Rio Claro is a private nature reserve and a perfect spot if you're seeking some adventure in attractive natural surroundings. The dominant feature of the area is a picturesque winding river, which is just as clear as the name of the place suggests ("Rio Claro" translates as "Clear River" in English).
This body of water winds through marble rock formations, taking center stage in this densely-forested valley. There's a lot of wildlife knocking around in the woods, caves and surrounding areas, with some of the more interesting specimens including toucans, monkeys, lizards, woodpeckers and bats.
All this provides the perfect backdrop to engage in one or more of the excellent outdoor activities available here: from swimming and boating, to climbing, canopying, bridge jumping, and caving. If you get bored here, you have no-one but yourself to blame.
What to see and do in Rio Claro
One of the most famous excursions is to Cueva de los Guacharos, a cave located about an hour’s walk down the forest path. The site is about 600m long and houses striking marble formations, columns, stalagmites and stalactites, formed over thousands of years.
Exploring the inner parts of the cave is an enjoyable, if occasionally challenging, activity. In some areas you'll need to wade through waist-high water. In others you can only gain access to the next section by jumping off the rocks and into the 4m-deep wells waiting below. In case you're interested, safety equipment is available for hire within the reserve, but you might also want to bring your own waterproof torch. It can help make your underground explorations a little easier.
Cueva de los Guacharos houses striking marble formations, columns, stalagmites and stalactites
A slightly longer trip involves walking along the "Condor Route" to get to another cavernous structure. This route takes you through a small rocky stream for about an hour, before then trekking through a 2km section of tropical forest. Your end destination is a lookout point, which gives great views over the river valley and surrounding area. To mix things up a bit on the return leg, you can follow the alternative path (all signed), which will take you back past a different series of caves.
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Other activities include a number of treks along the several eco-trails dotted around the park. These vary in difficulty and distance, with the longest taking around 6 hours. Marble beach is an area where the river broadens out into a large, deep clear water pool, and is a popular spot for taking a dip. The nearby Manantial beach is another pleasant area to swim, though the water flows more quickly over the rocks and small waterfalls here.
A kayak trip runs the full 8km length of the river valley, passing through the scenic and serene surroundings
While most of the river is tranquil, and perfect for swimming, there are some faster flowing sections. It is in these areas which you will visit on rafting excursions. That said, the rapids here are still pretty tame, reaching only grade II (of the six point scale). This makes the place better suited to kayaking, especially as part of a trip which takes in the full 8km of the river valley, and allows you to paddle through some exceptionally the scenic and serene surroundings. This is a much easier way to cover a decent amount of ground and to see far more of the place than you would on foot.
Getting to and from Rio Claro
Rio Claro lies slightly off the main road between Bogota and Medellin. Arrival by bus from these cities takes about 6 and 3.5 hours, respectively. As many of the organised tours and activities take place first thing in the morning, to make the most out of the area it is advisable to stay the night there.
Don't expect anything too luxurious here in terms of places to stay. Rio Claro is just about in the middle of nowhere so most of the options are, shall we say, rustic. Most people stay at the camping facilities here to get the full natural experience. If that's not your thing, however, there are also basic guesthouses located on platforms about 5m off the ground.
Similarly, a few small cabañas are available to rent, varying between 80,000 COP and 180,000 COP per person, per night. Within this category, there are a number of options, variously suited to couples, groups and families. Wherever you're planning on staying, it's best to try and make some arrangements before you arrive. It's not the typical kind of backpacker place where it is always easy to just turn up and find a hostel which will take you.