Most Colombian travelers have Medellin pretty high on their agendas these days. However, very few of those people know that within just 3 hours of Colombia’s second city lies a stunning area of protected tropical rainforest. That’s right, I said rainforest, or jungle if you will. Most people tend to associate tropical jungles with Colombia’s Amazon region and don’t realize that the middle and lower-lengths of the Magdalena Valley were once carpeted in lush tropical rainforests, protecting thousands of important species. Sadly much of that jungle is now under threat, but several important conservations pockets exist, and Rio Claro is one of them.
Rio Claro is a private ecolodge lying along the banks of the eponymous river. It has been running for almost 50 years, but has grown and developed its services over recent years, and now boasts genuinely excellent facilities for both day visitors and overnight guests. But why visit Rio Claro? Well I can think of 5 pretty darn persuasive reasons to visit Rio Claro since you ask…and here they are!
1. You can be in the jungle just 3 hours from Medellin
When you look at these photos of jungles, rivers and monkeys then you may feel like visiting Rio Claro is some epic undertaking into the middle of nowhere. This could hardly be further from the truth! Getting to Rio Claro is almost deceptively simple as it lies on the main bus route between Bogota and Medellin, about 6 hours from the former and 3 from the latter. That’s right, just 3 hours from the popular traveler’s destination of Medellin lies this unspoiled slice of tropical rainforest – you can zipline over crystalline rivers in the jungle, spot wild monkeys and toucans, and explore hidden caves and canyons after a journey that takes less time than watching the third ‘Lord of the Rings’ movie. How could you not want to experience that?!
2. Incredible and rare wildlife
I mentioned monkeys, but the wildlife of Rio Claro deserves its own section! In just a couple of days exploring the reserve I spotted Red Howler Monkeys, endemic White-footed Tamarin monkeys, toucans, parrots, herons, giant fish, and, best of all, fluorescent scorpions! There are giant blue morpho butterflies everywhere, along with remarkable see-through glass butterflies! Just scanning the cavern walls with a torch in the evening yields a plethora of fascinating jungle creepy crawlies, and the dawn breaks to a cacophony of birdsong, from Purple Honeycreepers, tanagers, and aracaris. There are even sloths, otters and agoutis in the reserve (although these are much more elusive). It’s a wildlife lovers paradise and, as I think I might have mentioned, all of this amazing rainforest nature is ridiculously close to major cities.
3. This is perhaps the coolest place you’ll spend a night in Colombia
For many people, particularly those who have a limited time in Colombia, it’s important that as much of their trip as possible is made up of ‘experiences’ – Rio Claro has this covered as well. Not only are there loads of great activities to enjoy (caving, rafting, ziplining, birding, swimming etc.) to make the daytime a fulfilling experience, Rio Claro also boasts perhaps the coolest accommodation in Colombia with its open-sided jungle rooms, overlooking the canyon and the river from their perches high up against the cliff side. These are the slightly higher-budget rooms, but with a cost of … anyone who’s not on the most shoe-string budget should be able to spring for a night or two (just have a few fewer beers in Cartagena or Bogota for a few days and you’ll be surprised how quickly the savings add up!). Colombia is full of amazing accommodation options: hammocks in Tayrona National Park and La Guajira, floating houses on the Amazon River, hostels perched on the edge of giant coastal mountains; however, you’ll be hard pressed to find somewhere cooler and more convenient than Rio Claro! During my stay at Rio Claro one of the highlights was falling asleep to the sound of the jungle, and waking up at dawn to find a group of monkeys feeding in the fruit tree outside my cabin. And, not to labor the point…it’s just 3 hours (!) from Medellin!
4. It’s arguably the most genuinely ‘eco’ hotel you’ll visit in Colombia
A lot of places try to attach the prefix ‘eco’ onto their business in a false attempt to grab some environmental cache; plenty of hotels and companies that claim to be ‘eco’ are not especially so! Rio Claro, on the other hand, is a genuinely eco-friendly hotel and reserve. Not only are they protecting some vital Colombian jungle ecosystems and species, they also make the effort when it comes to ‘leaving no trace’ with regular bins and rubbish collection points. They also invest around 20-30% of all income from the reserve into buying more land in the area to protect and conserve for future generations. So don’t resent any fees at Rio Claro, your money is genuinely going to an important ecological cause.
5. This remarkable river!
Those photos should really say it all…but I’ll say a bit more anyway! The eponymous river running through the canyon of Rio Claro is the principal reason many people have to visit Rio Claro, and it’s a darn persuasive reason to be fair. The river is at it’s clearest after a period without rainfall, but regardless of it’s clarity the river is truly beautiful. It’s also the focus of many of the best activities on a visit to the reserve as well – you can raft down it (adrenaline junkies be warned, it’s a chilled out ride, with just Class 1/2 rapids to navigate), zipline your way down it, or just chill out on one of the warm rocky beaches and take a swim in the cool waters.
These are just a few of the many reasons why you really should visit Rio Claro if you have time during your Colombia travels – the chance to experience a slice of such pristine nature just a few hours from major cities is not one to be missed! You can find out details on how to book a room at Rio Claro on their website. You can also visit for the day and just pay the entrance fee (all details on the Rio Claro website).