Colombia's parks: from FARC to tourists

Nature and Environment

River of seven colors

Within La Macarena National Park flows Cano Cristales, known as the river of seven colors. Its different shades of blue, red, green, pink and black are caused by the great quantity of aquatic plants, particularly the red Macarenia clavigera. From July to November the extreme clarity of the water — a result of low sediment levels — lets the colors glow.

Nature and Environment

From landmines to ecotourism

The Serrania de la Macarena mountain range was one of the strongholds of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rebel group. Now the community is starting up a successful ecotourism industry with the help of government agencies. Voluntary projects to remove landmines and manually eradicate cocaine plantations are taking place in parts of the park.

Nature and Environment

Watery path

For Prussian explorer Alexander von Humboldt, the Maypures stream of Tuparro National Park was the eighth wonder of the world. Tuparro is part of the Orinoco region, known for an ecosystem of flooded and non-flooded savannas. Located near the Venezuelan border, the FARC sometimes used it as a pathway into the neighboring country. People now come here to go canoeing, hiking and bird watching.

Nature and Environment

UNESCO-recognized beauty

In 1960, Cueva de los Guacharos became Colombia's first Natural National Park. It's part of the Cinturon Andino natural reserve, declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1979.

Nature and Environment

Home to oilbirds

Guacharos, also known as oilbirds, are pigeon-like birds that live in the depths of the caves and go out at night to hunt food. Colombian government agency National Parks is working with the local community to improve ecotourism to the Guacharos now that the conflict with the FARC is over.

Nature and Environment

Whale watching

On the Pacific coast, the dark-colored rainforests on the island of Gorgona merge into the sea. From June to October, humpback whales pass close to its beaches as they make their way south. In 1959, the government built a now-abandoned high-security prison here.

Nature and Environment

Site for scuba diving

In November 2014, while peace talks were ongoing, members of the FARC took over Gorgona Island. Six of the soldiers that guarded the island were wounded, and one was killed. Today, the park offers various ecotourism activities, the most popular being scuba diving.

Nature and Environment

Home to the ELN

For centuries, the U'wa indigenous people have lived among the snowy peaks of the Cordillera Oriental mountain range in Colombia's Andes Mountains. This area is also home to El Cocuy National Park, with peaks as high as 5,300 meters (17,300 feet). The ELN guerrilla group had a presence in the park, but like the FARC, the ELN recently agreed to a ceasefire deal with the government.

Nature and Environment

Climbers' paradise

El Cocuy National Park is a haven for mountain climbers, the park's ecotourism activities have helped the development of local communities.

Nature and Environment

Hiking and whale watching

Utria National Park is known for a narrow inlet — the Ensenada de Utria — where humpback whales mate and spend some time before continuing their journey south. Utria is located in the Choco region by the Pacific Ocean. Even though there has been sporadic presence of the ELN, the park, together with the local indigenous and Afro communities, offers hiking and whale watching.

Nature and Environment

Tourism boost

Colombia's peace deal may only be a year old, but ceasefires broadly held during the negotiations. And the impact of peace is already reflected in visitor numbers to parks around the country. Compared to 2015, the number of visitors rose by 61 percent in 2016. And in the first half of 2017, the country's parks registered another bump of 8.6 percent, compared to the same period last year.

During the armed conflict between Colombia and the FARC, the rebels occupied some of the country's natural treasures. In the year since the peace deal the areas have opened up, with visitor numbers rising sharply.