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Rio Celeste Costa Rica: Bright Blue River and Waterfall Guide

Rio Celeste in Costa Rica is a bright blue river with a waterfall located in Tenorio Volcano National Park. 

The color of this river is so vibrant that it appears unnatural. 

The only way I can describe it is that the Celeste River looks like someone spilled a bucket of blue food coloring into it.

We have visited this national park several times. Some of those times were great and some were not so successful.  

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We created this guide to pass on everything we have learned so that you can have an amazing Rio Celeste adventure. 

Rio Celeste at a Glance

Opening Hours: 8:00am to 4:00pm

Cost: $12 for adults / $5 for children

Parking: On-site lot costs 2,000 colones ($5USD)

Location: The closest town to Rio Celeste is Bijagua de Upala. Rio Celeste is located in Tenorio Volcano National Park

Tour from Guanacaste: Rio Celeste Hiking, Sloth Sanctuary & Llanos de Cortes Waterfall Tour

Tour from La Fortuna: Full Day Rio Celeste Tour

Nearby Hotels: Rio Celeste Hideaway | Sueño Río Celeste Boutique Hotel | La Piña

Nearby Restaurants: The Hummingbird Cafe | Restaurante La Terraza Bijagua | Café la Semilla

Best Time to Visit: Dry Season (mid-December through mid-April) and early in the morning

Rio Celeste Important Visitor Info in Detail

rio celeste sign

Opening Hours

The national park is open daily from 8:00am until 4:00pm. 

Just keep in mind that although the park is open until 4:00pm they will not allow you to enter after 2:00pm. 

They are really strict about this and actually lock up the pay station at 2pm.

We suggest arriving as early as possible. 

During the dry season the park can fill up and if it is at capacity they will not allow more visitors. 

During rainy season, it is best to arrive early before the rain rolls in and the water loses its vibrant color. 

Rio Celeste Costa Rica: Bright Blue River and Waterfall Guide

Cost

It costs 2,000 colones per car to park at Rio Celeste in Tenorio Volcano National Park. 

The entrance fee for hiking is $12 for adults and $5 for children under twelve. 

If you happen to be a resident of Costa Rica the admission is 800 colones for adults and 500 colones for kids.

Just note: Costa Rica national parks are going cashless. You will need to pay with a credit card. The parking is done only in cash (I think). You can pay colones or US dollars. 

Directions to Rio Celeste Parking Lot

The drive to Rio Celeste from both the Guanacaste and La Fortuna area is very manageable. Both routes will take you about 1.5 hours.

From La Fortuna to Rio Celeste

The first time we traveled from La Fortuna to Rio Celeste we really messed up on the directions.  

We were traveling from La Fortuna to the river with a big group of friends and family in two cars.

My dad, my sister, and her boyfriend were driving together. None of them had GPS or Waze so I downloaded an offline Google map for them with directions to Tenorio Volcano National Park.

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The national park is large and unfortunately, Google Maps directed them to the opposite side of the national park. I hadn’t been paying enough attention when I downloaded the map, so I take full blame for the mistake.

Sorry, fam!

rio celeste view

The correct drive from La Fortuna takes about 1.5 hours on nice paved roads.

Their drive took almost three hours and occasionally involved ending in cow pastures. Oops! 

I felt horrible when they eventually arrived, but my dad seemed to have loved every second of their crazy adventure. 

My sister and her boyfriend definitely did not share in his enthusiasm.

Anyway, I am inserting a map here with the exact location of the Rio Celeste parking lot with directions from La Fortuna. 

Make sure your GPS is directing you to this location. I had no problem using Waze and inputting “Rio Celeste” as my destination.

Also, the road to Rio Celeste has recently been fully paved. 

If you end up on any crazy dirt roads, you are in the wrong spot.

Directions from Guanacaste

If you are traveling from the Liberia Airport, Playa Hermosa, Playas del Coco, or Rincon de la Vieja; you can easily make a day trip here.

From the Liberia International Airport it will take about 1.5 to 2 hours to drive here. The first half of the drive will be on Route 1, which is the nicest highway in Costa Rica.

You will then turn onto Route 6 to get to the town of Bijagua de Upala. This part of the drive is really nice. The road is well paved, the views are incredible, and usually there are hardly any other cars driving here.

Once you arrive in Bijagua de Upala you will turn right to head to the Rio Celeste parking lot.

Overall, it’s a nice route to drive.

Here is a link to the driving route on Google Maps

Directions if Staying Near Rio Celeste

If you are staying up near Rio Celeste you will have no problem finding the park entrance by just inputting “Rio Celeste” into your GPS unit.

Getting here by car is definitely the best. If you would like to rent a car we have a 10% discount for you from our favorite rental car company Adobe. 

↪FIND OUT HOW TO GET UP TO 10% OFF YOUR CAR RENTAL IN COSTA RICA!

Parking at Rio Celeste

Parking is located across from the ranger station and costs 2,000 colones per vehicle. 

There are attendants who supposedly keep an eye on the vehicles, but as always it is best not to leave anything of value in your vehicle.

When we were there last time it did not seem as though they were paying too much attention to the cars.

Facilities

rio celeste ranger station

There is a bathroom at the ranger station (the green part of the building). 

The bathrooms are extremely basic, but they are better than nothing!

What to Wear

Shop All The National Park Essentials Here

It really depends on when you are visiting the national park. In the dry season, it can be hot hot hot. 

I would suggest shorts, a t-shirt, a hat for sun protection, and sneakers.

However, even during the dry season, it can be rainy and cool in this area. 

If you have a rain jacket with you it might be a good idea to bring it.

We visited once in March (dry season) and it still rained all morning on both days that we were in the area.

If you are visiting at a time with a lot of rain I suggest focussing on layers. 

Shorts, a t-shirt, a long sleeve shirt (it can get a bit cold), a rain jacket, and hiking boots. 

I also suggest bringing long socks. You may opt to rent rubber boots if the trails are very muddy. And there is nothing more annoying than wearing low socks with rubber boots and having them roll down under your foot. 

What to Bring

We suggest bringing:

bug spray, sunscreen, a waterproof bag (during rainy season this backpack is a game changer), a full water bottle, snacks, and your camera. 

The Rio Celeste waterfall hike is mostly shaded but on a sunny day, you always need sunscreen here even if you are in the shade.

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Also, we recently bought pocket binoculars and they have been such a great way to see tons of wildlife.

Check out our Full Costa Rica National Park Packing List on Amazon for everything you need!

Amount of Time You Need

We usually spend about two to three hours here, but you could easily spend more time exploring. We also just walk really fast. 😉

Best Time to Visit

It is best to visit Rio Celeste in the dry season (end of December through May). During this time the color of the river and waterfall is the most vibrant.

During the rainy season, the water can appear brown due to all the rain and lack of sun.

Here is what the Rio Celeste waterfall looked like when we visited in July. ↓

Yea, it was rather disappointing.

rio celeste waterfall in july

If you are staying at a hotel near the national park, we suggest asking if they can call someone in the morning to see if the river is actually blue that day.

Most of the hotels in the area have connections and are happy to do that for you.

Rio Celeste Tours

If you would like a completely fun-filled day with a guide and transportation, we strongly suggest booking a combo day tour.

Rio Celeste Tour from Guanacaste 

⭐️ RATING: 4.5/5 Stars on Viator | ⏳ TOUR LENGTH:  5 hours | ✅ Book it!

This fun filled day tour includes transportation from Tamarindo, Playa Flamingo, Playas del Coco, Playa Hermosa, and Papagayo area hotels.

This tour includes transportation, an experienced guide, a delicious lunch, a guided hike at Rio Celeste, a visit to Llanos de Cortez Waterfall, and a stop at a sloth and frog sanctuary.

Book Your Rio Celeste Hiking, Sloth Sanctuary & Llanos de Cortes Waterfall Tour

Rio Celeste Tour from La Fortuna

⭐️ RATING: 5/5 Stars on Viator | ⏳ TOUR LENGTH:  8 hours | ✅ Book it!

This full-day hiking tour to Rio Celeste from La Fortuna Spot is excellent!

You will start your day by being picked up in a comfortable air-conditioned shuttle from your La Fortuna area hotel.

Your driver and certified guide will take your group to Tenorio National Park and Rio Celeste’s entrance.

Here you will embark on a hike to see the impressive blue waterfall, see where the bright-blue river changes color due to a reaction of volcanic minerals, and possibly spot some wildlife.

This tour also includes a soak in naturally warm river pools and a fresh Costa Rican lunch.

Book Your Full Day Rio Celeste Tour from La Fortuna

Other Fun Tour Option

⭐️ RATING: 5/5 Stars on Viator | ⏳ TOUR LENGTH:  2 hours | ✅ Book it!

This is not a tour of the national park, but a fun adventure option nearby.

On this adventure, you will float down the Celeste River in an inner tube while taking in the sights of the beautiful landscape.

Snacks are also included in case you get hungry during your experience.

However, transportation is not included. You will need to drive yourself to the starting point on Rio Celeste.

Book Your Rio Celeste River Tubing Experience

Do You Need a Guide at Rio Celeste?

In our opinion, no, you really don’t need a guided tour. 

A guide is always nice to point out wildlife and to tell you more about the history, plants, the science behind Rio Celeste etc. 

But, it is not absolutely necessary. 

I think your main focus here is probably on seeing the bright blue color of the water. That is something you can definitely do on your own. 

Should I Stay Near Rio Celeste or Visit as a Day Trip?

If your time in Costa Rica is short, you may opt to visit Rio Celeste as a day trip from either La Fortuna or the Guanacaste beaches. This is definitely doable.

However, if you have a bit more time, the area around Rio Celeste is worth a visit for a few nights. I suggest two nights here.

I get into hotel, restaurant, and other activity suggestions at the end of this article.

The Rio Celeste Hike

Distance: 1.5 miles one way/ 3 miles total. About 3.7 miles if you also take the stairs down to the waterfall.

Difficulty: Moderately Difficult

Approximate Total Time: 3 Hours

rio celeste trail map

The hiking trail starts off at the ranger station (marked “Puesto Pilon” on the map). The trail is well-maintained and easy to walk. 

This will continue for about 30 minutes until you arrive at the waterfall, also known as Catarata Rio Celeste.

To get to the waterfall (marked “Catarata” on the map), you will need to walk down several sets of stairs (about 250 steps in total). 

Just a warning, the stairs are very narrow in some places and it can be difficult to pass fellow walkers. 

When you get to the bottom of the stairs you will be greeted with a beautiful waterfall view. 

I suggest spending a little bit of time here because the stairs back up are a killer!

After you finish exploring the waterfall you can continue on the Rio Celeste trail. The rest of the trail is entirely made of dirt. It can get ridiculously muddy during the rainy season.

Eventually, you will get to a spot called “Mirador” on the map. At this spot, there is a nice lookout point of the river.

From here you can continue on to the place marked “Laguna Azul” on the map. This spot is an absolutely beautiful lagoon. 

Just as a reminder, you can not swim here. It looks like a very inviting swimming spot, but it is unfortunately not allowed.

At this point, it is worth finishing the entire hike by going a bit further to the spot marked “Tenideros”  on the map. 

This is the spot where the two rivers meet. It is really nice here because you can actually see how the different rivers mix to create the bright blue color.

rio celeste mixing

From here it is time to head back to the ranger station. 

Unfortunately, the trail is not a loop so you will have to go back the same way you came in.

Definitely keep an eye out for wildlife along the hike. It is sometimes possible to see sloths, monkeys, unique birds, insects, frogs etc.

rio celeste wildlife

How Rio Celeste Gets Its Color

Rio Celeste is the place where two rivers, the Rio Bueno Vista and Quebrada Agria meet. 

Both rivers appear transparent, but for about nine miles where they converge the color is this unusual bright blue.

Beliefs about how the color is created have changed over the years.

My favorite idea behind the color of Rio Celeste comes from a myth from the early indigenous people of this area. 

They believed that after the gods painted the sky blue they then washed their paintbrushes in the river which in turn created its bright blue color.

woman at rio celeste blue river

In the past, it was believed that the color came from the presence of certain minerals and bacteria in the water.

A few years ago scientists from the University of Costa Rica researched the river to figure out what causes its bright blue appearance.

They discovered that when they took water samples from Rio Celeste the water did not appear bright blue at all, but rather transparent.

The scientists then discovered that the river and the rocks along the river bend contain aluminum mixed with silicon and oxygen. 

When the sunlight hits the river, the mixture of aluminum, silicon, and oxygen causes an optical illusion that makes the river appear to have bright blue water.

So, in conclusion, the blue water is actually not bright blue at all. It just appears that way to us. 

Crazy right?

If you are interested and have a bit more scientific knowledge than I do, you can read more about the study in this scientific journal

Our Tips for Visiting Rio Celeste

– If you visit during a rainy time, we highly recommend renting the rubber boots they offer you at the entrance. They cost about $4 and are completely worth it.

This is what we were dealing with when we visited in July. ↓ 

rio celeste muddy trail

– During a hot day you will definitely need to stay hydrated along your walk, but keep in mind that there is no bathroom along the trail, only at the entrance.

– The government is getting strict about their national parks. That means they are now searching bags at the entrance to the park. You are not allowed to bring in cigarettes, alcohol, or your drone. They will ask you to put them in your car if they find them.

– One last reminder that you can not swim within the national park.

What to Do After Visiting Rio Celeste

Swim in Rio Celeste

Although you can not swim at the national park, if you drive a bit away from the park heading back towards La Fortuna you will see a spot next to a bridge where some cars are usually pulled off.

If you pull your car off here (don’t leave anything of value in your car) you can walk down to the river and hop on in.

It is usually very cold, but on a hot day there is no better way to feel refreshed after your hike.

Plus, how often can you swim in a bright blue river?

rio celeste river from above

Here is a Google Maps link to the free parking area.

Check Out Rafa’s Maze

There is a unique maze that you can visit near the waterfall. It is about a 15-minute drive. 

We have not visited, but it seems pretty fun and it is only 2,000 colones per person. 

You can find out more on the Rafa’s Maze website.

Hike Some Hanging Bridges

Last time we were in this area we decided to do a bit of exploring. We ended up visiting Heliconias Rainforest Lodge and hiked their hanging bridges trails.

We didn’t reserve anything ahead of time. We just went to the lodge and bought tickets. I think it was about $15 per person.

The hike was nice. I think the entrance fee was a bit steep for what it was, but Thomas and I were the only people around and we were able to see some monkeys and plenty of birds.

Plus, the bridges were fun.

hanging bridge costa rica

Go Caving

Another option, if you are heading back to La Fortuna, is to stop at Venado Caves on your way back toward town. 

Thomas and I went caving there last year and really enjoyed it. 

I usually don’t do well with tight spaces, but I found that once my adrenaline kicked in I was perfectly fine for this fun adventure.

Hotels Near Rio Celeste

High End

Origins Lodge

Rio Celeste Hideaway

Mid-Range

Finca Mei Tai B&B

Sueño Río Celeste Boutique Hotel

Onca Tours & Treehouses

Budget Friendly

La Piña

Restaurants Near Rio Celeste

There is a restaurant that serves typical Costa Rica cuisine located next to the Rio Celeste parking lot if you are really hungry or would like a drink after your hike.

However, there are plenty of other great places to eat in the vicinity that I think are worth driving to. Most of these are located in Bijagua de Upala.

Our favorites are:

The Hummingbird Cafe (relaxed atmosphere that serves a little of everything)

Restaurante La Terraza Bijagua (great place for typical Costa Rican food at a good price point)

La Cabaña Lodge (steakhouse and seafood place that is good for a nice dinner)

Café la Semilla (this place is great for a relaxed cafe lunch)

Conclusion

In conclusion, Rio Celeste is definitely worth a visit to experience the bright blue river. We hope this guide was helpful!

If you have any questions about visiting Rio Celeste please leave them in the comment section below. We are always more than happy to help you out.

Also, if you have visited Rio Celeste and have some advice to share with fellow travelers, we’d love to hear what you have to say!

rio celeste infographic

You Might Also Like:

Arenal Volcano Hiking Guide

Guide to Rincon de La Vieja Volcanic National Park

Llanos de Cortez Waterfall Visitors Guide

Costa Rica Travel Details: What You Need to Know

🚗 Should I rent a car in Costa Rica?

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🗣️What is the main language in Costa Rica?

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