse. If my parents ever don’t feed me enough I can tell them I might faint!
On our first day there, we were not allowed in the National Park to see the river so instead we set off in a tuk-tuk along a dusty path and we tipped and swerved to avoid puddles.We finally arrived at a beautiful farm where we would spend the day, but first of all everyone’s priority was to feed me! Part of the meal was meat from the cows on the farm and it was nice but it was so incredibly tough and chewy that it made my teeth hurt for the next few days! I still ate it though because I didn’t want to faint again, did I?😉
After lunch, we set off down a track to explore the farm – it was sweltering hot and there were brown mounds of earth in the cattle field, like tall, pointy mole hills. I wondered what they were and it turned out that they were termite nests. As I was admiring the nests I hardly noticed that we had arrived at some trees at the edge of the field and after a few more steps, we found ourselves in a tropical jungle! It was so unexpected as it didn’t look like a jungle from the outside. Inside, Jefferson pointed out plants and told us about them, like the walking palm for example. The roots are all above the earth and as it grows new roots the whole tree can slowly, slowly move across the ground! Just then Jefferson looked up and we followed his eyes. My breath was taken away yet again as, yes it was, it was monkeys! They were just hanging around and jumping around the treetops. I was so astonished to see them just a few footsteps away from the cow’s field; it was amazing! Even though I have now been lucky enough to see monkeys in the wild quite a few times, I will still treasure this memory forever.
I was still feeling amazing as we emerged from the jungle onto the boiling cattle ranch again. Then I looked ahead and saw a train of horses galloping towards us. Our ride had arrived! As we strode along the track I admired the varied landscape; all around us there were different views. The flat-topped mountains of the serranía beneath an endless sky, forests and jungle stretching out and grassy rolling hills reaching to the horizon. It was magical. We rode our horses up a hill and just took it all in before returning to the stables. On the way back, you could tell that the horses were eager, as it was hard to control them as they galloped along the home stretch. I say all of our horses were eager, but my Mum’s horse had ground to a halt early in the walk so our guide just tied her horse to his one! The same happened to my Dad’s horse later on and it was funny to watch them getting pulled along, while Brae and I galloped ahead! We charged rapidly through a lake, getting ourself soaked all up our legs. I could tell that my horse was happy to be at the stable again – maybe he wanted to get the heavy load off his back!
One of the things that was amazing about the farm was that they had a special friend there. It was a small green parrot. The people on the farm had raised it from a chick and it had decided to stay with them. Brae first spotted it perched on the shoulder of one of the chefs, like a pirate. It then flew over to us and started investigating our watches with its tiny beak, as if it was trying to steal them! One of the best things it did was a backflip off Brae’s watch! After it had got bored it discovered the fun of licking condensation off bottles and was amused by that through our whole lunch. When we returned from our horse riding it flew over to us and landed on my head. I was so happy and everyone took photos but then I felt something warm and slimy sliding down my back. I wasn’t happy then, as you can see by these photos.
Overall, it was an incredible day and I loved every bit of it (except fainting!). It was a great start to our Caño Cristales adventure. But, after all that you still haven’t seen the beautiful river yet! Now you know how we felt with the suspense building. Would it be as stunning as we imagined? Find out in Caño Cristales, part 2!