If you’re planning on visiting the enchanting Rio Celeste, Costa Rica then 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 March 4, 2020** Click here to read latest Costa Rica coronavirus information.
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- 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. They stop letting people in the park after 2 PM or when they have hit capacity).
December – April is very busy so it is recommended to arrive at the park in the morning before 10 AM. In March 2020, we entered the park at 9 AM and missed the huge wave of people. After us, people had to wait in line to go to the waterfall and cross the bridge!
If you are visiting in low season months of May, June, August – November, it is not quite so busy and you don’t necessarily need to get there super early.
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. On March 2, 2020, it had rained really hard the day before and we had some spots with more mud.
What to wear to Rio Celeste
The weather is generally hot and humid 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 during dry season (January – April) which are summer months in Costa Rica.
- Shoes: You can rent rain boots for $5 USD outside the park entrance. I personally love closed toed hiking shoes for Rio Celeste, specifically 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, steps and tree roots you have to walk on. No sandals, no flip flops, no high heels.
- Clothing: You don’t need long hiking pants, shorts will do fine. We personally recommend clothes that dry fast and wick away moisture because it is humid. You do not want to be walking in jeans and thick cotton tshirts!
- 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 are recommended to going downhill on the steps and the uneven path.
- Mosquito Repellent: You can put some on but I didn’t get bit at all.
Rio Celeste, Costa Rica hiking difficulty and time
The trail is not terribly long or difficult. There isn’t an intense elevation climb or any switchbacks. However, there are some very steep steps and many big rocks and tree roots you have to walk on. There are also two small creeks you need to walk through (very small, not deep. Just be careful when you step on rocks as it can be slippery).
As for how long the hike is, it is 3.7 miles (6 km round trip) and takes around 3 hours on a good day. 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!
*You will see more photos of the trail down below in the post.*
The first section of the trail from the entrance to the waterfall is on a very nice and flat trail. It is mostly dirt but goes from concrete to dirt a few times and passes by one suspension bridge. There are some steps on the dirt paths. The walk from the entrance to Rio Celeste Waterfall takes around 30 minutes.
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. It is steep. Rest, take a breather, don’t run up the stairs.
There are some short sections from the viewpoint to Blue Lagoon with steep steps (like in the photo). Unfortunately this trail is not handicap friendly, not even to the waterfall.
For the rest of the trail, they have laid down some sandbags and concrete pieces to help with the mud but only in short sections of the trail. It is mostly dirt and not the most well maintained (roots, loose rocks, big rocks, etc.).
You don’t need to be in amazing physical condition to hike the trails but if you are not in good condition to walk at least 3-4 miles at a time, 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.
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. Sometimes they may be fixing a bridge or trail so they may also close certain sections (especially in rainy season).
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 USD 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 when 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.
Visiting Rio Celeste with Kids
You can definitely visit Rio Celeste with kids! We saw a ton of families and it’s a great hike to work up a sweat with the family. Teenagers and active kids will love this hike.
If you have babies or toddlers, you will have to bring them in a baby carrier. The trails are very narrow and are not suitable for strollers. We saw families with young kids of 3 or 4 years old. The parents carried them on the steep steps and the little ones walked themselves until they got tired.
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 and is very pleasant.
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 USD.
Hours and Fee
Parking is 2000 colones per car. The Tenorio Volcano National Park entrance fee for adults is $12 USD, $5 USD for children (ages 2-12). The ticket office is right outside the park entrance and they also have good bathrooms (not porter potties or outhouses). There will be a ranger telling you where to wait in line.
Credit card is the only format of payment. They will give you a paper ticket which you need to show the park ranger at the entrance of the park.
The park is open every day from 8 AM to 2 PM. They do not give out park maps but there are signs throughout the park and signage is excellent.
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.
Ticket Office and Entrance
This is the Tenorio Volcano National Park ticket office. There are bathrooms which we recommend to use because there are no bathrooms or facilities inside the park.
This is the entrance of the national park. They now check your backpacks and you have to show your park ticket. The ranger asked me if I had any cigarettes or knives, quickly checked my backpack and I went on my way.
Waterfall Trail (1.5 kilometers or .9 miles to waterfall steps from entrance)
The beginning of the trail is concrete surrounded by a verdant primary and secondary rain forest. The first part of the trail is to the waterfall, about a 30 minute walk. There is a short hanging bridge on the way.
There is a very nice Tenorio Volcano National Park sign that makes for a nice photo.
A little after, you’ll cross a hanging bridge. We saw white face monkeys right by here!
After walking through two very small creeks and the rest of the trail, you’ll come to an area with a couple large signs and the stairway arch to the waterfall.
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! It is on nice steps with handrails. As you walk down, you get glimpses of bright blue through the trees. It is 150 meters or 490 feet down to the waterfall.
In busy times, you may have to wait here to go to the waterfall. When we visited beginning of March 2020, when we came back up the stairs, there were about 20 people in line.
There are some great spots on the stairs to take very nice photos of the stairs and waterfall.
Once you reach the bottom, there is a nice viewing platform for photos.
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!
Rio Celeste, Costa Rica Video
We managed to fly our drone for a little bit, check out what the river looks like from above!
Here is an aerial photo of Rio Celeste waterfall.
After you’re done looking at the waterfall, head back up to continue on the rest of the trail. The steps are steep so take your time!
Mirador (550 meters, .3 miles)
This platform is currently closed as of March 2020. But you can still get a nice view of the jungle and there is a billboard with some information of the rainforest and area.
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. You can really smell the sulfur at this point so you can imagine just how hot that water is! Make sure to obey the signs and do not hop the fence, do not swim, do not enter the water.
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 right outside to the left (Los Pilones) and it was pretty good and not expensive. Their fruit smoothies were heaven after the humid hike!
Rio Celeste, Costa Rica video
This is a short vlog of our first visit to Rio Celeste, check it out!
Tips for Visiting Rio Celeste, Costa Rica
- Leave the parking ticket on the car dash. The parking guards are always going around but don’t leave valuables visible in the car (wallets/ipads/iphones out on the seats, etc.)
- You can rent boots for $5 USD 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.
- You may see animals on the trails like pizotes, armadillos and monkeys.
Rio Celeste, Costa Rica Tours
There are one day tours from La Fortuna that cost around $140 USD per adult minimum 2 people. Tours from Playas del Coco and Tamarindo cost around $126 USD per adult minimum 2-3 people.
If you are in La Fortuna or Guanacaste, contact us to get 10% off tours! Tours include roundtrip transportation, bilingual guide, lunch, national park fee and refreshments.
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 USD per person.
If you rented a car and want a guide for the park, check out Bijagua Rainforest Tours. They charge $60 USD per adult for a full day guided tour. With transportation is $80 USD per adult. If you need transportation from Bijagua to the national park, they charge $50 USD 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 (get 10% off in the link) in Bijagua. Awesome owners, tons of wildlife on the property and very cozy casitas.
Read about other waterfalls and hikes in Costa Rica!
Manuel Antonio National Park: hiking guide to this popular national park
Catarata Llanos de Cortes: Beautiful waterfall near Liberia, Guanacaste
Blue Falls of Costa Rica: Two small, sky blue colored waterfalls (similar to Rio Celeste) in Bajos del Toro
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