Rio Claro Natural Reserve is located on the highway between Medellin and Bogota and is one of Colombia’s best ecolodges: beautiful cabins in the jungle valley, stunning crystalline waters flowing through a marble canyon, amazing wildlife, and some great activities like rafting and caving. However, there are some useful things to know before visiting Rio Claro, so here are 10 top tips.
Rio Claro offers accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets: from the stunning, open-fronted rooms overlooking the canyon – known as El Refugio – to more basic (and cheaper) rooms in the main hotels (La Mulata, Bluemorpho, and Hotel Rio Claro), there’s something for everyone. Be aware that the prices all change in low and high season. But make sure to check out photos of all the different cabins and rooms and pick the one that best suits you.
The reserve is very eco-friendly and tries not to use excessive lights, so at night you will need a torch to walk along the trails to the different cabins and rooms. The trail along the river from the main hotel to the Refugio, in particular, is very dark and relatively long, so make sure you have a spare battery or a well-charged torch for after dinner.
Hardcore adrenaline junkies may not find too much of interest at Rio Claro: the rafting is great fun, but relatively tame when it comes to white-water, while the zip lining and caving are equally enjoyable but hardly likely to make the cover of an Adventure Sport’s magazine! It’s the perfect place to enjoy those activities in a lovely natural setting, but without having to worry too much about how intense it will be.
All the water used at Rio Claro is from natural springs (and isn’t drinkable), but there’s no hot water in the taps and showers. Chances are that you won’t fancy a hot shower anyway, such is the heat of the reserve, but be aware of this before you book a stay.
When it has been raining heavily, the otherwise crystalline river rises dramatically and becomes much murkier and muddier. It makes for a more fun rafting trip, and the caving experience seems much more extreme, but swimming is a bit less enjoyable, and photos may not seem as spectacular. It’s also possible for activities to be cancelled after very intense rain.
As with the hot water, there’s limited access to Wi-Fi at Rio Claro. In fact, the only spot in the reserve with any coverage is the main house (where meals are served) and even this is fairly limited. There are a few spots along the riverside trail where a phone signal enters, but the reserve is basically cut-off. It’s a lovely experience and perfect for relaxing and enjoying nature but make sure to take care of all business and let your family know that you may not have signal before you visit.
Activities such as rafting, caving, zip lining, and tubing are all possible at Rio Claro (at an additional, but reasonable, cost), but be aware that you have to reserve your place on these trips in advance. This doesn’t mean you need to pick what you will be doing weeks before your visit, but it’s better to sign up a day or two before once you arrive at the reserve, especially in high season, as spots are limited.
The closest cash machine is in the town of Doradal, which is located at least half an hour away by bus, so make sure to bring plenty of cash for extra activities and drinks. You can pay by debit card if you have an account with Bancolombia, but otherwise, you will need cash. Plan in advance and bring plenty before you visit.
When you are walking the rocky trails at night on your way between the dining area and the Refugio, you will see some bugs and creatures in the light of your regular torch; however, ultraviolet light reveals something far more amazing and cool – scorpions, which glow under the beam of an ultraviolet torch! If you can get hold of one, make sure to do so!
Rio Claro is far from just a place with a nice ecolodge and some lovely views, it’s also home to many truly endangered and important endemic species, particularly of birds. You will often see groups of birders staying at the reserve, especially in the hotel in the middle of the jungle trails close to the entrance. They are in search of such species as Colombian Chachalaca, White-mantled Barbet, Beautiful Woodpecker, Antioquia Bristle-Tyrant, Sooty Ant-tanager, and Magdalena Antbird. Plus, you can see Howler Monkeys and cute little White-footed Tamarins.