Rio Claro Colombia: A True Nature Reserve Near Medellin

Rio Claro Colombia is a private nature reserve in Antioquia located three hours southeast of Medellin.

It’s a popular way to escape the city and immerse yourself in nature. If you can avoid visiting during a holiday or weekend, it’s likely that you’ll nearly have the place to yourself.

After visiting Rio Claro for a couple of days, I created this guide to help you plan your own trip.

It includes things to do, where to stay, the best time to visit, and how to get to Rio Claro from Medellin or Bogota. I’ve also included an interesting history of Rio Claro so make sure you read to the end.

Let’s jump in and discover why Rio Claro is a true eco-lodge.

A long swatch of limestone rock forms the riverbed along the Rio Claro which has carved deep ridges in the rockface.

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Reserva Rio Claro Antioquia

Rio Claro, which translates to “clear river,” flows through a marble canyon that has been shaped by the water over thousands of years. It provides a striking backdrop to base yourself in nature for a few days.

Its magnificence is further enhanced by the beauty of the surrounding tropical rainforest. The reserve is rich with wildlife, including tropical birds, monkeys, and the beautiful blue morpho butterfly.

Rocks sculpted by the elements protrude from the water at Rio Claro near Medellin Antioquia. The river is surrounded by lush trees.

Rio Claro Tours

If you prefer to take a day trip to the reserve, I recommend booking one of these Rio Claro tours to maximize your time and make the most of the day. They all include transportation from Medellin and a bilingual guide.

7 Fun Things To Do in Rio Claro Colombia

The Rio Claro Reserve feels a bit like summer camp. There are activities for nearly every adventure level.

As you enter Reserva Rio Claro, you are greeted with a map of the reserve. Then it’s a short walk on a shaded dirt road along the river to the restaurant and activity center.

A visit to Rio Claro does not require participation in any of the activities. If you’d rather do your own thing, continue along the path as you admire the river and reach other destinations, including Playa de Marmol, Templo del Tiempo, and Playa Manantial which sits across from Caverna de los Guacharos.

The most popular landmarks and activities are detailed below.

A clear stone path lined with trees through the tropical rain forest leads the way through Reserva Rio Claro.

Planning to visit Colombia? Discover 10 epic day trips from Medellin.

1. Swim at Marble Beach (Playa de Marmol)

A large flat piece of white marble juts into the river, creating the perfect area to sunbathe and an easy entrance to this swimming point along the river. Popular with families and groups.

2. Visit Templo del Tiempo (Temple of Time)

Thick stalactites hang from the ceiling of the curved, open-air cavern.

This open cavern is a great example of how small mineral deposits form stalactites and stalagmites over millions of years. Located next to the trail, it’s much easier to access than the cave.

3. Swim at Playa Manantial

Long swaths of limestone rock make up the river bed here, where a natural spring flows into the river from Caverna de los Guacharos, The Cave of the Oilbirds.

From this point, you can continue the trail paths on your own towards Boca Caiman, or Alligator Mouth, where the river has carved a ledge that looks like the mouth of an alligator.

4. Zipline Across Rio Claro Nature Reserve

A young boy zip lines through the canopy and over the river at Playa Marmol.

Admire the reserve and canyon from above along this 500 meter zipline. The route zigzags down the river with three resting platforms from which to continue.

💵 Cost: 30,000 pesos
Time: 1 hour
➡️ Minimum Age: 7 years old

5. Go Rafting in Rio Claro

Inflatable boats take you down the river’s calm Class I and II rapids as you gape at the marble canyon walls towering overhead.

💵 Cost: 50,000 pesos
Time: 2.5 hour
➡️ Minimum Age: 7 years old

6. Explore Caverna de Los Guacharos

At the opening of the limestone cave, a man sits on the rocks to refresh in the spring that flows into Rio Claro at Playa Manantial.

Adventurous travelers will want to go spelunking in this cave which is home to oilbirds. The small river that cuts through the cave has created incredible marble rock formations.

A headlamp and flashlight are required, as well as a guide. Keep in mind, this is a moderately strenuous activity and you and your belongings will likely get wet.

💵 Cost: 45,000 pesos
Time: 3 hour
➡️ Minimum Age: 12 years old

6. Climb the Limestone Cliffs

There are one horizontal and two vertical rock faces fastened with a cable that allows climbers to secure themselves during the climb. A harness, helmet, carabiner, and gloves are provided.

If you’re into climbing you’ll want to read about visiting Guatape Colombia during your travels.

💵 Cost: 30,000 pesos
Time: 1 hour
➡️ Minimum Age: 18 years old

7. Go Hiking and Bird Watching at Reserva Rio Claro

If you want to go hiking in Reserva Rio Claro, there are several paths that were created between the river and the limestone cliffs.

The birds at Rio Claro Natural Reserve includes several species that are endemic to Colombia and others that are hard to find elsewhere. They include parrots, toucans, motmots, colorful tanagers, and the white-footed Tamarin.

A curved bank of limestone rock lines the shallow water of Reserva Rio Claro Antioquia. The clear water appears green.

Where to Stay at Rio Claro Antioquia

You absolutely should stay within the Rio Claro Reserve if you feel it’s within budget. The incredible experience of being within the nature reserve at night and in the mornings is worth it.

And once you factor in the included 3 meals per day, the 160-2680,000 pesos rate per person seems quite reasonable. If you prefer a budget accommodation, you can book a hotel in Doradal which is a short bus ride from Rio Claro Nature Reserve.

Reserva Rio Claro Cabins

If you plan to stay overnight, I highly recommend staying in one of the cabins at the reserve. There are four options depending on your mobility, comfort level, and desire to be enveloped in nature.

Each room is equipped with electricity, light, and a private bathroom. Rated are quoted per person and include three meals per day.

1. El Refugio Cabins

Fully immersed in nature, these cabins are only accessible by foot via a 10-minute walk down the trail from the restaurant. The rooms can accommodate 2-4 people.

It’s the only cabin with various rates depending on which room type you choose. The higher the price, the higher the floor and thus better views of the rainforest and its inhabitants.

If you’re looking for the full eco-lodge experience, you should stay here.

💵 Cost: 170,000 – 280,000 pesos per person

2. La Mulata Cabins

Surrounded by lush forest, these cabins are best for birdwatchers thanks to a large number of sightings from the rooms. Located between the main gate and the restaurant, the rooms at these cabins accommodate 2-6 people.

Good for small groups and those that desire more comfort and accessibility since the buildings can be accessed directly by car.

💵 Cost: 200,000 – 260,000 pesos per person

A two story white stone building with wooden windows sits among the trees of Reserva Rio Claro, perfect for birdwatching..

3. Blue Morpho EcoLodge

Located on the two upper levels of the reserve’s main building, these rooms with forest views are ideal for those who do not wish to walk at night between the restaurant and their room.

The rooms, which accommodate 4-6 people, were originally envisioned for school groups. It’s also accessible by car and steps away from the Adventure Activities Center.

💵 Cost: 160,000 – 180,000 pesos per person

4. Hotel Rio Claro

These independent bungalows are located along the highway and ideal for families and corporate groups that desire creature comforts rather than an immersion in nature. The rooms accommodate 2-4 people and some include air conditioner. The green grounds surrounding the hotel include a playground, restaurant, and pool.

💵 Cost: 180,000 – 200,000 pesos per person

Tips for Visiting Rio Claro Colombia

  • At first glance, the river seems calm. But there are strong currents throughout. Keep your wits about you and an eye on others in your group.
  • Keep all food sealed or hang it from a string so as not to attract unwanted visitors.
  • Payment for accommodations is due ahead of time. Within the reserve, only cash is accepted. The entrance fee is 15,000 pesos. Credit cards are accepted at the entrance, however, the credit card payment system is not guaranteed to work. The nearest ATM is 30 minutes away in Doradal, though it’s also not guaranteed to work.
  • A flashlight is needed after 5 pm.
  • Temperatures can drop considerably at night. Bring layers for cooler temperatures at night.

The Best Time to Visit Rio Claro

As the name implies, the river is crystal clear. Unless of course, you visit during the rainy season, which tends to stir up the sediments and create a muddy river.

The rainy season in Antioquia, Colombia is roughly April-May and September-November. 

If you can, you’ll also want to avoid weekends and holidays when the reserve is busy with families visiting from Medellin and Bogota. It’s possible during the weekend you will need to reserve the activities ahead of time or at least as soon as you arrive.

When I visited on Monday, there was no need to reserve right away and it made for a much more relaxed adventure.

Large rock stones line the bottom of the clear river. Plant life grows on top of the larger rocks in the center of the river.

How to Get to Rio Claro

The Bogota-Medellin highway is one of the most traveled roads in Colombia. Any of the buses traveling between the two cities will drop you off at Reserva Rio Claro along the way.

The entrance to the park is clearly marked and hard to miss, but you may need to pay attention and remind the driver to stop. The closest city to the Rio Claro Nature Reserve is Doradal which is about 30 minutes away from Rio Claro, towards Bogota.

How to Get to Rio Claro from Medellin

You can take a bus from Rio Claro to Medellin from the city’s north bus terminal. Buses depart at least every hour and cost 20-30,000 pesos. Traveling by bus from Medellin to Rio Claro is about three and a half hours.

How to Get to Rio Claro from Bogota

Buses to Rio Claro from Bogota depart Salitre station every hour. The total trip to get from Bogota to Rio Claro takes around five and a half hours and costs about 40,000 pesos.

History of Reserva Rio Claro

In a world where “eco” has been overused and exploited for its popularity, Juan Guillermo Garcés has created the real deal. His passion for preservation is evident in his story of acquiring the land.

Growing up in Colombia during the last half of the 20th century, Garcés found himself visualizing the disappearance of the entire Middle Magdalena jungle within his lifetime. 

When a farmer told him a story of chasing a jaguar into the jungle only to discover a magical place with walls and floor made of marble, he set out with his brother to find the location.

After two days in the jungle, they discovered the transparent blue-green waters of Rio Claro and its surrounding natural beauty. 

Trees and limestone rocks surround Rio Claro which has carved its way through the marble canyon.

It was 1968 and the Medellin-Bogota highway was in the initial stages of being built. They knew it was only a matter of time before the forest would be destroyed. So, Garcés and his brother began to take possession of the land.

Many years passed, as Colombia experienced violent turbulence as a result of the drug trade. During this time, Garcés kept a low profile and only visited Rio Claro occasionally.

Then in 1997, Garcés was kidnapped. After a month in captivity, he managed to escape, all the while never giving up his dream of preserving the land. 

It wasn’t until 2005 that he began to build Reserva Rio Claro. Today, he has created an eco-sanctuary that continues to preserve the tropical rainforest by reinvesting profits into the conservation of adjacent land.

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Collage of images with text that reads Eco-lodge near Medellin, Rio Claro Colombia. Top horizontal is the river with large, long marble rock. Bottom left vertical is the blue-green river with marble rock on the bank. Bottom right is a shaded pathway.
Collage of images with text that reads A true eco-lodge, Rio Claro Colombia. Top horizontal is the river with large, long marble rock. Bottom left vertical is the blue-green river with marble rock on the bank. Bottom right is a shaded pathway.