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.
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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 trails 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 Volcano National Park 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 total journey 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.
Attractions Along the Rio Celeste Hike
Río Celeste Waterfall
The first part of the trail is a paved path through the rainforest toward the 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!
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.
La Laguna Azul
Called the Blue Lagoon, this small pool has an intense blue colour in the water. You can’t swim in La Laguna Azul but you’ll have a great view of it from the trail.
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 blue color? Local Costa Ricans like to say that God dipped his brush in the river while painting the sky. 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 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!
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.
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 clear 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 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).
Getting to the Rio Celeste Waterfall
The paved 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.
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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Essential Travel Info for Visiting 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 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.
Rio Celeste Tours
If you don’t have your own car, one of the best ways to visit Rio Celeste is on a tour. Here are the guided tours we recommend if you’re visiting from Alajuela or Guanacaste.
Rio Celeste Full-Day Tour from La Fortuna: This Rio Celeste, Costa Rica, tour 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.
Tenorio Volcano National Park Entrance Fee and Hours
The park is open daily from 8 AM – 4 PM. The last entry is at 2 PM, which gives you just enough time to hike in to see the waterfall. We recommend going as early as possible since it can get quite busy and the ticket office works on a first-come-first-served basis.
Entrance to Tenorio Volcano Park is USD $12 per adult or 800 CRC (USD $1.25) for locals. If driving, you’ll also need to pay 2,000 colones (around USD $3) for parking.
Where to Stay when Visiting Rio Celeste Waterfall, Costa Rica
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 businesses, perfect for travelers 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 the perfect Rio Celeste getaway. 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
Just 10 minutes outside of Bijagua, Heliconias Rainforest Lodge is a lovely forested retreat surrounded by a secluded jungle. The tranquil property features bungalows and treehouses handcrafted from local wood. There is a restaurant on-site and several tours available to explore the area. Rooms start at USD $95 per night.
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 one of the best hotels near Rio Celeste, Costa Rica, and boasts spectacular jungle bungalows. There is a restaurant, swimming pool, and spa on-site, along with yoga classes and adventure tours. What’s more, the hotel is local-focused with sustainable practices like water conservation and chemical-free gardens. Rooms start at USD $250 per night.
Tips for Visiting Rio Celeste, Costa Rica
- Check weather conditions often – Even during 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 a pair of rubber boots for $5 USD before you enter the park if you don’t have your own.
- You will need 4×4 during rainy season – Since the park gets very busy in the summer, visiting from May-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 Hydroflasks when we visited Rio Celeste.