If you’re planning on visiting the enchanting Rio Celeste, here is everything you need to know. Pictures don’t do it justice, so make sure you watch our aerial video at the end of the post!
**The first time went was April 2016. This post has been updated August 2019.**
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
Rio Celeste Costa Rica Facts
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.
What You Need to Know About Visiting and to Make Sure You See the Beautiful Blue Color
The national park is limiting the amount of people in the park
1000 visitors are allowed in the park throughout the day with 500 people on the trail at a time. Once there are 500 people in the park, the rest of the visitors will need to wait until people leave and they can get in. So go early, bring food and water and make sure to enter the park before 2 PM!
The trails can get very muddy
The trails can get really muddy if it’s raining at the moment you’re in the park. The first time we visited the national park in April 2016, it poured for about 30 minutes at the waterfall. From that rain, the trails got super muddy. We were covered up to our ankles in mud!
For our second time in September 2017, it rained the night before. The next morning, the trails were dry with just a couple spots with mud. We visited again January 2018 and it was mostly dry, very cloudy. Only had some off and on showers.
In July 2019, it had rained quite hard the day before but the trails dried up with only a couple spots of mud throughout the trail.
What to wear to Rio Celeste
The weather is generally hot during the day and cools off at night. Average temperatures are around low to mid 80s (28 C) and cools off at night to high 60s F (20 C). This area doesn’t follow the strict dry-rainy tropical season and it can rain in April and January which are summer months in Costa Rica.
- Shoes: If you don’t want to get muddy, you can rent rain boots for $5 outside the park entrance. I wore my KEEN hiking sandals. Yeison wore his waterproof KEEN hiking shoes. You do need a good pair of closed toed shoes suitable for hiking. If you are older or have ankle/knee problems, I recommend wearing good solid hiking shoes. There are a lot of rocks and tree roots you have to walk on.
- Clothing: You don’t need long hiking pants, shorts will do fine.
- Gear: Bring waterproof rain gear since this area can rain more. If you’re bringing camera equipment, you must have waterproof gear. We brought a heavy duty poncho, our North Face rain jackets, water resistant backpacks and a rain cover.
- Hiking Poles: If you’re older, hiking poles would not be a bad idea to help walking on the rocks and tree roots.
- Mosquito Repellent: You can put some on but I didn’t get bit at all.
Rio Celeste hiking difficulty and time
The trail is not that difficult. There isn’t an intense elevation climb or any switchbacks. However, there are some parts of the trails were you will need to walk on a lot of tree roots and steps.
The first section of the trail to the waterfall is on a very nice and flat trail.
Once you reach the waterfall entrance, there is a set of steep stairs (with handrails) to go down to the waterfall. It’s not impossible, but take your time going back up. Rest, take a breather, don’t run up the stairs.
For the rest of the trail, they have laid down concrete pieces in some sections to help with the mud.
You don’t need to be in amazing physical condition to hike the trails but if you have bad knees or ankle problems that won’t allow you to walk on uneven surfaces or steps, I recommend going to just the waterfall.
There are some short sections from the viewpoint to Blue Lagoon with steep steps (like in the photo) and it’s probably the hardest part of the trail. Unfortunately this trail is not handicap friendly.
As for how long the hike is, it is 3.7 miles (6 km round trip) and takes around 3 hours with no mud. With super muddy trails like our first time, it took us around 5 hours.
You do not need a guide, you can perfectly visit Rio Celeste on your own. It’s a straightforward trail with plenty of signage, you can’t get lost!
It gets crowded February – April
Since Rio Celeste is getting very popular and these are the high season tourism months, it gets crowded at the park. When we visited in April, it was packed. When we visited in September, it was super empty. We had all the viewpoints to ourselves. In July, the parking lot was full. There was a good amount of people but nothing too crowded.
If you want to have the place to yourself or with less people, enter the park as soon as it opens or go in low season.
You don’t need a 4×4
The road from Bijagua to the Tenorio Volcano National Park is completely paved (just finished March 2019). Now the drive takes about 20 minutes from Bijagua!
We took a video of us driving from Bijagua to the entrance of Tenorio Volcano National Park. See how to get to Tenorio Volcano National Park in this video! The only difference is that now the entire route is completely paved as opposed to just a few sections.
The road from La Fortuna via Guatuso to Rio Celeste is completely paved too and you can get there in a normal sedan.
Some parts of the national park may be closed depending on the weather
The national park closes when there is extreme weather. Check the official Tenorio Volcano National Park Facebook page to see current conditions. Sometimes they will close the whole park, other times it will be just certain sections.
Swimming is prohibited
Going into the river is strictly prohibited inside the national park. However, there is a free public entrance by the bridge 1 kilometer (~.6 mile) past the park entrance or you can pay $6 per person at Piruri Cabinas to swim in the river.
The public entrance is awesome, you can find a nice spot to sit between the rocks and walk down the river. The water is cold but feels so good!
If you visit in the peak of rainy season, the river may not be as blue as dry season
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. This is normally the months of October and November, the two rainiest months.
When we visited in September, it poured the entire night before we went. We were told not to go super early in the morning so we went around 9:30 AM and the water was blue. Not as blue as April, but definitely blue. When we walked past the waterfall on our way out, it was even bluer. So don’t worry if it rains the night before or even the day of, it takes a couple hours for it to go back to blue.
In July, the day before we visited the park poured rain and the river was brown. Luckily, the day we went was pretty sunny with some off and on clouds but no rain all day so it was perfect!
We have seen the blue color every time we have visited Rio Celeste, even during rainy season and even if it had rained the night before. However, we do know people who have visited in October and November and it was brown since it had rained for a few days in a row.
Location and Directions to Rio Celeste from La Fortuna and Liberia
Rio Celeste map
The closest town near Rio Celste is Bijagua de Upala. Tenorio Volcano National Park lies in the middle of the country between Pacific and Caribbean around 500 meters )1640 feet) in elevation.
For more in-depth directions and maps, check out our How to get to Rio Celeste guide here.
How to get to Rio Celeste from La Fortuna
The most common way to get from La Fortuna is through Guatuso and Upala. This route is on Waze and Google Maps. This route is about 2 hours.
You can also go through Tilaran/Canas and the InterAmericana highway 1 to Bijagua but this way takes longer.
How to get to Rio Celeste from Liberia
Drive to Liberia city and turn south on the InterAmericana highway. Continue for about 50 kilometers and about 10 minutes before Canas, turn left onto Route 6. Continue on this road for another 40 kilometers (~25 miles) to reach the town of Bijagua. Turn right onto the road to the national park, about 1 kilometer (.6 mile) north of Pizza Barrigon. Continue on this road for about 25 minutes. This drive takes about 1.5 hours.
This is the same way you will go coming from Tamarindo/Conchal and Playas del Coco/Gulf of Papagayo.
Tip: If you use Waze or Google Maps, make sure you enter Tenorio Volcano National Park – Rio Celeste (Google Maps) or Rio Celeste Waterfall Parking (Waze).
Shuttle or Bus
There are no buses or shuttles that go directly to the Tenorio Volcano National Park entrance. You must take a taxi, book a shuttle or hitch a ride from Bijagua. A taxi to the entrance costs around $30-40.
Hours and Fee
Parking is 2000 colones per car. The Tenorio Volcano National Park entrance fee for adults is $12, $5 for children (ages 2-12).
The park is open every day from 8 AM to 4 PM. You must enter the park before 2 PM.
Rio Celeste Costa Rica Map
Here is a map of Tenorio Volcano National Park.
The orange square where it says “Puesto Pilon” is the entrance to the national park and start of the trail. Entrada a Catarata is where the steps are down to the waterfall. Catarata is the waterfall. Laguna Azul is the blue lagoon, Mirador is the view point. Borbollones is the area where the water is hot and bubbly (like a hot spring) and Tenideros is where the the two rivers meet.
There is excellent signage throughout the entire park and it’s a straight trail so there’s no way to get lost.
Waterfall Trail (~1.5 kilometer,~1 mile from entrance, 150 meters, 490 feet down to waterfall)
The beginning of the trail is paved, surrounded by a verdant primary and secondary rain forest. The first part of the trail is to the waterfall, about a 30-40 minute walk. There is a short hanging bridge on the way.
You’ll reach a cross section where you can go down beautifully maintained steps to the waterfall. It is a bit steep so take your time! 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.
I could’ve spent all day at this enthralling waterfall. You can’t help but stare at the bright blue water!
We managed to fly our drone for a little bit, check out what the river looks like from above!
After you’re done looking at the waterfall, head back up to continue on the rest of the trail.
Mirador (550 meters, .3 miles)
This is a lookout point about a 20-30 minute walk from the intersection. There’s a platform to walk on and you get a lovely view of the rain forest.
The platform on top is falling apart a little so I don’t recommend going up there. But you can still get a nice view from the 1st platform.
Laguna Azul (Blue Lagoon, 200 meters, .1 miles)
The Laguna Azul, or blue lagoon is the next stop. There are some steeper steps and large rocks going down to the blue lagoon.
You can really see how blue it truly gets at this point!
50 meters past the laguna azul are the bubbling thermal springs.
Borbollones (50 meters, 164 feet past blue lagoon)
Here you can see the boiling water section of the river. In the past, people used to be able to soak in the hot springs but it’s now prohibited due to some unfortunate incidents. You can really smell the sulfur at this point so you can imagine just how hot that water is!
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.
Tenideros (last 300-400 meters, about 900-1000 feet)
There are two bridges to cross before you reach Tenideroes. The first goes over the normal river (no blue color).
The second bridge goes over the blue river and it is absolutely gorgeous. On the other side, there is a small area past the trees to the right where you can get some photos of people on the bridge.
Cross the bridge and walk a tiny bit further to see where two different rivers meet to create one blue river. This is the coolest part of the hike, seeing where the color starts. There is a billboard in Spanish and English that explains exactly where the blue color comes from.
Nature is amazing!
When you get to the parking lot, you can grab some food at the restaurants to re-energize yourself. We went to the restaurant to the right (los pilones) and it was pretty good!
Rio Celeste Costa Rica video
See what the waterfall looks like from the air!
Tips for Visiting
- Leave the parking ticket on the car dash and don’t leave anything valuable in your car.
- You can rent boots for $5 at the entrance office.
- There are bathrooms and two restaurants outside the national park.
- We recommend staying a couple nights in Bijagua if you are visiting in rainy season. You’ll be taking a chance if you only have one day to see Rio Celeste in case they have to close the park due to heavy rains or the river may not be as blue.
Rio Celeste Tours
There are one day tours from La Fortuna that cost around $140 per adult minimum 2 people. Tours from Playas del Coco and Tamarindo cost around $150 per adult minimum 2-3 people.
If you are in La Fortuna, get 10% off the tour tour by clicking below!
If you are in La Fortuna and want to do a self guided hike, there is a company called Arenalevergreen that provides daily shuttles and round trip transportation for $50 per person.
If you rented a car and want a guide for the park, check out Bijagua Rainforest Tours. They charge $60 per adult for a full day guided tour. With transportation is $80 per adult. If you need transportation from Bijagua to the national park, they charge $50 round trip for 2-4 passengers.
Rio Celeste Hotels
There are a few hotels around Tenorio Volcano National Park. We stayed at Casitas Tenorio B&B in Bijagua. Awesome owners, tons of wildlife on the property and very cozy casitas. Get 10% off your booking in the link!
Read about other waterfalls and hikes in Costa Rica!
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