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.
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
- Rio Celeste tours
- Rio Celeste hotels
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 specifically to see Rio Celeste.
What You Need to Know About Visiting Rio Celeste
**The first time went was April 2016. This post has been updated as of January 2018.**
It can get very muddy
The trails can get really muddy if it’s raining at the moment you’re in the park. It’s not quite as muddy otherwise. The first time we visited Rio Celeste in April, it poured for about 30 minutes when we got to the waterfall. From that rain, the trails got super muddy, we were covered up to our ankles in mud!
But for our second time in September 2017, it rained the night before but not the day we were in the park so trails were dry with just a couple spots with mud.
What to wear to Rio Celeste
- 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 as there are some big rocks to walk on and it gets a little steep/slippery at times. No flip flops, water shoes, flats, or open toed sandals. If you are older or have ankle/knee problems, I recommend wearing good solid hiking shoes instead of sandals since there are a lot of rocks and tree roots you have to walk on.
- 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! The temperature does not really get cold and it’s a bit humid so you’ll be hot and sweaty after you walk about 10-15 minutes.
- Gear: Bring waterproof rain gear. Trust us! This area rains a lot and rains randomly so you want to be prepared. 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, they were all older folk. It is a fairly flat trail but there are a few spots where it gets a bit steep and you need to walk over rocks. If you’re older or have some trouble with your knees or walking downhill, hiking poles would not be a bad idea.
- Mosquito Repellent: You can put some on but honestly, I wore shorts and I didn’t get bit at all nor did I notice that many mosquitoes or bugs.
Rio Celeste Hiking Difficulty and Time
The trail is not that difficult as in there isn’t intense elevation climb and you don’t need to scramble or anything like that. But there are some parts of the trails were you will need to walk on a lot of tree roots. They have laid down concrete pieces to help with the mud which is nice.
The first section of the trail to the waterfall is on a very nice and flat trail. After the waterfall however, there are some steps, the trail isn’t quite as nicely maintained and like I mentioned earlier, it can get muddy if it rains.
You don’t need to be in great physical condition to hike Rio Celeste but if you have knee or ankle problems that won’t allow you to walk for long periods of time on uneven surfaces, I recommend going to just the waterfall.
As for how long the Rio Celeste hike 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 also do not need a guide for Rio Celeste, you can perfectly do it on your own.
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, there was about 25 people waiting in line down at the waterfall and crossing the bridge. 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 or go in low season.
When we visited in April, it was packed. The platform at the waterfall was completely full. When we visited in September, it was super empty. We had all the viewpoints to ourselves and there were only about 8 cars in the parking lot.
You don’t need a 4×4
The road from Bijagua and La Fortuna to the Tenorio Volcano National Park has been redone in some areas after Hurricane Otto of December 2016 so it is not mandatory to have a 4×4. It is still nice to have a high car for comfort but if you are not renting one, you can still make it to Rio Celeste. The drive is a lot shorter now due to the paved road and takes about 25 minutes from Bijagua now!
We took a video of us driving from Bijagua de Upala to the entrance of Tenorio Volcano National Park. See how to get to Rio Celeste in this video!
Some parts of the national park 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.
Swimming Rio Celeste is prohibited
Going into the river is strictly prohibited inside the national park. They built a fence at the waterfall view point area to prevent people from swimming to preserve the nature and prevent accidents.
However, there is a free public entrance by the bridge 1 kilometer past the park entrance or you can pay $6 per person at Piruri Cabinas to swim in Rio Celeste.
They have a nice swimming area with chairs and calm water so it’s nice for those who want something a bit more maintained and not rocky. But the public entrance is awesome, you can find a nice spot to sit between the rocks!
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 after months of hard rains. But it only takes a couple hours for it to turn back to blue!
When we visited in September, it poured the entire night before we went. We were told not to go super early in the morning because it may still be brown 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!
Location and Directions to Rio Celeste from La Fortuna and Liberia
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.
How to get to Rio Celeste from La Fortuna
There are three ways to go from La Fortuna to Rio Celeste but the most common way is through Guatuso and Upala. This route is on Waze, look for Rio Celeste (the one put in by EduardoCarvajal, last updated by juankx). You can also go through Tilaran/Canas and the InterAmericana highway 1.
How to get to Rio Celeste from Liberia
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 passing Bagaces 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 25 minutes to reach the national park entrance. This drive takes about 1.5 hours.
This is the same way you will go whether you are coming from Tamarindo/Conchal and Playas del Coco/Gulf of Papagayo.
Rio Celeste Hours and Fee
Parking is 1000 colones. The Rio Celeste 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.
Tenorio Volcano National Park – Rio Celeste Hiking Trail
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 beginning of 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 to make the blue color.
Tenorio Volcano National Park lies smack dab in the middle of the country between Pacific and Caribbean around 500 meters in elevation.
The entire trail there and back is a total of 6 kilometers. There is excellent signage throughout the entire park so you know what point you are at and they also have some informational posts.
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.
Rio Celeste Waterfall Trail (~1.5 kilometer from entrance, 150 meters down to waterfall)
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 30-40 minute walk. There is a short hanging bridge on the way.
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 water!
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. This part can get very muddy if it rained.
Remember, it may not be this muddy when you go. April is technically our hottest month in dry season and it poured. September is technically one of the rainiest months and we got a gorgeous sunny day with no mud so it all depends.
Mirador (550 meters)
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 platform on top is falling apart a little (the post holding the steps is broken) so I don’t recommend going up there. But you can still get a nice view from the 1st platform.
Laguna Azul (Blue Lagoon of Rio Celeste, 200 meters)
The Laguna Azul, or blue lagoon is 700 meters (200 meters from the mirador) from the intersection. 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 past blue lagoon)
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. You can really smell the sulfur at this point so you can imagine just how hot that water is! You definitely don’t want to be jumping in there.
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)
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 insanely 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. This is the coolest part of the river, seeing where the color starts. Nature is amazing!
And that’s the end of the trail. Head back the same way you came and enjoy the rest of the hike!
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.
- You can rent boots for $5 at the entrance office.
- There are bathrooms and a hose at the office. We used the hose to wash our shoes and feet when we came out.
- There are two restaurants right outside the national park. There is also a guy selling pipa fria (cold coconuts) at the entrance which tasted so refreshing after a hike.
Rio Celeste Tours
Although we recommend staying a night or two in Bijagua, you can do a one day Rio Celeste tour. There are Rio Celeste tours from La Fortuna that cost around $140 per adult minimum 2 people. Tours from Guanacaste are only from northern Guanacaste such as Playas del Coco and Tamarindo and these cost around $150 per adult minimum 2-3 people.
If you are in La Fortuna and want to visit Rio Celeste, we have an awesome 10% discount for you!
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. This is only transportation, they do not provide a full tour.
If you rented a car and want a guide just for the park, check out Bijagua Rainforest Tours. They are a local tour company in Bijagua and you can hire a guide for $60 per adult, $35 children under 12 for a full day guided tour of Rio Celeste. It includes the guide, lunch, entrance fee and water and it is a full day tour from 8 AM to 3 PM. With transportation is $80 per adult, $40 per child. If you need transportation from Bijagua to the national park, they charge $50 round trip for 2-4 passengers.
Just remember that if you go in the rainiest months (Octobber/November/beginning of December), it may not be as blue depending on the weather conditions and the park may close due to extreme weather so please be aware that.
We do recommend staying a couple nights in Bijagua if you really want to see Rio Celeste and are visiting in rainy season so that you have more time and can be flexible. You’ll be taking a bit of a chance if you only have one day to see Rio Celeste on a one day tour, if it happens to be raining a lot that day or they close the park, unfortunately you’ll be out of luck.
Rio Celeste Hotels
There are a few hotels around Rio Celeste and Tenorio Volcano National Park, most are in the town of Bijagua. We stayed at Casitas Tenorio B&B in Bijagua. Awesome owners, tons of wildlife on the property and very cozy casitas. Only 25 minutes from the national park. Get 10% off your booking in the link!
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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. 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.
Read about other waterfalls and hikes in Costa Rica!
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