Rio Celeste is one of the most beautiful and best-kept secrets of Costa Rica; in fact, many locals have never even been there.
Situated within the Tenorio Volcano National Park, this magical sky blue river culminates in a splendid waterfall and blue lagoon. A hike up to Rio Celeste involves a pleasant, yet somewhat challenging, trek through the cool rainforest landscape of the Tenorio Volcano National Park.
The hike up and over to the waterfalls takes about an hour and getting beyond that to the river and hot springs, takes another hour or so, depending on your pace. Unfortunately, the area surrounding the waterfall has been fenced off so there is no longer an option to swim; nonetheless, the breathtaking scenery is worth every step you took to get there. The lush tropical green rainforest, the crashing waterfall, the cyan blue waters and the verdant flow of the underwater grass truly make up one of the most sublime scenes in all of Costa Rica.
The Science Behind the Blue
PLOS ONE, an international, peer-reviewed, open-access, online publication of scientific discipline, recently published an article on the science behind the enchanting color of the Rio Celeste; though images of the fascinating cyan waters may appear to be photo-shopped by an especially adept graphic design artist, they are most definitely real. A number of explanations have been given about the river’s unusual color, but the article in PLOS ONE, based on conclusions drawn from scientific experiments, explain what happens when the clear waters of Quebrada Agria and Rio Buenavista merge together; called the Teñidero (dye point), this is where the clear waters turn turquoise.
Getting to Tenorio Volcano National Park is easy. If you are coming from San Jose, Los Sueños Resort or La Fortuna, you can go through Guatuso and Maquengal but will need to continue on through Upala to get to the entrance of the park, as the National System of Conservation Areas (CINAC) closed the Guatuso entrance in early 2014 due to “dangerous conditions”. Those getting into the area from the beaches of Guanacaste can take highway 1 to highway 6 into Bijagua de Upala. The drive (typically about 3 hours from any direction) is a photographer’s delight and very much part of a beautiful day. It is best to arrive into the area early in the morning to enjoy the hike and get the most out of the forest and its offerings.
Nationals and residents will pay about c800 (Costa Rican Colon) at the El Pilón ranger’s station entrance to the park; in the entrance to the park and International visitors will pay $12.
Hiking Gear and Gadgets
Tenorio Volcano National Park is a fairly easy hike, but trails can be slippery and, of course, you’ll eventually come upon the river and waterfall. Prepare for this hike, and any other adventure in Costa Rica, by packing a good pair of sturdy, yet lightweight, hiking water shoes.
Layers are good when it comes to clothing options, as you can expect light rain at certain times of the year. Temperatures can be cooler in the morning and later in the evening, so be sure to keep a light rain jacket or windbreaker in your backpack. We love this packable outdoor hooded rain jacket for women. For guys, we like this waterproof, breathable jacket.
After Your Hike
After a long morning of rainforest discovery, hungry hikers can grab a bite at either of the two small restaurants just outside the park entrance or, head back down the hill into Bijuagua where they can go to Tilapias Angel for a hardy meal of freshly caught (one can even go fishing for lunch) tilapia, rice, salad, beans and plantain.