Rio Celeste: The Turquoise River

rio celeste costa rica

Legend has it that Rio Celeste got its distinctive turquoise color after God, finished painting the sky, dipped his paint brush into the river. With spectacular turquoise blue waters, magnificent waterfall, and jungle trails, Rio Celeste is one of Costa Rica’s best kept secrets.


Rio Celeste (Tenorio Volcano National Park)


tenorio national park rio celeste costa rica


Cost: $12 (Adult), $5 (Children 2-12 yr); only credit cards are accepted.


Hours: 7 am - 4 pm (last entrance is at 2 pm). It is highly recommended that you arrive before 9 am as it gets very busy later in the day. They also only allow 400 people in the park at a time, so once that quota is meet you will have to stand in line until someone leaves the park. There is also a 1200 person daily quota for the park.


Banned Items: You have to go through a check point while in line before proceeding to buy your ticket. At This point a park ranger will check your bag to make sure you do not have any banned items; single use plastics and drones.


Restrooms: There are restrooms at the ranger station at the entrance of the park.


Rubber Boot Rental: During rainy season the trail can get very muddy. If you do not have shoes that you don't mind getting muddy you can rent rubber boots outside the park entrance for $5.


Food: Outside the entrance there is usually a street food vendor selling meat on a stick and there is also a restaurant across the street. There are a number of other restaurants to the east of the park.


Swimming: Swimming is not permitted within the national park, but you can swim in the river further down stream.

Rio Celeste Trail



rio celeste costa rica


There is only one 3.5 mile (out-and-back) trail through the park and it will take about 2-4 hours to complete depending on mud and your fitness. Although the trail is not terribly challenging, there are some steep inclines (including the 250 steps to get to the waterfall) and some parts with very rocky terrain.


Rio Celeste Waterfall


rio celeste waterfall costa rica
The beautiful Rio Celeste Waterfall and the winding stairs.


The trail from the ranger station to the waterfall is relatively flat and is paved for part of the way. Once the paved trail ends it is all natural for the rest of the way. This part of the trail is 1500 m and takes about 20 minutes to walk and is the most trafficked part since some people only hike to see the waterfall and then return.


Once you get to the turnoff point for the waterfall there is a resting area, where you will need to descend about 250 steps to get down to the waterfall. It is well worth the descent and climb back up. The jungle wrapped waterfall of Rio Celeste plunges 98 feet into a pool of turquoise water, creating an incredible image of contrasting colors and spellbinding scenery.


Mirador



view point rio celeste costa rica
View of the jungle canopy in Tenorio National Park.


Continuing 500 meters further down the trail will take you to a viewpoint over looking the jungle below. There is also a sign here describing the biodiversity of the area.

Laguna Azul



laguna azul rio celeste costa rica
The turquoise water of Laguna Azul.


Traveling another 150 meters down the trail and there is another short offshoot that takes you to Laguna Azul. This small lagoon lets you get up close to see how blue this awe inspiring water truly is. Laguna Azul looks straight out of a mythical tale about a fairy pond.

Borbollones



borbollones rio celeste costa rica
As the sulfuric gases seep from Tenorio Volcano it causes the water to boil and the air to smell.


After another 50 meters will take you past a point in the river where sulfuric gases from Tenorio Volcano bubble up through the water. You won't be able to miss it due to the strong smell of sulfur in the air.

Hanging Bridges



hanging bridge rio celest costa rica
Hanging bridge over the Rio Celeste.  One of the bluest parts of the river.


For the final 300 meters the trail winds through the jungle and crosses two hanging bridges. It is across the second bridge that the river is at its bluest in color. It is just a short distance from the Teñidero; the point where two rivers come together and cause the chemical reaction that causes its color.

Teñidero



tenidero rio celeste costa rica
When the two rivers combine at this point in causes a chemical reaction turning the Rio Celeste to a turquoise color.


At the end of the trail is the Teñidero; the point where the Quebrada Agria and Rio Buena Vista come together and create Rio Celeste. At this location there is a billboard in both Spanish and English describing exactly how the river becomes the turquoise color.

Why the Color?


The color is created when the Rio Buena Vista, containing a high concentration of aluminosilicate particles, combines with the Quebrada Agria. The pH change in the mixing of the rivers causes the aluminosilicate particles to enlarge in size. When light hits the suspended particles it produces a Mie scattering effect which gives the river its beautiful turquoise color.

My Experience


Rio Celeste had been on my travel list for a while, but it was a bit too far out of the way for me to commit to going there. But while returning to northwest Guanacaste we decided to break up the drive and make a stop over in Rio Celeste and I am extremely glad that I did. It was one of the great parts of
the trip.

free swimming rio celeste costa rica
Margoth told us of a free swimming spot in the Rio Celeste that was near her house.



Upon the way we decided to rent a room at La Casa de Margoth in the village of Rio Celeste. It was close enough to get to the park early in the morning and was cheap enough to meet our budget. Meeting Margoth turned out to be a pleasant surprise as well. She was a wonderful host and very knowledgeable about the area.


breakfast rio celeste costa rica
Delicious traditional breakfast at Margoth's house.


The following morning, after eating an amazing breakfast with Margoth, we drove up to the park at around 8 am and there was already a line to get in. Being so early in the morning the line moved fairly fast; slowed down only by the time it took the park rangers to check peoples bags and sell the tickets.


There was a constant stream of people entering the park, many of which were with big tour groups. Since we knew there were big groups coming up the trail behind us, we decided to make the waterfall our first stop, thinking it would probably get busier as the day went on.


raised walkway rio celeste costa rica
One of the areas where they raised the walkway above the muddy section of the trail.


We continued down the trail stopping at each place to take in the sites, take pictures, and just marvel at the blueness of the color. We lucked out that we went during the dry season and the trail was in good condition. We had read stories of the trail being very muddy when it rained and could see the places that would have been problematic during rainy season, though it seemed like they had put in raised paths to help levitate some of the worst areas.


long line rio celeste costa rica
The long line of people waiting to enter Rio Celeste.


When we returned to the entrance there was still a slow trickle of people entering the park, but, as we realized upon leaving, it was due to the park quota being meet. Outside the ranger station there was a long line of people that wound back and forth out into the parking lot, which was also full of cars.

How to Get There


This once off the beaten path destination now brings in a growing number of tourists, but there still are
not a lot of options to get there. A rental car still remains the only means to get there directly.

Bus


There is no direct bus to get to the park entrance, so you will need to take at least one bus coupled with a taxi; depending on where you are coming from.


From La Fortuna: You have two options from La Fortuna. You can take a multiple buses; La Fortuna to San Carlos to Guatuso to Rio Celeste (7:10 am, Noon, and 3:15 pm) and then walk to the entrance. Or you can take multiple buses and a taxi; La Fortuna to San Carlos to Katira and then a taxi to the park (3,000 CRC/4.90 USD - 5,000 CRC/8.17 USD).


From Liberia: If you are coming from Liberia you will need to take a bus to Canas, where you will transfer to a new bus to Bijagua. From Bijagua you will need to take a taxi to Rio Celeste (15,000 CRC/24.50 USD - 20,000 CRC/32.67 USD).


From San Jose: From San Jose you can take a direct bus to Bijagua, where you will then need to take a taxi to Rio Celeste (15,000 CRC/24.50 USD - 20,000 CRC/32.67 USD).

Car


The best option for getting to the park is by renting a car. The roads there are windy and can be steep in some sections, but they are paved all the way so you won't have any trouble getting there in a car. I went in a regular sedan and was fine; it was during dry season though.


There is parking at the park entrance for 2000 CRC. The parking attendant will give you a ticket to put on your dashboard to show that you have paid. Although there are attendants in the lot the whole time, it is always prudent to put your valuables away in your trunk when you leave your car.

Where To Stay



margoth house rio celeste costa rica



Where to stay is very open to where you are coming from. Because Rio Celeste can be done as a day trip from both Liberia and La Fortuna, you could stay in either of those towns. If you are passing through or want to stay closer, there are a number of options for you as well. The nearest town is Bijagua, which is 12 km west of Rio Celeste and has options ranging from budget to high-end hotels.


The other option is rent a house/room near the entrance to the park. There are a number of places close to the entrance and in the nearby village of Rio Celeste. I choose to rent a room from La Casa de Margoth in Rio Celeste and enjoyed my stay. She let us cook dinner in her kitchen and then she provided breakfast for us the following morning. She is also just a very delightful person and knowledgeable about the area. There is also free access to the river about 1 km away where you can swim without all of the crowds.


What was your experience at Rio Celeste?

rio celeste costa rica


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