It’s better to see something once than hear about it a thousand times.
This is how I felt when we finally visited Rio Celeste, a stunning blue river hidden deep in the jungles of Northern Costa Rica. I’d seen plenty of photos of this magical river, whose vibrant sky blue color seemed astonishingly unreal but I had enough of the pictures. It was time for us to see the river with our own eyes.
Our visit to Rio Celeste is one of my most cherished memories in Costa Rica and is now one of my favorite places in the country. It’s hard to find the words to describe how surreal the experience was, after years of flipping longingly through Instagram pictures and hearing about a waterfall and river so stunning, it leaves no jaw undropped and no eyes unrubbed.
If you’re planning on visiting the enchanting Rio Celeste, here is all you need to know. Pictures don’t do it justice, so make sure you watch our aerial video!
What would you like to read about first? Click the section to skip to it.
- About the river
- What you need to know
- Location and directions
- Hours and fee
- The hiking trails
- Tips for visiting
About Rio Celeste
The story as told by the locals is that Rio Celeste got its stunning color when God dipped his brush in the river as he was painting the sky.
Scientifically, the color appears when two separate clear water rivers meet and a certain type of mineral coated in silicon, oxygen and aluminum remains suspended in the river. The size, suspension and reflection of sunlight creates this vivid blue color in the water.
Due to this spectacular natural event, Rio Celeste has grown from a hidden local secret to a world wide phenomenon. Many people visit Tenorio Volcano National Park where the river is for a day trip specifically to see Rio Celeste. It is getting very popular so don’t be surprised if you see a parking lot with 30 cars or large school groups.
What You Need to Know About Visiting Rio Celeste
It’s a super muddy hike. Due to the constant rains in the area, the trails get very muddy (like your bottom half will be covered in mud by the end and you need to be very careful when hiking as to not slip in the mud). Here are our tips for what to wear and bring:
- Shoes: If you don’t want to get muddy, you can rent rain boots for $5 outside the park entrance. I highly recommend wearing a pair of high quality waterproof hiking shoes or hiking sandals. I wore my KEEN hiking sandals and it was easy to wash the mud off and they dried really fast. Yeison wore his waterproof KEEN hiking shoes so his socks and feet stayed dry. However, it took forever for him to wash and dry his shoes.
- Clothing: I recommend wearing shorts instead of long pants. I wore shorts and all I had to do was wash my legs and feet. Yeison wore long pants and it took him awhile to wash them out. His pants were completely covered in mud up to his knees!
- Gear: Bring waterproof rain gear. Trust us! This area rains a lot and rains randomly. In April, we got poured on for a good 30 minutes. If you’re bringing camera equipment, you must have waterproof gear. We brought a heavy duty poncho for our camera gear, our North Face rain jackets, water resistant backpacks, a rain cover and lots of plastic bags. If you don’t have a poncho, you can buy one at the Agro-Vetenaria in Bijagua.
- Hiking Poles: We saw a few people with hiking poles, but they were all older folk. Just go slow, try not to step into the huge puddles (like I did you will see in the video) and get your hands dirty if you need to. I put my camera away in my backpack for the hike and only took it out when I wanted to take pictures or else the camera would have definitely gotten dirty.
You need at least 5 hours for this hike. 4.5 miles is not long but with the mud, it takes a lot longer since you’ll be walking slow and taking your time at the viewpoints.
It gets super crowded February – April. Since Rio Celeste is getting very popular and these are the high season tourism months, it gets really crowded at the park. One of our friends said when they went in April, they had to wait in line to cross the bridge, there was about 25 people waiting! There are also many school groups so if you want to have the place to yourself or with less people, enter the park as soon as it opens.
It is recommended to drive a high car from both Fortuna and Bijagua. The road from Bijagua to the Tenorio Volcano National Park has been redone in some areas after Hurricane Otto of December 2016, but it is still unpaved for most of it. It’s not recommended to drive in a sedan but it is possible in dry season. In rainy season, it is highly recommended to have a high car.
Some parts of the hike may be closed depending on the weather. Sometimes there are hard rains or windstorms so the national park closes off certain sections of the hike. Check the official Tenorio Volcano National Park Facebook page to keep up with it because you don’t want to miss out on seeing the entire thing. If you’re planning on booking a tour, ask the tour company how the conditions are first.
If you visit in the peak of rainy season, the river may not be as blue. You can visit in rainy season but sometimes when the rains are incredibly heavy and constant, the river isn’t as blue due to the sediment and run off.
Location and Directions
There are two ways to get to Tenorio Volcano National Park. You can go from La Fortuna/Arenal by way of Guatoso or you can go by Guanacaste as this national park lies right on the border between Guanacaste and Alajuela.
From Guanacaste: Drive to Liberia city and stay on the InterAmericana highway towards the south (like to San Jose). Continue on this highway for about 50 kilometers and about 10 minutes before Canas, turn left onto Route 6. Continue on this road for another 40 kilometers to reach the town of Bijagua. Turn right onto the road to the national park from the main road in Bijagua, about 1 kilometer north of Pizza Barrigon. Continue on this road for about 30 minutes to reach the national park entrance. This drive takes about 2 hours.
Hours and Fee
Parking is 1000 colones, foreigner entrance fee for adults is $12, $5 for children (ages 2-12). Adult nationals is 800 colones and 500 for children.
The park is open every day from 8 AM to 4 PM. You must enter the park before 2 PM.
The Hiking Trails
The entire trail there and back is a total of 7.2 kilometers (4.47 miles) but as in true Costa Rican fashion, it’s not quite as easy and straightforward as it sounds. It’s not a long or tough trail but it takes a long time due to the mud. It is not too difficult, but the mud and little steep parts make it more challenging.
As Tenorio Volcano National Park lies smack dab in the middle of the country between Pacific and Caribbean more than 500 meters in elevation, it rains often even in dry season leaving the trails always muddy.
There are 5 points of interest on this trail: the waterfall, a lookout point, the blue lagoon, the thermal spring bubbles and the point where the two rivers meet. If you’re not keen on trekking ankle deep in mud, you can just go to the waterfall which has a nice not muddy path.
However, I highly highly recommend you to walk the entire trail, mud and all. It’s 1000% worth it!
The beginning of the trail is beautifully paved, surrounded by a verdant primary and secondary rain forest. The first part of the trail is to the waterfall, about a 20-25 minute walk.
You’ll reach a cross section where you can go down 150 meters of steps to the waterfall or continue on the rest of the trail along the river. The steps to the waterfall aren’t that bad and as you walk down, you get glimpses of bright blue through the trees.
The waterfall greets you at the bottom and it is an incredible sight. Simply incredible.
I could’ve spent all day at this enthralling waterfall. You can’t help but stare at the bright blue pool and the very clear water in the fall. No wonder most people are happy with just seeing the waterfall, that alone is plenty beautiful enough!
We couldn’t pass up this chance to use our drone so when the skies cleared, Yeison flew the drone to get aerial footage of the waterfall and river. What he captured is beyond amazing. See it for yourself in the video, very little people know about what’s on top of the waterfall!
After you’re done looking at the waterfall, head back up to continue on the rest of the trail. From this point and on, the trail is extremely muddy. Be very careful as it’s easy to slip and fall!
This is a lookout point about 550 meters from the intersection. There’s a platform to walk on and you get a lovely view of the rain forest.
The Laguna Azul, or blue lagoon is 700 meters from the intersection. There is a little path before the viewpoint where you can sit on the rocks, put your feet in and take a little dip. Swimming isn’t allowed at the river or the hot springs but you can soak your feet at that spot.
You can see a girl sitting on the rock on the left side. 50 meters past the laguna azul are the bubbling thermal springs.
In the past, people used to be able to soak in the hot springs but it’s now prohibited due to some unfortunate incidents. They blocked off the section but you can clearly see the corner where the water bubbles. It’s not quite as blue at this part either.
The last 300 meters or so of the trail are not to be missed. You’ll see the bluest part of the river and where the two rivers meet to create this color.
You’ll cross a hanging bridge and notice the color of the water isn’t quite as celeste but as soon as you reach the next bridge, the water is intensely blue.
Cross the bridge and walk a tiny bit further to see where two different rivers meet to create one blue river, Rio Celeste. There’s a little bulletin board that explains in detail where the color comes from.
And that’s the end of the trail. You have to go back the same way you came so yup, that means more mud but every step is worth it!
You can see what our entire day hiking Rio Celeste is like in this video!
Tips for Visiting Rio Celeste
- Leave the parking ticket on the car dash and don’t leave anything valuable in your car
- Need a place to stay near Tenorio Volcano National Park? Check out Casitas Tenorio B&B in Bijagua. Awesome owners, tons of wildlife on the property and very cozy casitas. Get 10% off your booking!
- You can visit from Fortuna or Guanacaste. There are several tour companies in La Fortuna that offer one day trips which cost around $100 and there are now more companies in Guanacaste like Tamarindo and Coco offering these trips for around $140 per person.
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