Rio Celeste: The Bluest River In Costa Rica
Hidden in Tenorio National Park, Rio Celeste, and the magnificent blue waterfall was for long Costa Rica's best-kept secret. But the word about the incredible beauty has spread already, so in our travel guide, we bring you all the information you might be looking for before visiting Rio Celeste.
Have you ever seen water which is bluer than blue?
When we saw a picture of Rio Celeste for the very first time, we decided that this is a place we must see when in Costa Rica, and even missing public transport did not put us off from visiting. This natural wonder will take your breath away, and it is even hard to believe that this attraction has been discovered by travelers not that long time ago, but once the word (or rather photos) has spread out, the number of visitors skyrocketed.
We believe that Tenorio National Park will be soon on the level of other Costa Rica's famous national parks such as Manuel Antonio or Corcovado, but until then you still can enjoy a piece of relatively unspoiled paradise.
ENTRANCE FEE TO RIO CELESTE
First, it is necessary to know, that only 400 people can be within the park at once and when the quota is full, you need to wait until someone leaves the park. This is now common in Costa Rica and you will find similar restrictions in other places, like Monteverde Cloud Forest as well.
The total number of visitors throughout the day is 1200. The last visitors are allowed to enter the park before 2 PM, so it pays out to get there early. We visited the park in late March when the high season in Costa Rica is in full swing, and we did not have a feeling that it was crowded.
The entrance fee for foreign visitors is $12.
HOW MUCH TIME SHOULD YOU ALLOCATE TO VISIT THE PARK
It is enough to spend two to three hours within the park in case you plan on visiting the waterfall and then to walk down to see a place where two rivers meet and create this unique color.
It is no longer possible to walk the loop in the park, so you have to walk the same way back to the parking lot, and it is also no longer possible to swim within the park because of over tourism and not respecting the rules, so visiting Rio Celeste is a half day thing.
WEATHER IN RIO CELESTE AND HOW IT CAN AFFECT YOUR VISIT
Costa Rica has two distinct seasons - wet and dry. The dry season runs from December to April while the wet season when you can expect more rain, especially in the afternoons is from May to November. This is not the rule in Tenorio National Park though as it can rain any time of the year because of its settings in Costa Rican's hills.
It is important to mention that Rio Celeste has unworldly blue water only when it does not rain. When it rains a lot, all the mud from the jungle goes into the water, and the amazingly blue color turns into dark brownish one which can cause a disappointment as it is not picturesque anymore at all. Generally, all the bad reviews we read were written by people who visited Rio Celeste when the torrential rain occurred.
It doesn't mean that visiting Rio Celeste in the wet season is off-topic. Not at all. You only must make sure that it did not rain hard for days in a row and there was some dry period as well.
We visited the waterfalls, and it rained for four hours straight, but the river still had the desired blue color.
HOW TO GET TO RIO CELESTE
Tenorio National Park became popular not that long time ago, and the main reason is not Volcan Tenorio which is often hidden in the clouds, but turquoise blue waters of Rio Celeste. Maybe because Rio Celeste is not known for that long, the tourist infrastructure has not yet been fully established, and when you don't have a car, it can be a bit complicated to visit it, but our guide will cover all possibilities how to get there. There were two entrances to Tenorio National Park, but nowadays, there is only one official in Bijagua.
Car | Costa Rica is one of those countries in Central America, where the majority of visitors opt to rent a car for many reasons. When you have a car, drive to Bijagua village, and from there you will see signs leading you to Rio Celeste waterfall. There is a safe parking lot by the entrance where you can leave your car.
Taxi | If you don't have own car and do not fancy walk, there is an option to take a taxi from Bijagua village. The standard rate is $40 per car, and the driver will wait for you by the entrance for two hours. You can also ask at your accommodation, an owner of our hostel offered us to take us there for $30 (Cabinas Las Nubes), but we decided to walk instead.
Walk | Although it probably doesn't sound appealing, we decided to walk to Tenorio National Park. From Bijagua it is approximately 11 kilometers one way (it depends on where are you staying in the village), and the path leads on the asphalted road, mostly uphill when heading to the park and downhill when walking back. It is perfectly doable the road is safe with many houses around, but do not forget you must add at least 6 kilometers you will walk within the park.
Hitchhiking | Least reliable option you can rely on is hitchhiking. Locals often travel in cars forth and back but usually do not have a free seat, and tourists normally do not want to take hitchhikers in their rental cars, but you can surely give it a try!
Tour | Rio Celeste is relatively close to La Fortuna, a base for visiting Volcano Arenal National Park, and you can easily book a one-day tour without having to move from La Fortuna.
WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT TO SEE IN RIO CELESTE
There are several trails in Rio Celeste, but it is easy to hike them all within one visit, and it would be a shame to skip one or more interesting things the park has to offer.
Waterfall | For many, the main attraction in the park is the waterfall. It is an amazing natural wonder when the water falls into a crystal clear and incredibly blue pool.
Viewpoint | The only viewpoint alias mirador is approximately 20 minutes walk from the intersection. There is a wooden platform from where you can overlook rain forest, but we had cloudy weather and could not fully appreciate views from this place.
Laguna Azul | When you walk down from the viewpoint, soon you will reach Laguna Azul alias Blue Lake. Here you will probably stand for a while in awe as you will need some time to take in how blue the water can actually get. On the right side, you will see tributary brown water mixing with the blue one.
Borbollones | Only a couple of meters away from Laguna Azul you will start smelling sulfur and it indicates one thing - you are getting nearer to borbollones, a section on the river where the water boils and creates small bubbles.
Tenideros | You will cross two bridges, and after the second bridge you will reach a place called tenideros - it is a place where two differently colored rivers meet and create the fantastic color of Rio Celeste which in translation fittingly means river of light blue color.
It is not difficult to hike to Rio Celeste.
If you decide to see both the waterfall and the river, it is total 6 kilometers long hike.
Conditions can get more difficult when it rains a lot, and the trail becomes too muddy. The first section to the waterfall leads on a paved trail. To get to the waterfall, you must descend several steps, so it can be a bit more difficult for people with knee problems, but it is doable.
The rest of the trail is on a regular forest trail with some roots and muddy parts, but we saw many elderly and families with kids doing this hike without any troubles.
DO YOU NEED A GUIDE?
In short, no.
The trail is well-signposted, and it is impossible to get lost in the park.
You might consider hiring a guide, in case you would like to know more about flora and fauna within the park, but there was not much to see along the trail, because of many people, and we believe that wildlife moved a bit further to the jungle.
IT IS PROHIBITED TO SWIM IN TENORIO NATIONAL PARK BUT...
Rio Celeste river, of course, doesn't stop flowing, and it continues behind borders of Tenorio National Park, so you can still take a dip in the river.
You can drive along approximately 14 kilometers long stretch of water, and jump into the water wherever you wish - many locals do the same.
The water of Rio Celeste has a high level of Cooper Sulfate, which can irritate sensitive skin when staying in the water for too long, so it should be a quick photo-opportunity rather than swimming session.
FROM WHERE RIO CELESTE GETS ITS COLOR
And why is the blue river blue?
The explanation is quite boring, but everything starts in a place called El Tenidor (The Dyer) where meets, until this point two transparent rivers, Rio Buenavista and Quebrada Agria. Generally, what we can see as a result is an optical phenomenon. The pH change in the mixing point increases the particle size of a mineral present in Buenavista River.
To be precise, aluminosilicate is the mineral responsible for reflecting the blue color in sunlight. Aluminosilicate increases its size from 184 nanometers to 570 nanometers. A fraction of this mineral reaches the bottom of the river, and it can be seen as white sediment whereas the majority of the mineral remains suspended along the river.
The mineral that remains in suspension explains the turquoise blue color - the specific size of aluminosilicate particles causes that only the bluish tones of white light are dispersed therefore we can observe the characteristic color of Rio Celeste.
WHERE TO STAY BEFORE VISITING RIO CELESTE & TENORIO NATIONAL PARK
Bijagua is the closest village to the entrance to Rio Celeste, and it is also a place where we decided to stay, but you can search through our link for accommodation elsewhere, if you have a car, as well.
Budget | Cabinas Las Nubes - Very friendly hotel with large rooms for the price. The owner provides his guests with free fruits and also offers transport to Rio Celeste in case you don't have own car.
Mid-range | Finca Amistad Cacao Lodge - Do you want to sleep on cacao farm with unbeatable views of mountains around? This lodging set between Tenorio National Park and Bijagua offers just that.
Luxury | Origins Lodge - An upscale resort offers complete privacy and the best service far and wide. It is a bit pricey, but all meals are included.
You can also search for all hostel options using HostelWorld.
WHAT TO WEAR
It is hot and humid in the park throughout the year with average temperatures between 20 - 28°C.
You should wear a short sleeved t-shirt, shorts or leggings, and do not forget a rain poncho. Also, sturdy shoes are recommended as the trail can get muddy very quickly.
You can rent rubber shoes for $5 at the entrance.
HOW TO GET TO BIJAGUA
It depends on from which direction are you traveling to Tenorio National Park, but there are two major cities from where you can catch a bus to Bijagua.
If you have just crossed borders between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, you will need to get to Liberia and from Liberia take a bus to Bijagua. You might need to spend a night in Liberia as public transport does not run that often. Another way how to get to Bijagua is after visiting Arenal Volcano close to La Fortuna. From La Fortuna, take a bus to Upala, walk ten minutes to another bus station and from here take a bus to Bijagua.
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