If you are looking for information about visiting Rio Celeste Costa Rica then you are in the right place!

As a seasoned traveler with over a decade of wandering through Costa Rica‘s natural wonders, I’ve enjoyed some incredible vistas, but few places have captivated my eyes quite like Rio Celeste.

With its rich tapestry of lush rainforests, sun-drenched beaches, and vibrant wildlife, Costa Rica is home to nature’s most enchanting destinations – including Rio Celeste Waterfall.

Let me take you on a journey to discover what makes this gem tucked within the Tenorio Volcano National Park so special.

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Tourists on a wooden viewing deck gaze at the Rio Celeste waterfall, its vibrant turquoise waters creating a striking contrast with the surrounding verdant tropical foliage, embodying the natural wonders of Costa Rica.

Rio Celeste’s Famous Blue Waters

The Rio Celeste river in Costa Rica is famous for its bright milky blue water.

The palette of colors that greet you along the river is nothing less than otherworldly. The waterfall’s vibrant turquoise hue is like a painter’s masterstroke on the canvas of the forest, made richer by the bright greens of the surrounding rainforest.

Located on Maleku Territory, local legends say after painting the sky blue, God washed his brushes in the river, turning its waters to this heavenly color.

This rare blue water can also be found in Bajas del Toro’s swimmable blue pools, although swimming is not allowed inside of the national park where Rio Celeste is located.

Visiting Rio Celeste

Informative sign at the entrance of Tenorio Volcano National Park, featuring the park's name in both Spanish and English, a mosaic-style tapir illustration, and a quote by Costa Rican poet Jorge Debravo about cherishing the land, indicating a photo spot for visitors.

Tenorio Volcano National Park

Nestled in the Tenorio Volcano National Park, Rio Celeste is a testament to Costa Rica’s commitment to preserving natural wonder.

The national park and its extended protective zone cover over 45,000 acres of pristine forest.

Trails within the park are well-maintained and guide tourists through the jungle to various landmarks along the river while clearly marked signs remind visitors not to leave the path.

Swimming is not allowed in Rio Celeste anywhere within the park.

Entry Tickets to Rio Celeste

Tickets to Tenorio Volcano National Park – where Rio Celeste is located, must be purchased online in advance. Be sure to purchase them before arriving in case you don’t have cell phone signal at the park.

Entry is 800 CRC for residents and nationals, and $12 for foreigners.

To purchase tickets online, visit Costa Rica’s National Conservation Areas website SINAC. As of August 2023, they are not available for purchase at the entrance.

Michele in casual hiking attire pauses on a rustic wooden staircase amidst the lush greenery of a tropical rainforest, embodying the spirit of adventure and exploration in the natural beauty of the jungle.

Operating Hours at Tenorio National Park

The park is open from 8 am to 4 pm. The last entry time is 2 pm.

It is recommended to plan for at least 3 hours in the park to fully experience Rio Celeste and its surroundings. For those just planning to see the waterfall, allow at least an hour if not two.

Getting there

Getting to Rio Celeste inside Tenorio Volcano National Park is an adventure in itself and oh-so-worth it! If you’re coming from Liberia, you’re just a 1.5-hour scenic drive away from this slice of paradise. And for those of you flying into San Jose’s airport, get ready for a 3.5-hour journey that offers a breathtaking peek into Costa Rica’s lush landscapes along the way.

Rio Celeste is also on the way between La Fortuna and Guanacaste, so plan to stop on the way if you are traveling to or from the beaches back towards the Arenal area.

If you don’t plan to rent a car, you can still visit the waterfall! There are fantastic paid tours available that not only whisk you away to the azure waters of the waterfall but also take care of all the nitty-gritty details—leaving you free to soak up the beauty around you.

They’ll pick you up right from your hotel and bring you back after a day filled with awe-inspiring sights and the joy of discovery, often with lunch included.

🌿 Reserve this tour of Rio Celeste that leaves from La Fortuna 🌿

Michele treks along a secluded dirt path flanked by a dense canopy of tropical foliage, creating a natural tunnel effect that leads the eye through the verdant environment, capturing a moment of solitude and connection with nature.

Parking

Parking is available at the national park entrance for a small fee. There are privately owned lots on either side of the road as you come to the entrance of the park.

Be sure to cover any belongings left in your car and bring all valuables with you.

Parking can be paid by cash only, so be sure to bring some with you. We paid 2,000 CRC.

Facilities

There are restrooms at the entrance station only. There are no restrooms in the park.

Please plan to use the facilities before entering the park, and bring all trash out of the park with you when you leave.

View from a rustic wooden railing on a trail in Volcan Tenorio National Park, showcasing the stunning Rio Celeste waterfall as it plunges into a vivid turquoise pool, framed by the lush greenery of the Costa Rican rainforest.

Hiking to Rio Celeste

There is one main trail in Tenorio Volcano National Park that leads you over a hanging bridge and the treetops down to the Rio Celeste waterfall

This isn’t just a hike; it’s an immersive experience. The paths, wrapped in greenery, lead you to the waterfall, then on to a serene lagoon and even steaming thermal springs.

Don’t forget to look up as you hike through the rainforest.

Visitors have caught the site of the famous Blue Morpho butterfly, White Face Capuchin Monkeys, and many colorful tropical birds that Costa Rica is known for.

💦 Book this unique experience tubing down the Rio Celeste river 💦

What to Expect

There are a total of 5 life zones in the national park, which speaks to the biodiversity in Tenorio Volcano National Park. This is also seen in the existence of endemic species – those found only in the area – like the Anolis tenorioensis lizard.

There are a reported 10,939 different species of wildlife within Volcan Tenorio National Park, including 540 different species of birds. Visitors have reported seeing Violet-headed Hummingbirds, Orange-chinned and Olive-throated Parakeets, and even Tanagers.

Beyond White-faced Capuchin Monkeys, visitors have also seen Howler monkeys and Spider monkeys, as well as sloths, anteaters, coatis, and peccaries.

A tranquil trail in Volcan Tenorio National Park, where a concrete path crosses a small, clear stream surrounded by the vibrant greenery of the Costa Rican rainforest, inviting exploration and the peaceful sounds of flowing water.

Rio Celeste Hike

The trail begins as a paved path which eventually gives way to a rocky trail. This first part of the hike is relatively flat.

After a relatively easy 30-minute walk, you will reach the stairs down to the base of the Rio Celeste Waterfall. There are 250 stairs to get to the bottom, but the waterfall is visible along the entire way.

Rio Celeste Waterfall drops a grand 295 feet into the pools below. Swimming is not permitted in the pools or anywhere in the park.

Enjoy the bright blue water of the waterfall before heading back up the steep climb of 250 steps. From here you can return to the entrance or continue along the trail that heads down to the river.

🐎 Book this guided tour of Rio Celeste by horseback 🐎

Trails Beyond the Falls

After the Rio Celeste Waterfall, the trail in Tenorio Volcano National Park continues to have several interesting features that most tourists tend to skip. If you have time and the energy, it’s worth it to hike the entire trail.

A map of Volcan Tenorio National Park, showing key locations such as Rio Celeste, Laguna Azul, and Borbollones, along with symbols indicating trails, bridges, viewpoints, and the waterfall, providing visitors with a guide to the park's natural attractions.

Mirador

Along the hike down to the river, you will find a platform looking out over the jungle. This viewpoint, called a mirador in Costa Rican Spanish, is a lovely point to stop and admire the forest you have been hiking through.

Laguna Azul

The trail in Tenorio National Park leads to the Laguna Azul along the Celeste River. Here visitors can get close up to the bright blue river and admire the luminous color.

Stay behind the barriers and remember that no swimming is allowed anywhere in the park to protect the natural phenomenon of the river’s rare color.

Borbollones

See boiling hot water spring up from beneath the river at this stop along the trail! Be cautious and don’t touch the water as it is extremely hot.

Teñideros

Stop here to see the point where the rivers converge and the exact place where the Celeste River’s bright blue color begins. Scientists from the University of Costa Rica and Universidad Nacional found that the brilliant blue color comes from aluminosilicates along the riverbed reflecting the blue light.

This is the end of the trail, so the way out is back the way you came. The hike back up is a little less than 2 miles.

💦 Book a tubing excursion on the Rio Celeste’s beautiful blue waters 💦

A traditional Costa Rican 'arroz con pollo' dish served on a white plate, featuring seasoned rice with chicken, accompanied by a fresh tomato salad, crispy tortilla chips, and a side of black beans, with a glass of mango juice and a guanabana juice, capturing the essence of Costa Rican cuisine.
A well-presented Costa Rican meal consisting of lightly seasoned grilled fish, white rice, black beans, a fresh tomato salad, golden fried plantains, and a vegetable mix, served on a white plate on a wooden table, showcasing the simplicity and flavor of local cuisine called a "casado"

Where to eat

There is a new soda – a Costa Rican diner – located at the park entrance across from the ranger station. We had an amazing lunch there after our hike.

My husband ordered a casado – a typical Costa Rican dish with rice, beans, salad, a protein, and sweet plantains – and he ordered his with fish. I had arroz con pollo which is a type of fried rice with vegetables and chicken, with a side of black beans, salad, and house-made chips.

They usually come with a house-made fruit juice so we each got a mango and guanabana which was very refreshing after our Rio Celeste hike.

There are several other sodas across the road and in the nearby town of Bijagua. Just be sure to bring cash as not all local restaurants can take cards, especially in more rural areas.

Michele walks away down a narrow, elevated walkway enveloped by the dense, green canopy of the Costa Rican rainforest, with the sky peeking through the treetops, creating a serene and verdant tunnel-like effect.

What to bring

The hike to Rio Celeste waterfall is a relatively easy and straightforward one. Even so, it is important to have the right things in your bag to have a comfortable and enjoyable visit.

  • Sturdy shoes
  • Rain Jacket
  • Water
  • Cash for parking and lunch
  • Passport or Costa Rican ID – needed to enter the park

While you may want to pack your favorite camera, remember that drones are not allowed in the national park.

Where to Stay

There are a few lodges and hotels near the waterfall, and the closest town nearby is called Bijagua de Upala.

If you prefer to stay closer to the park, there are a couple of eco-lodges that offer unique accommodations such as treehouses and bungalows.

La Piña Rio Celeste is a great budget option near the waterfall that includes breakfast.

Heliconias Rainforest Lodge has a popular trail on the outskirts of Tenorio Volcano National Park with hanging bridges. The lodge offers full-day access to the hanging bridges, guided night tours, and birdwatching. Breakfast is included.

Volcano Tenorio Glamping Ranch is a fun experience glamping in the Costa Rican jungle close to Rio Celeste. Luxury glamping at its finest, the tent features air conditioning, free wifi, and even a flat-screen TV. Just be sure to bring earplugs as this is a true tent in the jungle, surrounded by wildlife and rain.

Check pricing and availability for all hotels near Rio Celeste

The Rio Celeste waterfall in Costa Rica cascades powerfully into a stunning turquoise pool, the lush greenery surrounding the scene highlighting the vibrant natural colors and the untamed beauty of the tropical rainforest.

Nearby Attractions

  • Heliconias Rainforest Lodge Hanging Bridges: Get ready for an Instagram-worthy adventure at the hanging bridges, where you can marvel at the lush greenery from above and catch a glimpse of tropical wildlife. It’s a slice of paradise that won’t break the bank and is perfect for those who relish a morning surrounded by nature’s orchestra.
  • Rio Celeste Free Pool: A must-visit spot for a refreshing dip that’s absolutely free! Pack a picnic, slip into the serene blue waters, and let the bliss of this natural pool wash over you. Ideal for the budget-conscious traveler looking to soak up the sun and the scenery.
  • Las Hornillas Volcano Hot Springs: Just a scenic 1.25-hour drive from the waterfall, these hot springs are a sanctuary for relaxation. Immerse yourself in the thermal waters, and let the healing minerals work their wonders on your travel-wearied muscles.
  • Rio Perdido: Imagine a 1.5-hour journey leading you to a secluded hot springs paradise. It’s the ultimate combination of adventure and tranquility as you explore the thermal rivers and forest trails before unwinding in the soothing waters.
  • Arenal Volcano / La Fortuna Waterfall & Hot Springs: Make the 1.5-hour drive to experience the iconic Arenal Volcano, followed by a visit to the spectacular La Fortuna Waterfall. Later, indulge in the renowned hot springs that make this area famous — bliss for the body and the wallet.
  • Rincon de la Vieja National Park: Set off on a 2-hour drive to this national park where adventure awaits. With a stunning range of biodiversity and volcanic activity, it’s an outdoor classroom brimming with lessons in geology and conservation.
  • Beaches of Guanacaste: Craving some beach time? A 2-hour drive transports you to the pristine shores of Playa Panama, Playa Hermosa, and Playas del Coco among others. Sunbathe, swim, or stroll along the coastline — a perfect day trip or next stop for the sun-seeker on a budget.

🦥 Book a day trip to Rio Celeste with a local guide! 🌿

A glimpse of the enchanting Rio Celeste Waterfall viewed from behind the foliage and over the rustic railing of a viewpoint, showcasing the vivid turquoise waters against the backdrop of the lush Costa Rican rainforest.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where is Rio Celeste?

Rio Celeste is located in the Tenorio Volcano National Park in Costa Rica. It is situated in the province of Alajuela in Northern Costa Rica, between Arenal and Guanacaste.

Can you swim in the river?

No. To protect this natural wonder, swimming in Rio Celeste is not permitted inside of the national park.

When is the best time to visit?

The dry season, from December to April, offers the clearest views. During the rainy season the river can get muddied and be less bright and colorful.

Is Rio Celeste worth visiting?

Absolutely, Rio Celeste is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that defies description.

Where does Rio Celeste get its color?

The rivers that meet to form Rio Celeste are completely clear, so where does the bright blue color come from? For years it was suspected to be the result of some mineral from the nearby volcano, but back in 2013, scientists debunked this common thought. The study, done by University of Costa Rica in conjunction with Universidad Nacional, found that the secret was due to a mineral found on the riverbed that rejects blue light waves causing us to see blue. The compound is called aluminosilicates.

Wrapping up this Guide to Rio Celeste Costa Rica

Few places truly take your breath away, but Rio Celeste is bound to be one of them. From the majesty of the waterfall to the wonder of the jungle, everything about this place is a testament to nature’s artistry.

So, to all my fellow eco-tourists, hikers, and lovers of beauty, I implore you to experience the splendor of Rio Celeste. Plan your adventure, take care of this gift of nature, and immerse yourself in the wonderment that awaits in Costa Rica.

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