Rio Claro ("Clear River") is a beautiful private nature reserve on the road between Medellin and Bogota (3 hours from Medellin, 5 hours from Bogota). Activities include swimming in the crystal clear river, hiking in the rainforest, caving, rafting, kayaking, birdwatching and or seeing the rainforest by canopy zip lines. For those travelling overland between Medellin and Bogota, this is a great spot to spend a night or two en route.
Rio Claro Accommodation
The Rio Claro nature reserve (or Reserva Natural Canon del Rio Claro El Refugio as it's known - see www.rioclaroelrefugio.com) offers three types of accommodation - camping, in rustic cabanas or in more modern hotel. If approaching from Medellin, you'll come across a sign on your right saying "Rio Claro Cabanas" - this is not where you want to be, and has nothing to do with the reserve (the place clearly cheekily feeds off the nature reserve's reputation). Just before the bridge a few kilometres further on, you'll find Rio Claro Hotel on the roadside on the left, and the entrance leading to the nature reserve and Rio Claro Cabanas (the real ones) on your right.
Rio Claro Hotel is located on the roadside and next to the river. The hotel is quite high quality, the restaurant is decent and there's a swimming pool. If you like you're creature comforts, it's best to stay at the hotel. If you're not fussed, drive a couple of kilometres into the reserve where you'll find Rio Claro's administration centre and basic restaurant (you'll pass the riverside camping spot on the way). A further ten minute walk upriver and you'll find Rio Claro Cabanas - this is where to stay if you like nature, or birdwatching, and you're not fussed about the very basic rooms. The rooms are in a large shared multi-storey cabana and have a great view over the river (request a river view room), and one side of the rooms have no wall - you're essentially sleeping on a large balcony. Due to Rio Claro's marble geology, there's very few mosquitos - you won't need a mosquito net.
Rio Claro has been voted Colombia's most beautiful river - the reserve is like a small riverside paradise in the rainforest. There are various small sandy beaches and rocky outcrops suitable for bathing in the crystalline Rio Claro. In addition to simply relaxing, various soft adventure tours are offered by the administration. All tours are undertaken as a group, and the groups are normally larger at the weekends as the reserve is an increasingly popular local tourism destination. If you wish to explore yourself, there is a marked trail leading upriver for a four hour hike.
Caving is one of the group tours offered at Rio Claro. The caving excursion involves a one hour hike to the cave entrance (take boots as there are many ants) followed by a 500 metre descent through a large cave. This is a soft adventure tour - at times you need to jump and swim inside the cave. You'll need a torch - a waterproof one as you'll be soaked.
Rio Claro's rafting tours are relatively tame - the rapids are no greater than grade 2. It's a tranquil 2 hour excursion amongst beautiful scenery. The same trip can be done in kayak - this is a little more adventurous as you're quite likely to capsize. The river is never particularly rough in these parts - the excursions are not particularly hardcore.
Rio Claro is also a fine place for experiencing nature, and is one of the best spots for birdwatching in Colombia.
On a final note, many people have died in Rio Claro's river - normally by drowning. Be sensible, and respect the strength of river, and you'll be fine [one girl tragically died when we visited by jumping into the river from a high rock (the mirador) too many times, and we were advised that another person died just a week earlier from drowning - you have been warned].