You’ll agree that Costa Rica’s magic places have no limits when you first glimpse Rio Celeste.
The remarkable tourist attraction is located in the Tenorio Volcano National Park in the northern lowlands of Guanacaste Province.
Rio Celeste isn’t your regular river. Its otherworldly pale turquoise color appears oddly man-made against the emerald green hues of the surrounding rainforest.
According to local legend, Rio Celeste was formed when God was painting the world into existence. As he painted the sky blue, he dipped his brush into the river giving it its celestial appearance.
Yet the river’s blue water is totally natural. Its milky tone is the result of a blend of minerals, light, and water combined in just the right quantity to create a sky colored optical phenomenon.
Rio Celeste Tenorio Volcano
Tenorio National Park is home to Tenorio Volcano, one of five major volcanoes found within the Cordillera de Guanacaste mountain range.
The park makes up part of the greater Arenal Tempisque Conservation Area. A huge parcel of protected wilderness that spans over seven percent of Costa Rica’s land territory.
Don’t be discouraged because there’s only one hiking trail. The park’s dramatic beauty and abundant wildlife make the trip worthwhile.
Tenorio Volcano has been dormant for ages, yet it still produces geothermal activity, including sulfur hot springs and other unusual sights. The park’s hiking trail leads visitors from one noteworthy spot to another. The most famous of which is the Rio Celeste Waterfall.
Visiting Rio Celeste
The best way to visit Río Celeste is by car or on a tour. The park is not accessible by public bus, and renting a taxi can be very expensive.
It’s not necessary to rent a 4WD vehicle. The road to and from Tenorio Volcano National Park is paved and in good condition. However, if you plan on traveling extensively through Costa Rica, a 4X4 car is your smartest choice. The added clearance and traction are a must on unpaved or poorly maintained roads.
Most visitors take day trips to Tenorio Volcano from nearby destinations like La Fortuna / Arenal or the Northwest Pacific Coast beach towns.
We recommend finding lodging in the nearby Bijagua de Upala if you wish to stay overnight. Several small yet charming local hotels can be found in and around the town.
Just about every tour provider in the country will offer day tours to Rio Celeste y los Teñidores. Such outings include shuttle transportation to and from the park, the park entrance fee, and a guide. Sometimes lunch, beverages, and drinks are included in the tour.
Exploring the park with a guide is always recommended. Tour guides are almost always native Costa Ricans with a wealth of knowledge about the country. Many guides are also licensed naturalists or biologists that have a profound understanding of Costa Rica’s diverse ecosystems and wildlife.
How to get to Costa Rica’s Blue River
We at Adobe Rent a Car make it easy for you to get to Rio celeste y Los Teñideros. No matter where you travel, it’s likely there’s an Adobe Rent a Car office nearby.
We have full service offices at both of Costa Rica’s international airports and at the most popular tourist destinations. In fact, there are 14 Adobe offices strategically located across the country.
You’re in luck if you only need a rental car for one day to visit Rio Celeste. We offer a wide variety of rental options. Choose from one-day rentals to one week, one month, or even long term rentals. We also have corporate and business packages that meet a variety of customer needs.
Drive times to get to the park vary depending on your departure point. From downtown San Jose, the trip is approximately 210 kilometers and takes about 4.5 hours.
The drive from La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano is only 68 km and takes about 1:45 to 2 hours. From Liberia, the trip is 98 km and approximately 2 hours.
Driving to Rio Celeste Waterfall
We recommend using a navigational app like WAZE or Google Maps when you drive to Rio Celeste. Remember that the river is located within the park so you should enter Tenorio Volcano National Park parking lot – Parqueo del Parque Nacional Tenorio – as your destination.
You can also enter the name of the restaurant located next to the park entrance. It is called El Pilón or Soda El Parque.
Choose one of the parking lots at the Tenorio Volcano National Park entrance and ranger station. A parking fee of 2,000 colones is required. Make sure to display the receipt on your vehicle’s dashboard.
Although the parking lot is guarded, do not to leave any valuables in the car or in plain sight. Lock the car and close all windows. If possible, park close to the ranger station or parking lot office.
Entrance fees, park hours, and when to visit
Tenorio National Park is open every day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Keep in mind that the public can only enter until 2 p.m. It’s a good idea to check the park’s FB page before visiting to ensure there are no trail or entrance closures.
In the event of heavy rains the water of Rio Celeste may become diluted. The intense blue coloration is less intense and hiking trails can get muddy.
The best time to visit the waterfall is during the dry season between December and April. Not only will the water be a brilliant shade of blue but the trails will be drier.
Try to arrive early during Costa Rica’s peak tourist season between December and January. Getting an early start means you can beat the crowds and the heat.
Hiking to Rio Celeste Waterfall
Visitors travel from far and wide to witness the Rio Celeste Waterfall. The fascinating river drops nearly 100 feet into a shimmering blue pool below.
There are two options for hiking the Rio Celeste Trail. You can visit just the waterfall or hike the entire trail into the heart of Tenorio Volcano Park.
From the ranger station the trail to the waterfall overlook is paved and relatively flat. Once the trail turns off to the waterfall you will need to descend about 250 stairs to the overlook.
The stairs are well made with handrails. However the trek back up can be difficult for some people. The trick is to take it slow and enjoy frequent breaks.
From the waterfall visitors have the option to hike deeper into the park. The approximately 3.7 mile round trip hike takes between three and four hours. The trail can be rugged and steep at parts with occasional rocks and tree roots.
Wear hiking boots or good walking shoes. And don’t forget to bring water and snacks with you. There are no amenities such as bathrooms, water fountains, or picnic areas inside the park.
Highlights of the Rio Celeste hike
The Tenorio Volcano trail has a lot to see in addition to its stunning waterfall.
Once you’ve left the falls the trail heads deeper into the park to a stunning Mirador overlook of the park. Further on, hikers will pass the Laguna Azul, or Blue Lagoon. The dazzling turquoise lake is surrounded by rainforest and resembles a scene out of a fairytale.
The next marvel of nature hikers encounter is los Borbollones. Borbollones is a segment of the river where hot mineral water boils to the surface.
The smell of sulfur steam permeates the air creating an otherworldly experience. Swimming is strictly prohibited in the park. Touching or getting too near to the boiling brew can be dangerous.
The trail ends at Los Tendores. Meaning ‘the weavers,’ Los Tenidores is literally where two rivers meet and form Rio Celeste. It is a truly mesmerizing experience to see the two normal rivers come together and transform into a brilliant milky blue.
A visit to Rio Celeste should be included in every trip to Costa Rica. And at Adobe Rent a Car we can make it happen!