Rio Celeste, located in Tenorio Volcano National Park in Costa Rica, is one of those crazy places that you just have to see for yourself to truly understand. Just imagine a bright blue river and waterfall that looks like a color you would never be able to find in nature….that is Rio Celeste. It looks like someone spilled a bucket of food coloring into this river, but in actuality, it really looks bright blue.
I was just checking out reviews of Rio Celeste on TripAdvisor and one recent commenter even said, “It was so pretty that I literally started crying.” How cute is that?
We created this guide to Rio Celeste in Costa Rica so you can also have an experience that will (maybe) make you cry out of the sheer beauty of it all.
Important Info About Rio Celeste
The 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.
It costs $2 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.
So, our biggest mistake of the day when we visited Rio Celeste for the first time was with directions. We were traveling from La Fortuna to the river.
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.
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!
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 “Tenorio Volcano National Park” 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.
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 rather than by bus 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. You can read more about this discount and why we swear by Adobe here.
Parking is located across from the ranger station and costs $2 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 it did not seem as though they were paying too much attention to the cars.
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
It really depends on when you are visiting the national park. In the dry season, it can be hot hot hot. At this time of year, I would suggest shorts, a t-shirt, a hat for sun protection, and sneakers.
However, even during the dry season it can be rainy 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 shorts, a t-shirt, a long sleeve shirt (it can get a bit cold), a rain jacket, and sneakers (or Keens).
What to bring
We suggest bringing bug spray, sunscreen, a waterproof bag, water, snacks, your camera, and pocket binoculars. The hike was mostly shaded but on a sunny day, you always need sunscreen here even if you are in the shade.
Also, we recently bought pocket binoculars and they have been such a great way to see tons of wildlife. Plus, you can get a high quality set for under $20 on Amazon.
Amount of time you need
We spent about 2.5 hours here both times we visited, but you could easily spend about three hours or more. We 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 is the brightest. During the rainy season, the water can appear brown due to all the rain and lack of sun. Here is an example of what the waterfall looks like during the dry season. ↓
And here is what the Rio Celeste waterfall looked like when we visited in July. ↓ Yea, it was rather disappointing.
Rio Celeste Tours
If you would like a completely fun filled day with guide and transportation, we strongly suggest booking a combo day tour.
If coming from the La Fortuna area we suggest these two tours.
If coming from the Guanacaste area we suggest these two tours.
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.
I did a lot of research on how Rio Celeste gets its bright blue color. Beliefs about how the color is created have changed over the years but recently the University of Costa Rica actually did some in-depth research to solve the mystery behind the Rio Celeste blue river color.
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.
In the past, it was believed that the color came from the presence of certain minerals and bacterias 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. The 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 aluminum, silicon, and oxygen mix cause 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?
It makes me wonder if the rainwater really does have an effect on the color or if the water appeared dulled when we visited because of the lack of sunlight for several days.
Any scientists want to explain this to me?
The Hike at Rio Celeste
The hike starts off easy 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.
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 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 collide. It is really nice here because you can actually see how the different rivers mix to create the bright blue color.
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 etc.
Our Tips for Visiting Rio Celeste
– If you visit during a rainy time, rent 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. ↓ The rubber boots are worth every cent. I opted to not rent rubber boots and I majorly regretted it.
– 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.
– It is definitely possible to visit here as a day trip from La Fortuna. If you do the drive correctly it really is not bad.
What to Do After Visiting Rio Celeste
If you are hungry after your hiking adventure there is a small restaurant at the entrance to the national park as well as one across the street (where the parking lot is). Both places serve typical Costa Rican meals at a fair price.
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?
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.
Another option if you are heading back to La Fortuna is to stop at Venado Caves on your way back towards 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.
We hope this guide to Rio Celeste in Costa Rica 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!
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