The first thing you need to know is that “celeste” (pronounced “cell-est-eh”) means “celestial blue.” So what is the big deal about this “Sky blue” river in Tenorio Volcano National Park? As its name implies, “the big deal” is the river’s natural and spectacular turquoise coloration. You must see Rio Celeste for yourself to understand how this river could be confused as a bit of sky on earth.
There are scientific explanations about the intense aqua blue color, but we will get to that at the end. For now, it is important for you to appreciate a more colorful, Costa Rican explanation.
According to local stories and legends, it happened when God was creating the earth and all its wonders. Rio Celeste got its brilliant and dazzling color when God dipped his brush into the river while he was painting the sky. When you see the river’s water, it will be easy to believe that this could be true.
You can stop along the main road and see the river and even walk down to the shore. However, there is more to see and explore! The best part of a visit to Rio Celeste is its lesser-known features. The Celeste River also borders several hot springs; offers a walking trail with a lookout point and 2 hanging bridges; and has one large waterfall that falls into an amazing blue pool. Needless to say (but I will say it!), this place is a photographer’s delight.
Ecotourism is tourism with a focus on getting back to nature, visiting natural sites and seeing beautiful views. It is selecting to tour countries that treasure (and can still offer) unspoiled natural resources for you to enjoy. As an eco-tourist you show and share your appreciation of the awesomeness of nature along with local people. Like them, you are participating in the conservation process.
Your trip to Rio Celeste will take you to the volcanic mountains in rural northwestern Costa Rica. Prepare yourself for breathtaking natural wonders at the Tenorio Volcano National Park. It is only one of Costa Rica’s 30+ national parks and reserves. Altogether they constitute about 25% of the country’s entire national territory, making Costa Rica a world leader in conservation. The Park has one entrance and consists of 31,794 acres (12,867 hectares) of lush, thick jungle. This area of Costa Rica features rolling green hills, farmland, and cattle pastures. By the way, the closest towns are Bijagua to the northwest and Guatuso to the southeast.
For eco-tourists and nature lovers who want to spot birds, monkeys or other wildlife, I recommend starting out early in the morning and taking lots of stops to watch. Keep your binoculars in hand. Because the park is at a high elevation, it has a primary cloud forest as well as rainforest. It is home to an abundance of wildlife. You are likely to see white-faced monkeys, white-nosed coati (a raccoon-type animal), and many birds and possibly iguanas if you have a good eye.
Since the national parks of Costa Rica are dedicated to conservation and protection, the inflow of visitors is carefully controlled. There is a limit of 1000 visitors in the park throughout the day with no more than 500 people on the trail at a time. Once the limit of 500 people is reached, the park is temporarily closed until people leave. Then, waiting visitors are allowed to enter. This is another reason to go early. Be sure to bring food and water and make sure to enter the park before 2pm! It takes about an hour to hike to the waterfall from the park's entrance.
For your safety as well as part of the Park’s conservation plan, it is prohibited to swim in the rivers or pool inside Tenorio Volcano National Park. By complying you are being a good eco-tourist and participating in Costa Rica’s amazing conservation program.
Swimming in Rio Celeste is allowed outside the park. In fact there are kayaking and tube-floating tours. They are very fun and I recommend both. However, if you just want to swim on your own, there is a free public entrance by the bridge 1 kilometer (~.6 mile) past the park entrance. Another option is to pay about $6 per person at Piruri Cabinas to swim in the river. The water is cold but feels very refreshing! Incidentally, if you or a member of your group is not up for the waterfall hike, bring along a beach chair. The Park’s public entrance is comfortable. It is a good place to watch the people and to possibly spot birds, iguanas, butterflies, and monkeys that are hanging around (and probably watching the people too!). You can find a nice spot to sit in the shade and between the rocks, or walk down to the river.
The brilliant blue water gets its heavenly blue color from a chemical reaction between volcanic minerals in the waters of two merging rivers at a certain point in the park. The scientific explanation is that the color of Rio Celeste appears due to certain minerals coated in silicon, oxygen, and aluminum that are suspended in the waters of each of the two separate rivers. This vivid, turquoise-blue color phenomenon in the water happens because of a combination of the mixing of these minerals along with the amount of water flow, and the suspension and reflection of sunlight.
1. When to go: The best time to visit the Rio Celeste is during the dry season of December to April, as rain can cloud the water and dull the turquoise effect. There are usually less visitors during this time, too. High season is after April. Usually, the weather is generally hot during the day and cools off at night. Average temperatures are around low to mid 80s (28 C) and cools off at night to high 60s F (20 C). Notably, this area doesn’t follow the strict dry-rainy tropical season and it can rain in April and January, for example; which are the typical summer months in Costa Rica.
2. Hours: Tenorio Volcano National Park is open daily, 8:00 am to 4:00 pm Important: Even though the park is open until 4 pm, last admission is at 2 pm. If it is high season or rainy, go early.
3. Admission: A fee is required, but it is very affordable. $12/adult for foreigners, ₡800 for citizens and residents; children are about half price. Park fees make Cost Rica’s conservation sustainable for your enjoyment.
4. What to bring & wear:
Footwear: Hiking boots or tennis shoes with good traction are the best. They will likely get dirty if the trail is muddy. If you do not want your shoes to get dirty, you can rent rain boots for $5 outside the park entrance. If you are older or have ankle/knee problems, I recommend wearing good solid hiking shoes. There are a lot of rocks and tree roots you have to walk on.
Clothing: Mornings can be in the lower 70s, but it warms up quickly as you walk. Light and layered clothing is best, so shorts and t-shirts and a light jacket should be fine.
Gear: You know, it can rain without notice at high altitudes. If you want to avoid getting wet in rain, bring waterproof rain gear including water resistant backpacks and a rain cover.
Water/Food: As with everywhere in Costa Rica, be sure to bring plenty of water. There are a couple of restaurants near the ranger station that are pretty good (cash only, local currency). Otherwise, there is nothing else until the towns of Bijagua and Guatuso.
Mosquito Repellent & Sun Block: Always a good idea to take a long, especially for children.
Rio Celeste is fast becoming one of the country’s most popular attractions. Certainly, it is one of Costa Rica’s secret eco-tourism treasures. Not only is it a memorable experience, but it is your opportunity to truly experience a very special phenomenon: a little bit of sky on earth that you can touch! A visit to Rio Celeste and its waterfall and trails means visiting the Tenorio Volcano National Park. This is a “must-do” trip while you are in Costa Rica.
Did you like the travel story?
Get more! Subscribe to our monthly inspiration newsletter.