For the most part of the year, Colombia’s Caño Cristales looks just like any ordinary river. But for a short time each year, the river turns into a stunning natural wonder bursting with life and color.

Known as the “river of five colors,” “the river that ran away from paradise,” and “the most beautiful river in the world,” Caño Cristales at its most glorious state is a vibrant explosion of reg algal blooms offset by blots of yellow sand, green weeds, and reflective blue water–plus a thousand shades in between.

The red algae Macarenia clavigera grows on the river bed only during the brief period between September and November when the water level is just right. During the wet season, the water flows too fast and deep, hindering its growth, while in the dry season there is not enough water for the organisms to thrive. It is in these few weeks in between seasons that the Caño Cristales flourishes and transforms into a dazzling living rainbow.

The Caño Cristales is located in a national park in the countryside near the town of La Macarena, Colombia. Tourists can access the area via horseback (or donkeyback) and by foot as part of a guided tour by local operators.

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