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Seeing red! The bizarre river in Peru that turns the colour of BLOOD every winter

It looks like Mother Nature has rolled out a red carpet.

As its name suggests, the spectacular Red River in Peru is a startling shade of scarlet, appearing as a red streak running through the Vilcanota mountain range in the country’s Canchis province for several months of the year.

It has become something of a hit on social media, with one TikTok video – which has been viewed more than half a million times – describing the river as something that ‘doesn’t feel real’. In the comments, TikTok user ‘Owlhousefan_Lumity’ remarked that the water looked like ‘blood’, while user ‘rockstar’ compared it to flowing wine. 

What causes this bizarre phenomenon? The Red River gets its crimson colour from the red sandstone in the region, which is filled with iron oxide.

When it rains, this mineral-rich rock is washed into the riverbed, turning the water red or pink. This makes Peru’s rainy season, from November to April, the best time to visit its banks as there is more rain run-off, local tour operator Kallpa Travel reveals.

The spectacular Red River in Peru is a startling shade of scarlet for several months of the year The spectacular Red River in Peru is a startling shade of scarlet for several months of the year

The spectacular Red River in Peru is a startling shade of scarlet for several months of the year 

The waterway appears in the Vilcanota mountain range in Peru's Canchis province. Image courtesy of Kallpa Travel The waterway appears in the Vilcanota mountain range in Peru's Canchis province. Image courtesy of Kallpa Travel

The waterway appears in the Vilcanota mountain range in Peru’s Canchis province. Image courtesy of Kallpa Travel 

In contrast, it can appear in ‘the unattractive colour of muddy brown’ during the dry season, tour firm AB Expeditions says.

The river’s waters only run red for the first three-mile (5km) section from its source near the valley of Arcoiris Palcoyo Mountain. 

Eventually, the river combines with other streams and small rivers, becomes more diluted and loses its brilliant colour, tour operator Machu Picchu explains. 

The river's waters only run red for the first three-mile (5km) section, from its source near the valley of Arcoiris Palcoyo Mountain The river's waters only run red for the first three-mile (5km) section, from its source near the valley of Arcoiris Palcoyo Mountain

The river’s waters only run red for the first three-mile (5km) section, from its source near the valley of Arcoiris Palcoyo Mountain

The Red River gets its colour from the red sandstone in the region, which is filled with iron oxide The Red River gets its colour from the red sandstone in the region, which is filled with iron oxide

The Red River gets its colour from the red sandstone in the region, which is filled with iron oxide

Peru's rainy season, from November to April, is the best time to witness the bizarre phenomenon Peru's rainy season, from November to April, is the best time to witness the bizarre phenomenon

Peru’s rainy season, from November to April, is the best time to witness the bizarre phenomenon 

Known locally as Palquella Pucamayu, the river's name originates from Quechua which is the main language of the Inca Empire and an official language in Peru. Image courtesy of Ricardo Braz Known locally as Palquella Pucamayu, the river's name originates from Quechua which is the main language of the Inca Empire and an official language in Peru. Image courtesy of Ricardo Braz

Known locally as Palquella Pucamayu, the river’s name originates from Quechua which is the main language of the Inca Empire and an official language in Peru. Image courtesy of Ricardo Braz 

Independent travellers can journey by bus and taxi towards the river bank. Image courtesy of Cusco Native Independent travellers can journey by bus and taxi towards the river bank. Image courtesy of Cusco Native

Independent travellers can journey by bus and taxi towards the river bank. Image courtesy of Cusco Native

The first half of its name ‘Palquella’ means ‘small branch’ while ‘Pucamayu’ means ‘red river’.

Lots of tour operators take travellers to the river – which lies some three hours southeast of Cusco city – as part of a day trip to visit the nearby Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain, a much-photographed, multicoloured peak that’s 5,200m (17,100ft) above sea level. 

Alternatively, independent travellers can journey by bus and then by taxi towards the river bank. 

Tanzania's Lake Natron, which gets its ruby-red tone from bacteria in the water, is another example of a red body of water Tanzania's Lake Natron, which gets its ruby-red tone from bacteria in the water, is another example of a red body of water

Tanzania’s Lake Natron, which gets its ruby-red tone from bacteria in the water, is another example of a red body of water 

Above is Blood Falls, a curious red waterfall that was discovered in the McMurdo Dry Valleys region of Antarctica in 1911 Above is Blood Falls, a curious red waterfall that was discovered in the McMurdo Dry Valleys region of Antarctica in 1911

Above is Blood Falls, a curious red waterfall that was discovered in the McMurdo Dry Valleys region of Antarctica in 1911

Tour company AB Expeditions notes that it’s not the only reddish-hued river in the region – it says that there’s another, lesser-known river that experiences the same phenomenon during the rainy season near the Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain in the district of Combapata. 

While these rivers are unusual, there are other red bodies of water to marvel over around the world.

One famous example is Tanzania’s Lake Natron, which gets its ruby-red tone from bacteria in the water. Another is Blood Falls, a curious red waterfall that was discovered in the McMurdo Dry Valleys region of Antarctica in 1911. 

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