The only way to get to La Macarena is by plane from Bogota or chartered flight from Villavicencio - overland is too dangerous due to guerilla presence in the surrounding areas.
The "Airport" at La Macarena is basically an airstrip with a small shed for the terminal. Once you land you need to register with the police as you enter the airport.
After collecting your bags from the room next to the terminal, you can find one of the many hostels available in the town. I stayed in Hostal Mariana for a very reasonable $40,000 ($A20) per night.
Next to the airport is a small tourism office run by the super efficient Carolina where you can book your trip to Caño cristales.
It is impossible to travel to the park without a guide and it is best to book at least two days in the park as it often rains and it is difficult to see the colours if there is not clear sky. In addition, you must complete a briefing before you are allowed to enter the park, so it is best to attend the day before your trek. At the briefing you are given the list of prohibited items. It is prohibited to bring (or put on):
- Sunscreen (so wear protective clothing)
- Makeup; and
- Insect repellent
The town is very small but has a number of hostels, an ATM (despite what other travel guides say), restaurants and bars.
One thing to bear in mind is that the power is quite unreliable (it went off twice while I was there), so make sure you have a good torch and sufficient cash in case there's an extended blackout.
Most hotels don't have internet access and 3G is patchy (to say the least) but there is free WiFi in the main park.
Delicious fried food
The trip begins with a boat trip up the river to the trail head.
After some "warm up" exercises, the walk begins.
The first trail I did was the 12 km "Aguilla" trail. The trail starts through a savannah of low plants which dominate the landscape around the rivers.
The vegetation around the river
A single Macarenia clavígeraplant
Macarenia clavígera plants under the water
A waterfall on the river
one of many swimming holes
A natural rock bridge
The trek gets back to La Macarena around 16:30 which gives enough time to change and then enjoy the sunset and internet in the central park.
Parque Principal at sunset
Los Ochos formation
The river from high on the trail
The river from the trail
For the next day I headed to a different part of the Caño cristales - Los Cristalitos. This isn't part of the park and is privately owned. However, it is easy to organise to visit through the same agency as for Caño cristales.
The first part of the tour is to visit a turtle hatchery and then have lunch at the farmhouse.
Turtles in the hatchery
During my lunch I was joined by an entertaining lunch companion who was keen to share my lunch with me.
After lunch the guide took me to the lookout above the farmhouse for views across the valley.
The view from the lookout
Green Macarenia clavígera
Strong currents in the river
On my final day I went out to another site outside of the park - Caño Pierdas. It is easily accessible by mototaxi from La Macarena (although the army is generally not too happy about foreigners going there).
Caño Pierdas is much smaller than Caño cristales but it is lined with palm trees which don't grow anywhere else in the park.
Palms along the river
There is a hike that follows the river up to Cerro de Conejos from which you can see accross Meta province.
The trail begins through farmland until it climbs to the top of the small hill.
The trail to Cerro Conejo
The view from Cerro Conejo
An eagle's nest
An eagle watching us
There are many other treks to do around La Macarena but unfortunately they are difficult to access because if the security situation. But those treks that are easy to access are truly incredible and La Macarena was a nice little laid back country town, I was a little sad to leave.
The main Street of La Macarena