If you’re planning on visiting the enchanting Rio Celeste, Costa Rica then here is everything you need to know to plan the perfect visit so that you can see the sky blue river inside the Tenorio Volcano National Park.
Rio Celeste, Costa Rica Myths and 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 to Know About Rio Celeste to Make Sure You See the Beautiful Blue Color
Plan your trip accordingly
Tenorio Volcano National Park is one of the five most visited parks in Costa Rica. Since they have a limited number of number of visitors per day, plan your trip accordingly if you are visiting during December through April, as that is the busiest time of year. July is also another busy month.
If you are visiting Rio Celeste December through April or July, we recommend to arrive at the park in the morning before 9 AM. If you are visiting in lower tourism season months of May, June, August – November, it is not quite so busy. The latest time to enter the park is at 2 PM and the park closes at 4 PM. Everyone has to leave the park by 4 PM.
If you’re visiting during Christmas or New Years, you will need to get there at least 30 minutes to an hour before the park opens at 8 AM to get tickets. Unfortunately you cannot pre-purchase park tickets so it is first come, first serve.
The trails can get very muddy
The dirt trails can get really muddy if it has been raining a lot in the area. 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!
The other times we have visited were dry luckily. It rained the day before and the trails dried up by the next morning.
Weather and What to Wear to Rio Celeste
Rio Celeste weather is generally hot and humid being the tropical rainforest. Average daytime temperatures are around low to mid 80s F (28 C).
Keep in mind that this area doesn’t strictly follow the dry-rainy tropical seasons and it can rain during dry season (December – April).
- Shoes: No flip flops, no high heels, no open toed sandals. As trails are dirt and full of tree roots and rocks, you need to have good shoes. I personally love closed toed hiking shoes for Rio Celeste, specifically my KEEN hiking sandals. Yeison wore his waterproof KEEN hiking shoes. Trail running shoes are excellent, especially if they’re waterproof.
- Clothing: You don’t need long hiking pants, shorts will do fine but make sure to apply mosquito repellent. We personally recommend clothes that dry fast and wick away moisture because it is very humid.
- Gear: Bring waterproof rain gear, especially if you’re bringing camera equipment. We brought a heavy duty poncho, our North Face rain jackets, Aqua Quest waterproof backpacks and a backpack rain cover.
- Hiking Poles: If you’re older with knee/ankle problems, hiking poles are recommended to go downhill on the steps and the uneven paths.
- Mosquito Repellent: a must!
Remember, single use plastics are not allowed in the national park so make sure to bring a filled reusable insulated water bottle!
Rio Celeste, Costa Rica hiking difficulty and time
Rio Celeste hiking level is moderate. The trail is not terribly long or difficult but for inexperienced hikers, some sections may prove a little challenging, particularly the waterfall. There are around 150 or so very steep steps to the waterfall. Additionally, there are many big rocks and tree roots you have to walk on as it’s a natural path.
The Rio Celeste hike is 3.7 miles (6 km) total and takes around 3 hours. It may take a bit longer if it is raining.
If you are not in good condition to walk at least 3-4 miles through the forest or 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.
Do you need a guide for Rio Celeste?
You do not need a guide for Rio Celeste. You can perfectly visit Rio Celeste on your own. It’s a straightforward linear trail with plenty of signage. You walk all the way to the end, turn around and walk back the same trail. You cannot get lost in the national park.
*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 through one suspension bridge. 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.
Unfortunately the Rio Celeste trail is not handicap friendly. The trail is mostly a natural path (roots, loose rocks, big rocks, etc.).
Some parts of the national park may close 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).
We highly recommend checking that Facebook page before your visit.
Swimming is prohibited in the park
Swimming in Rio Celeste 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. The public entrance is very nice, you can find a nice spot to sit between the rocks and walk down the river. The water is cold but feels so good!
It’s one of the best free things to do in Costa Rica. On Google Maps, it is called “Rio Celeste Free Pool.” There is a dedicated parking spot on the side of the road for this free Rio Celeste swimming hole (get more information on how to visit this spot in the link!)
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 or there is a tropical storm, the river isn’t as blue due to the sediment and run off. This normally occurs during the months of October and November. Sometimes the beginning of December can be very rainy too.
However, if there isn’t a storm and it is the normal on/off rains, do not worry. It takes a lot of rain for the blue color to turn brown. We have seen the blue color every time we have visited Rio Celeste, even during rainy season.
If you’re visiting in rainy season, we recommend staying a couple nights in Bijagua. You’ll have more opportunities to see the blue river just in case it’s raining during your visit.
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 bring your baby in a baby carrier, make sure you have enough stamina to carry them up and down the steep steps to the waterfall and the rest of the trail. Strollers are not allowed inside Tenorio Volcano National Park.
Location and Directions to Rio Celeste from La Fortuna and Liberia
Rio Celeste map
The closest town near Rio Celeste is Bijagua de Upala. Rio Celeste is inside the Tenorio Volcano National Park which lies in the middle of the country between Pacific and Caribbean around 500 meters (1640 feet) in elevation.
How to get to Rio Celeste from Liberia by Driving
If you are renting a car, use a GPS device, Google Maps or Waze. However, do not just type in “Rio Celeste” as this will lead you to the wrong place or it will say no results found. Remember, Rio Celeste is the long river inside Tenorio Volcano National Park so this is my advice for getting to the park entrance. You need to look for the national park parking lot or I like to put the restaurant outside the ticket office.
Google Maps: Enter Parqueo del Parque Nacional Tenorio as your destination. This will take you to the parking lots right outside the Tenorio Volcano National Park.
Waze: Enter Soda El Pilón. This is a restaurant right in front of the ticket office next to the main parking lot.
You will know when you’ve reached the park entrance because you will see a lot of signs for parking. You cannot miss it. There will be locals wearing yellow vests waving flags, trying to get you to park in their lot.
We prefer to park at the parking lot right at the entrance (left side in the photo above). Parking costs 2000 CRC per car and you need to leave the slip of paper in the dash of the car.
The parking guards are always going around but don’t leave valuables visible in the car.
How to get to Rio Celeste from La Fortuna
The most common way to get from La Fortuna is through Guatuso and Upala. This drive is about 1.5-2 hours.
Pro planning tip: If you are driving from La Fortuna – Guanacaste (like Tamarindo/Playas del Coco), you can stop by Rio Celeste on your way. Carefully cover your valuables and luggage in the car and park as close as possible to the ticket office. We recommend to leave La Fortuna early around 730-8 AM to get to the park before 10 AM, take around 3-4 hours to hike and have lunch and depart Bijagua by 2-3 PM to drive 2-2.5 hours to your final destination in the daylight.
You Don’t Need a 4×4 in Dry Season for Rio Celeste
The road to the entrance of Tenorio Volcano National Park (Rio Celeste) is paved. From Bijagua, the drive is around 30 minutes. In the dry season, it is not absolutely necessary to have a 4wd or 4×4 but you need to drive carefully due to narrow roads. However, in rainy season, this road can get slippery so a 4wd in the rainy season is highly recommended.
Something else to note is that the speed limit is not really respected or well displayed here. The locals tend to tailgate and drive fast so if someone is tailgating you, don’t get nervous. Keep going the speed you’re comfortable at and they will pass you on their own accord. Don’t try to pull over or speed up.
Shuttle or Bus
There are no public buses that go directly to the Tenorio Volcano National Park entrance. You must take a taxi or hitch a ride from Bijagua. A taxi to the entrance costs around $30-40 USD.
Hours and Fee
The Tenorio Volcano National Park entrance fee for adults is $12 USD, $5 USD for children (ages 2-12). Credit/debit card only (Visa/Mastercard) – no cash. They will give you a paper ticket which you need to show the park ranger at the entrance of the park. The ticket office is right outside the park entrance and they also have clean bathrooms.
Parking is 2000 colones per car. Give this to the parking attendant that comes up to you when you park. They will hand you a slip of paper in return, which you must display on your car dash.
Rio Celeste – Tenorio Volcano National Park is open every day from 8 AM to 4 PM and the last entry must be before 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 before going in the park. There are no bathrooms or facilities inside the park.
They have marked areas for where visitors have to go. You will need to follow their marked paths and get in line to enter the park. The guard will check your backpack before entering. Single use plastics are not allowed in the park.
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 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.
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 took a quick aerial video of the river.
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 has 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. 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.
You may see animals on the trails like pizotes, armadillos and monkeys. If you’re SUPER lucky, you may see a tapir as there are some that live in this national park.
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. And that’s the end of the trail. Head back the same way you came and enjoy the rest of the hike! Make sure to take it slow and enjoy your time!
Outside the park entrance are a couple of good local restaurants. We went to the restaurant right outside to the left (Los Pilones) which had good food and smoothies. It was not that expensive either.
Rio Celeste, Costa Rica Video
This is a short vlog of our first visit to Rio Celeste. You can see how muddy the trails got because it poured rain for 30 minutes when we were at the waterfall.
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 7% off tours! Tours include roundtrip transportation, bilingual guide, lunch, national park fee and refreshments.
Rio Celeste Hotels
There are a few hotels in Bijagua and near Rio Celeste. 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. La Carolina Lodge is another more rustic lodge with a working farm.
If you want something more upscale with air conditioning, Rio Celeste Hideaway Hotel is a great option with beautiful rooms and is very close to the park entrance.
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 There are Amazon affiliate links in this post.