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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. Taking the road less traveled we made our way to Tenorio Volcano National Park located roughly 2 hours away from Arenal Volcano or about 2 hours away from Liberia. 

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We drove down slow gravel roads towards Bijagua, a small village at the base of the park 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

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 realised 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 trails on such a crappy day, right?) but were surprised to find bus loads of locals waiting at the entrance as we pulled into the parking lot.

 

Tenorio National Park, Costa Rica

Hiking in Tenorio Volcano National Park

This park was a lot more popular than we expected. Drawn by the park’s biggest 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 hiking in Costa Rica.)

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).

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

Getting to the Rio Celeste Waterfall

The paved trail disappeared and was replaced by the 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 1.5km 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 National Park. Best viewed in clear weather

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 one of Costa Rica’s hidden treasures, with magical lush rainforest, and a few really nice viewpoints.

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!

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Tenorio National Park

Essential Travel Info for Visiting Tenorio National Park

How to Get to the 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 to the Rio Celeste Hideaway from Arenal

If you are travelling to Rio Celeste Costa Rica from the Arenal/La Fortuna area, it’s best to go via the town of Guatuso. You can easily download an offline map of Costa Rica to refer to without using up all your mobile data. You don’t need a 4×4 to get to the park, although it is recommended, especially in the rainy season.

Getting Around at Tenorio Volcano National Park

There is no public transportation in Bijagua, taxis are also uncommon, so if you didn’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 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.

Where to Stay when Visiting Rio Celeste Waterfall

Since this 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 business, perfect for travelers looking to support local communities during their visit.

We recommend Posada Rio Celeste Hotel & Spa. This small family run Costa Rican hotel is the perfect Rio Celeste hideaway, tucked away inside the jungle, just 1 km outside the park entrance and is an excellent base location from which to explore the Rio Celeste Waterfall. The hotel also has a restaurant on site and can offer advice about activities in the area.

 

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

2 thoughts on “Visiting Rio Celeste & Tenorio Volcano National Park in Costa Rica”

  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!

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