Tips for Visiting Rio Celeste, Costa Rica | Tenorio National Park | 2024 Guide

Monteverde Cloud Forest may get all the glory for being the place to experience life up in the clouds in Costa Rica, but on a recent trip, we discovered another alternative – Tenorio National Park. 

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Tenorio National Park is one of the youngest parks in Costa Rica. It was created only in 1995–and we figure that’s part of why it’s not as well-known yet. Initially, the park was established to help protect the Tenorio Volcano. 

The Tenorio Volcano sits 1,916 metres above sea level and has four active volcanic cones, though it hasn’t erupted since colonial times. Today, the national park attracts visitors from all over because of its natural hot springs, waterfalls, hiking trails, colorful wildlife, and, of notably, the magical Rio Celeste.

Taking the road less travelled, we made our way to Tenorio Volcano National Park, which is located roughly 2 hours away from Arenal Volcano or about 2 hours away from Liberia, Costa Rica. 

We drove down slow gravel roads towards Bijagua, a small village at the base of the park, and towards Posada Rio Celeste Hotel & Spa, a small family-run hotel tucked away just 1km from the park entrance.

Rio Celeste Costa Rica, Tenorio National Park
Main road in Bijagua, Costa Rica
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Rio Celeste, Costa Rica’s Hidden Gem

We arrived late at night, unable to fully appreciate the area. It wasn’t until the next morning that we awoke in the magical lush rainforest garden, sitting among the clouds, and realized the true beauty of this Rio Celeste hideaway.

The rain was pounding on the tin roofs of our cabins all night, but we were adamant about making the best of this rainy day in the Tenorio National Park. We dug out our best rain gear from our backpacks and headed for the park. 

We expected it to be deserted (why would anyone want to hike around the muddy trail to Rio Celeste on such a crappy day, right?) but were surprised to find busloads of locals waiting at the entrance as we pulled into the parking lot.

Tenorio National Park, Costa Rica
Oksana and Max at Tenorio Volcano National Park

About Tenorio Volcano National Park

Inside Tenorio Volcano National Park

Despite the lack of clear views and the fact that we spent three hours being completely drenched, we really enjoyed our visit. Tenorio Volcano National Park is a real natural gem, and the Rio Celeste is one of Costa Rica’s hidden treasures, with magical lush rainforest and a few really nice viewpoints. Among the natural panoramic views, you can see as far as the plains of the Pacific and the Caribbean, the plains of Guanacaste, the Arenal reservoir, the wind towers, the cattle ranches, and the Miravelles and Tenorio massifs.

With a number of rivers, streams, and springs, the national park supplies water to more than twenty communities around it. 

The park has several habitat zones and, along with it, an impressive selection of flora and fauna. Some notable plant species you can find are palms, ferns, bromeliads, and orchids. Look around, and you can expect white-faced and howler monkeys on the trees, while anteaters, pumas, tapirs, and peccaries are known to roam in the jungle. If you’re lucky, you might spot a few trogon birds and bellbirds, too!

It’s not as rich in wildlife as, say, Manuel Antonio or Monteverde National Parks (or perhaps that was just our experience on a rainy day), but it offers a great experience for those looking to connect with nature. We did visit in the middle of the green season, which may have had something to do with our damp day!

CostaGuide to Ecotourism in Costa Ricarica packing list
Oksana at Tenorio Volcano National Park

Park Entrance Fees 

As of August 2023, the Tenorio Volcano National Park has updated their entrance fee and ticket purchasing process. Visitors will no longer be able to purchase tickets at the park entrance. Instead, you can choose between six different time slots and book your tickets in advance through the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) website here. By purchasing online tickets beforehand, visitors are guaranteed entry to the park and can expect a seamless, hassle-free visit.

Tickets are now priced at USD $13.56 for adults and USD $5.65 for children. Each person is allowed to purchase a maximum of 10 tickets, while travel agencies have the option to purchase 20 tickets at once. Before making a purchase, users must create an account on the SINAC website. 

If you’re driving, you’ll also need to pay a small entrance fee of around USD $4 for parking. You’ll find the parking lot right by the entrance.

Hours of Operation

The park is open daily from 8am, with the last entry at 2PM. However, guests are free to stay at the park until 4PM, which gives you enough time to hike and see the Rio Celeste waterfall even if you come in at the last entry.

We recommend booking the earliest window at 8AM as the trail to Rio Celeste can get quite busy throughout the day. Don’t forget to show up on time for your booking appointment!

Hiking Trails

There is just one main out-and-back trail in the park called the Misterios del Tenorio, or Mysteries of Tenorio. It’s 3.2 km each way, making the entire Rio Celeste hike about 6.4 km or 4 miles. It’s a relatively easy hike that takes about 3-4 hours and hits all of the park’s impressive landmarks.

Río Celeste Waterfall

The first part of the trail is a paved path through the rainforest toward the Rio Celeste waterfall —called Catarata Rio Celeste on a map. The Rio Celeste Waterfall Hike then branches off from the main trail to a set of steep stairs. Take the stairs down for spectacular views of the waterfall and a heart-pumping journey back up! 

“Rio Celeste” literally translates to “light blue river” in Spanish and is one of Central America’s most stunning waterfalls. Its bright turquoise water makes it stand out, and it looks straight out of a forest dream, especially against all the lush greenery.

It only takes about 30 minutes to reach the top of the stairs from the entrance. Some visitors end their trip here, but continuing on is a great hike if you don’t mind a little mud.

Best Costa Rica Waterfalls
Visiting Rio Celeste in Costa Rica

La Laguna Azul

Called the Blue Lagoon, this small pool has an intense blue colour in the water. Many people say La Laguna Azul looks a lot like the mermaid lagoon in Peter Pan. Unfortunately, unlike the mermaids, you can’t swim in La Laguna Azul, but you’ll have a great view of it from the trail.

Rio Celeste Waterfall
Rio Celeste Waterfall

Los Borbollones

These hot springs are formed from volcanic gasses bubbling in the water. You’ll have to resist swimming in them as the smell of sulphur fills the air.

El Teñidero

After the hot springs, you’ll cross two bridges before reaching El Teñidero. This is where the two rivers meet to form the Rio Celeste River. First, you’ll cross a hanging bridge, then arrive at El Teñidero after the second bridge. Seeing the two rivers mix into bright blue water is a truly unique experience!

Our Experience Hiking In Tenorio Volcano National Park

This park was a lot more popular than we expected. Drawn by the park’s main attraction, Rio Celeste Waterfall, the crowds made their way along the 1km pleasant, easy, and paved path, stopping to admire the lush vegetation of the rainforest around them. 

We followed, certain that our gumboots rental was a complete waste of money. (Our hotel owner was very adamant that they were a necessity for Rio Celeste hiking.)

The rain picked up even more just as we stopped to admire the beautiful blue colour of the Rio Celeste. We were soaking wet despite our rain gear, but we weren’t giving up. We carried on with the hike, making our way towards the mirador (lookout point). 

Rio Celeste Waterfall, Tenorio National Park
Rio Celeste Waterfall, Tenorio Volcano National Park
Rio Celeste Costa Rica
Rainy day in Tenorio Volcano National Park

Getting To The Rio Celeste Waterfall

The paved hiking trail disappeared and was replaced by muddy tracks with a few bags of gravel thrown in to help with traction. Ah, so that’s what the boots were for!

It was another 1.5 km to get to the mirador, which, on a clear day, would have offered beautiful views of the park. On a foggy, rainy day, it was…well, cloudy.

The lookout (mirador) at the Tenorio National Park. Best viewed in clear weather
The lookout (mirador) at the Tenorio Volcano National Park. Best viewed in clear weather
Tenorio National Park
Hiking trail directions

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Tips For Visiting Rio Celeste, Costa Rica 

Check weather conditions often – Even during the dry season, Tenorio Volcano Park is no stranger to rain. Be sure to dress accordingly for damp, humid days with clothing that dries quickly. Also, note that the park closes in the event of extreme weather so check the Facebook page for updates before you go. 

You can’t swim anywhere inside Tenorio Volcano Park – The beautiful waterfall and bubbling hot springs are alluring but totally off-limits. Outside of the park, you can go swimming at the “Rio Celeste Free Pool” near the Rio Celeste Hideaway Hotel.

The trails can be very muddy – With all the mud, you’ll definitely want rainboots or good, waterproof hiking boots. You can rent rubber boots for USD $5 a pair before you enter the park if you don’t have your own.

You will need 4×4 during the rainy season – Since the park gets very busy in the summer, visiting from May to November is a great choice. That said, be prepared for lots of rain, causing the roads to get just as slick and muddy as the trails.

Bring a reusable water bottle – Single-use plastics are not allowed in the park, so be sure to pack a water bottle. We were thankful to have our self-cleaning LARQ water bottles when we visited Rio Celeste.


Why is Rio Celeste so Blue?

The name “Río Celeste” actually means “sky blue river,” and it’s no surprise once you see the bright blue water. So, what creates this beautiful blue colour? 

Local legends say that the turquoise river was created after God finished painting the sky and washed his paintbrushes in Rio Celeste, giving it its brilliant blue colour. While that sounds like something out of a fairy tale, the science behind it is a little less magical.

At El Teñidero, two clear rivers, the Buenavista River and Sour Creek, meet. The blue water here is rich in aluminum mixed with silicon and oxygen, and when the sunlight hits it, the suspended particles appear bright blue. So the water is actually clear after all, but the aluminosilicate particles create an optical illusion—and a beautiful one at that!

Rio Celeste Waterfall
Rio Celeste Waterfall

Is Rio Celeste worth it?

Many consider Rio Celeste to be the best part of the hike as well as the biggest attraction in Tenorio Volcano National Park, so it’s definitely a good idea to visit Rio Celeste! 

Our biggest advice for a worthwhile visit? Learn from our mistake and plan your hike during the dry season in Costa Rica (December to April). That way, you can experience Rio Celeste without worrying about muddy trails and heavy rain. The dry season gives you the best visibility, and it’s when the river is said to be at its most beautiful!

Is Rio Celeste a hard hike?

The Rio Celeste trail is rated as a “moderate hike.” It’s 3.2km each way, making the entire hike 6.4km or 4 miles long. The Rio Celeste hike will take about 3-4 hours to complete both ways. It’s definitely more challenging if you visit during the rain season, as the muddy trails are tricky to navigate. But apart from that, the trail itself is straightforward, with lots of signage throughout to direct you.

The hike isn’t particularly long, but inexperienced hikers may find some parts a bit challenging. Unfortunately, it’s not handicap-accessible, either. We recommend the hike for intermediate to experienced hikers, though any healthy individual can venture on the Rio Celeste trail as long as they go at their own pace and take rest stops when needed.

Is it safe to swim in the Rio Celeste?

The short answer is no. 

Swimming is prohibited in the national park. This is to help preserve the park’s delicate ecosystem and prevent any accidents caused by the strong currents and deep pools. Apart from that, the mud from the tourists’ boots would cause the water to lose its blue colour and damage the Rio Celeste waterfalls and the river’s natural state.

The good news is, if you really want to take a dip, there’s a swimming hole nearby that you can head to after your hike. If you’re driving, use this “Rio Celeste Free Pool” pin on Google Maps. It will take you to a spot near the Rio Celeste Hideaway Hotel. Entrance is free, and there’s also a designated parking spot on the side of the road.

Complete Visitor’s Guide For Tenorio Volcano National Park

How To Get To Rio Celeste and Tenorio Volcano National Park

The easiest way to get to Tenorio Volcano National Park is by car. Make your way towards the town of Bijagua, passing by either Cañas or Upala, depending on where your journey originates. From Bijagua, look for the signs for the park and take the unpaved road to the entrance. Or, join a day tour from La Fortuna for a full day of trails and waterfalls. 

Getting Around the Area

There is no public transportation in Bijagua, and taxis are also uncommon, so if you don’t rent a car to get to Tenorio, you’ll have to negotiate with some locals to drive you to the park or hire a guide to take you in. 

If you have a car, you can drive right to the entrance, park, pay the parking fee and enter the park. Once you enter, you will have a hike ahead of you to get to the Rio Celeste waterfall, so be prepared! No guide is needed to explore.

Mealy Amazon Parrot in Tenorio National Park
Mealy Amazon Parrot in Tenorio National Park

Rio Celeste Tours 

If you don’t have your own car, one of the best ways to visit the park is to go on a Rio Celeste tour. Here are the guided tours we recommend if you’re visiting from Alajuela or Guanacaste.

Rio Celeste Full-Day Tour from La FortunaThis Rio Celeste, Costa Rica, tour starts from La Fortuna and is an awesome way to see all the marvels of the park. You’ll spend the day hiking and learning about native wildlife before ending the day with a Costa Rican lunch.

Celeste River and Llanos de Cortez Waterfall from Tamarindo: This guided tour starts out hiking the Mysteries of Tenorio Trail to the Rio Celeste Waterfall. You’ll then look for sloths, toucans, and frogs relaxing in nature. After refuelling with some lunch, you’ll head to the Llanos de Cortez Waterfalls for a refreshing swim.

Rio Celeste Hike and Don Alexis Farm from La Fortuna: If you’re itching to go swimming in the sparkling blue river of Rio Celeste, this is your chance! Follow your guide along the Mysteries of Tenorio Trail before lunch and a swim at a local farm.

Where To Stay When Visiting Rio Celeste Waterfall, Costa Rica

Since the Rio Celeste area is not a tourism hot spot, the majority of the hotels in Bijagua, as well as around the Tenorio Volcano National Park, are local, family-run businesses perfect for travellers looking to support local communities during their visit. 

Posada Rio Celeste Hotel & Spa

To visit Rio Celeste on a budget, we recommend staying at Posada Rio Celeste Hotel & Spa. This small, family-run Costa Rican hotel is perfect as it’s very near Rio Celeste. It’s tucked away inside the jungle just 1 km outside the park entrance and is an excellent base location for exploring the Rio Celeste Waterfall. The hotel also has a restaurant on-site and can offer advice about activities in the area. Rooms start at USD $50 per night.

Heliconias Rainforest Lodge

Heliconias Rainforest Lodge is a unique hotel located between 70 hectares of virgin rainforest. It’s just 10 minutes outside of Bijagua and about a 40-minute drive to the Rio Celeste waterfalls. 

The forest retreat features a standard, superior bungalow and family rooms with interiors handcrafted from local wood. All rooms are equipped with a private bathroom with a shower, and some include views of the mountain or the lake. 

There’s free parking on-site, as well as free wifi and an on-site restaurant. Secluded in the rainforest, the property has a handful of activities, such as a tour of the lodge’s 2.5km trails (with 3 hanging bridges!), horseback riding, night tours, a chocolate tour, and hot springs.

Rio Celeste Hideaway Hotel

If you’re keen to splash out in luxury, you’ll definitely want to book a casita at the Rio Celeste Hideaway Hotel. It’s the only luxury accommodation along the Rio Celeste River and boasts spectacular jungle views. 

The luxurious bungalows are decorated elegantly and come with a plasma TV, free wifi, and a private backyard with an outdoor shower. Hotel facilities include an outdoor pool, a restaurant that serves local and international dishes made with traditional Costa Rican ingredients, a swim-up bar, a spa, and a lounge that serves fresh tropical cocktails. 

They even have exclusive access to the Rio Celeste River, making it one of the best hotels near Rio Celeste, Costa Rica. What’s more, the hotel collaborates with local communities and carries out sustainable practices like water conservation and chemical-free gardens.

Have questions about your upcoming trip to Rio Celeste in Tenorio National Park, Costa Rica? Leave a comment below, and we’ll be happy to share our advice!

4 thoughts on “Tips for Visiting Rio Celeste, Costa Rica | Tenorio National Park | 2024 Guide”

  1. Hello, thanks for the great information! First time to Costa Rica coming up and after reading this I am hoping I can do the Rio Celeste Waterfall hike on my way to La Fortuna from Liberia airport! I will be renting a vehicle and would plan to do the hike in the late morning before leaving to La Fortuna for the night. My only concern is stopping on the way to La Fortuna while I have my luggage in the car. I’ve read it’s never a good idea to leave anything in a rental car while going for a hike. Do you have any suggestions for what to do with your luggage while stopping/site seeing in between locations/accommodations? I have a feeling I will be running into this issue a number of times in between stops on my itinerary. Thank you!

    1. You can store your luggage in the trunk while you hike or are in between hotels and it should be fine. Theft in Costa Rica is usually opportunistic, so it’s not common for someone to break into your car and go searching through the trunk for your luggage. General advice is, don’t leave valuables in sight in the car, like on the passenger seat or on the dash. Cameras, bags, laptop cases, etc. Also, we always travel with travel insurance that covers some contents, just as a peace of mind. Enjoy your trip!

  2. Hi guys!
    Thank you for great info
    Cannot get tickets for either Jan 8 late or Jan 10 early for Tenorio .
    Sinac is who you have to use. An tickets are required from online only.
    The site is impossible and glitchy can’t get any where on it , except creating an account.
    Is there any way you could help ; maybe its closed on my dates? I know it’s closed on Tuesday.
    We have reservations in that area 2 night, but don’t want to stay if we can’t go to the waterfall!
    Thank you for any advice

    1. In this case, we would recommend booking a guided tour from La Fortuna or similar. We recommend a couple in the post. These tours usually secure tickets for you, so you can bypass the SINAC issues.

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