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If you were anything like me growing up then you watched the movie Swiss Family Robinson one too many times for the main reason of seeing the awesome treehouse they built for themselves! As a little girl, the idea of sleeping under a roof, but still very much outdoors and surrounded by nature seemed absolutely magical.
At Rio Claro Nature Reserve you can do just that! Located in the department of Antioquia, along the Medellin-Bogota highway, this nature reserve is easily accessible by either private car or public bus from Medellin or Bogota. The trip from Medellin is a bit closer and only takes about three and a half hours. The nature reserve is located about 40 km from the start of Rio Claro and was developed in 1970 as a way to protect this gorgeous river. The reserve is the only place to stay overnight if you want to visit the river and they do an excellent job of providing great accommodations, fun activities and still remaining conscious of the environment.
Location map of Rio Claro. (Photo credit: Rio Claro Nature Reserve)
While there are other, less jungle-friendly accomodations at the reserve, I opted for the treehouse version. Located about a ten-minute walk from the main lodge, the treehouse featured two beds, a bathroom, two walls and stunning views of the river below. The first night it definitely took me a little while to fall asleep, but surprisingly the forest/jungle noises were pretty tame and provided a nice backdrop of white noise for sleeping. The rain and thunderstorms every night definitely got my attention, but all was quiet and dry inside the treehouse.
After a night of sleeping amongst the sounds of the jungle, there is plenty to do along the river during the day. For small additional fees (usually about $20,000 COP), you have your choice of activites like zip-lining (canopy), rafting, tubing and caving. The guides who accompany these activites (except tubing, which you can do on your own) are all knowledgeable and experienced.
My personal favorite activity was caving in the Cave of the Guacharos (oilbirds). The three hour hike led us up river, where we crossed by holding onto a rope to avoid floating away in the current. Therefore, about 30 minutes into the hike everyone was soaking wet up to their necks. From there we carried on in the woods for a bit before coming to the entrance to La Caverna de Los Guacharos. Guacharo in English is oilbird and is specific to the northern region of South America. These birds are nocturnal, thus their presence in the cave, and they navigate using sound, just like bats. However, unlike bats the oilbirds make a terrifyingly loud and high-pitched clicking noise which sounds pretty intense when you are in a cold, dark cave with what I roughly estimated to be about a million of them.
Into the cave we went, surrounded in darkness by the time we were about 100 meters inside the cave. At this point I could not have been more grateful for my waterproof hiking sandals or my headlamp - so make sure you go to the reserve with these things in mind! Basically the hike was a lot like the part of the movie Goonies were they are in the cave and there is a river running throughout it. At some points the water was only a few inches deep and at other points it was over our heads. The scariest parts were when our guide would tell us to jump or slide down into the next part of the cave and we just had to trust him that we wouldn't die doing so - no worries, it worked out just fine. After about an hour in the cave we saw signs of daylight and emerged from the cave by climbing down the rocky side of the river and then swimming across once again. Definitely one of the coolest experiences I have had in Colombia, however due to the wet, dark nature of the cave I have no photos to show of it...
Another activity I enjoyed a lot was zip-lining (canopy). This activity had us hooked up to a series of three lines which criss-crossed over the river. My favorite was the second one, which was 300 meters long and took you directly over the middle of the river! I think zip-lining is one of those things that no matter how many times I do it, will always make me nervous, but it is such a rush to fly through the air only attached to a thin metal cable.
Views around Rio Claro Nature Reserve.
The second leg of the zip-line over Rio Claro.
Like I said, there are no photos to show of my experiences in the caves or on the actual river, so you will just need to go see them for yourself. I promise, you won't regret the days and nights you spend at this adventurous and beautiful nature reserve. Happy travels!