Rio Celeste Costa Rica: Plan Your Perfect Visit

Rio Celeste Costa Rica is part of the larger Tenorio Volcano National Park and is celebrated for its beautiful blue water.  While everyone has seen photos of the Insta-famous Rio Celeste Waterfall, you shouldn’t sleep on the rest of the park – it has some amazing sights!

We spent about half a day exploring the entire park and would definitely recommend the experience. Not only is the park out of this world gorgeous, but my fiancé surprised me with a proposal there, so Rio Celeste will always have an incredibly special place in my heart!

While the waterfall was previously a hidden gem, it has quickly risen to prominence as one of the province’s top attractions.  Fortunately, Rio Celeste is somewhat out of the way, which helps keep tourist numbers at a reasonable level.

This Rio Celeste Costa Rica travel guide includes information about the park, how to get there, hiking tips, best times to visit, and a handy dandy packing list.  In short, after my initial research and visiting the park myself, it has everything you need to know before visiting Rio Celeste Costa Rica!

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Location & Directions

Located within Tenorio Volcano National Park, Rio Celeste Waterfall is found in the Guanacaste province in northwest Costa Rica.  The closest towns to the park are Guatuso (southeast) and Bijagua (northwest). Visitors often come from either La Fortuna or Libera, and the area surrounding Tenorio Volcano National Park is relatively quiet (read: fewer tourists than other areas). For Google Maps directions, type “ Parqueo del Parque Nacional Tenorio” (Parking for the National Park), and it will take you to your destination.

How to Get to Rio Celeste from La Fortuna

From La Fortuna, the drive to Rio Celeste Costa Rica is about 1.5 hours.  Hop on Route 4 and after reaching Guatuso, take a left and head toward Rio Celeste.  You have about 20 kilometers (30 minutes) until you reach your destination.  Note that once you exit the main highway, the road gets a bit rough, so factor that into your driving time.

How to Get to Rio Celeste from Liberia

Rio Celeste Waterfall is a bit over 1.5 hours from Liberia or 2 hours from Liberia Airport.  The fastest route is via Route 1, then Route 6.  Once you hit Bijagua, transfer over to Camino al Parque.  From there, it will be approximately 20 kilometers (35 minutes) until you reach Rio Celeste.

Do I Need 4×4?

While the road is a bit rough and winds through the rainforest, you do not need a 4×4 to reach Tenorio Volcano National Park.  We rented a very small compact car and we made it with no issues (we did visit in February during dry season, which helped). 

pathway down to Rio Celeste Waterfall in Tenorio Volcano National Park
Rio Celeste Waterfall

Hours & Cost

You can buy your entry tickets at the Tenorio Volcano National Park Visitor Center.  There is no advance ticket purchase, so arrive early or join a tour to guarantee entry (tour agencies are able to purchase tickets in advance).

One important thing to know is that the Visitor Center is your last stop for food, water, and bathrooms.  There are no facilities within the park, so make sure you’re prepared!  On the plus side, the soda (which is how Costa Rica refers to roadside restaurants) serves delightful fruit smoothies that taste even better after a hike through the rainforest! We stopped there on our way out, and I’m not sure I’ve ever had such a refreshing smoothie!

Entry prices to Tenorio Volcano National Park are USD $12 for non-residents, $5 for children ages 2-12, and ¢800 for citizens and residents (~$1.30).  You will receive a paper ticket, which you’ll show the park ranger at the entry to the park.

Parking is ¢2,000 colones per car (~$3.20).  You will receive a paper slip, which you’ll put on your car’s dash.

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Best Time to Visit Rio Celeste

When deciding what time of year to visit Rio Celeste Costa Rica, your main decision is choosing between rainy season and dry season.  December through April is considered dry season, and I would recommend dry season over rainy season since rain can affect how blue the water is.  Try and avoid the worst of rainy season since the water will be less blue due to runoff and swirling sediment.  If you do decide to visit during rainy season, your best bet will be to check AllTrails reviews for other hikers’ reviews of recent conditions. 

If you visit between December and April during dry season, make sure you arrive early since the park does get pretty busy.  We arrived a bit after 8:00am in February, and while there were definitely people, it didn’t feel overly crowded.

One last bit of advice on when to visit: if you can see Rio Celeste on a sunny day, it is so worth it.  The way the sun lights up the water is absolutely magical.  Rio Celeste is still absolutely breathtaking on cloudy days, as well, but when the sun hit the water, it gave me chills.

when to visit Rio Celeste, Costa Rica.  The weather chart includes average temperatures and rainfall.

Tips for Visiting Rio Celeste Costa Rica

Can you swim in Rio Celeste Costa Rica?

Unfortunately, swimming inside the park is not allowed. However, you can swim outside the park entrance. Go about 0.6 miles (1km) past the park entrance and you’ll find a free public access point to take a dip.

Trail Conditions

Depending upon the weather, some parts of the trail may be closed due to unfavorable conditions. Try checking the Facebook page in advance for trail closures. Oftentimes, the page will post updates on water clarity too, so you can time your visit to coincide with that beautiful blue water!

Entrance to the Park

When entering the park, there are a few key things to know:

  • The park does not permit plastic water bottles, drones, knives, cigarettes, etc. You will go through an inspection at the entrance before entering the park.
    • Make sure you bring a reusable water bottle!
    • The attendant actually checks pretty thoroughly, so don’t try and sneak anything in! Fun story: my then boyfriend (Jake) had an engagement ring in the backpack and the attendant felt the ring box, thought it was a pack of cigarettes, and very nearly pulled it out. I thankfully was distracted at the time and didn’t really register the whole exchange, but Jake was sweating bullets. Fortunately, the proposal went off amazingly at Rio Celeste – I was so surprised and left with a wonderful fiancé!
  • There are no paper maps at the park. I’d suggest taking a photo of the map at the entrance for your reference (or you can use the photo I snapped below).
Map of Tenorio Volcano National Park

Rio Celeste Costa Rica Tours

Rio Celeste is definitely doable on your own, but if you’re traveling solo or are not a big fan of driving, try joining a tour!  This day trip to Rio Celeste Costa Rica provides round-trip transportation from La Fortuna, entrance fees to the park, a bilingual nature guide, parking, and lunch. Day tours are a fun way to connect with other travelers and they also remove the stress of driving in a foreign country.

Hiking Information for Rio Celeste

Overall, hiking in Tenorio Volcano National Park is moderate, but make sure to prepare yourself for mud and stairs.  The good news is that it is very challenging to get lost – there is one trail, which is ~3.5 miles out and back.  The full trail takes about 3 hours when the trail is in good (dry) condition, but if you’re visiting during rainy season, I’d give yourself an additional hour to account for traipsing through the mud. 

Rio Celeste Waterfall: From the ranger station to the waterfall turnoff, the trail is relatively flat and paved (about 30 minutes). We saw older couples and lots of families with small children at this stage of the trail, so it is a very doable adventure. Beyond the Rio Celeste Waterfall, the remainder of the hike is unpaved, so enjoy the easy hiking while you can! Once you reach the turnoff point to the Rio Celeste Waterfall, you’ll climb down about 250 paved stairs. This will bring you to a viewing platform at the bottom, which is perfect for photos or proposals! This is the view that you see splashed all over Instagram, and honestly, I could not get enough of it – the water is unreal!

After the Rio Celeste Waterfall, many folks opt to turn around, but there are some really cool sights if you continue hiking.  Fair warning: this is when the mud appears and the hiking gets a bit more difficult.  The paved path transforms into a natural path with lots of tree roots and rocks, so take your time on this portion of the trail. 

Laguna Azul: Laguna Azul is just off the main trail, and there is a viewing area right in front of the lagoon. I enjoyed this stop because unlike the Rio Celeste Waterfall, I got to get up close and personal with the beautiful blue water.

blue and brown water meet in Laguna Azul
Laguna Azul

Los Borbollones: The next stop is Los Borbollones, where you can see the boiling hot springs.  The sulfuric gases from the volcano are actually bubbling up through the water, which is what causes the boiling (and super heavy sulphur smell!).

los borbollones rio celeste waterfall costa rica
Los Borbollones

Teñideros:  The last stop is Los Teñideros, which is where the minerals of two rivers meet, thereby turning Rio Celeste its famous shade of blue.  This is the end of the trail, so once you’ve had your fill of the sights, it is time to turn around and head back the way you came.

Packing List

Rio Celeste Costa Rica doesn’t require a ridiculous amount of preparation, but there are a handful of items to make your trip more enjoyable:

  • Hiking Poles: if your hotel offers them and conditions are muddy, it would be worth bringing them with you. We did not have hiking poles, but they would have been handy in certain super muddy sections.
  • Sunscreen: you can get sunburned even under cloudy skies, so best to be prepared!
  • Mosquito Repellant: the bugs there are no joke; we went through mosquito repellant like water!
  • Raincoat: if you haven’t caught on by now, Costa Rica can be very rainy, even during the “dry” season. We learned it is never really that dry since you’re in a rainforest.
  • Hiking Boots: Since much of the hike is over muddy ground, I’d recommend hiking boots (like these) or hiking sandals (these Keens are amazing!). Whatever you do, I’d avoid sneakers. You can also rent boots at the front for $5, but if you have a good pair of hiking shoes, you should be fine!
  • Reusable Water Bottle: as mentioned above, no single use plastics are permitted in the park, so make sure you bring a reusable container!

Things to Do Near Rio Celeste Costa Rica

There are a handful of other activity options for things to do near Rio Celeste Costa Rica if you’re looking to extend your adventure.

  • Miravalles Volcano (90 mins): Miravalles has only erupted once (and it only erupted steam!), but the volcano is picturesque and there are plenty of hot springs to enjoy for relaxation.
  • Chocolate Farm (40 mins): Tree Chocolate offers tours of its cacao plantation and you get to taste some homegrown chocolate.
  • Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge (90 mins): This wetland is one of the most important in the world and is known for its biodiversity
  • Maleku Indigenous Reserve (45 mins): Discover the traditions of these indigenous people and enjoy a delightful Maleku meal!
  • Heliconias Hanging Bridges (45 mins): You can adventure through Heliconias Rainforest Lodge’s three levels of suspension bridges to explore the rainforest canopy.
cacao farm near Bijagua costa rica (near Rio Celeste)
Cacao plantation

Getting Around Costa Rica

You have a few options for navigating around Costa Rica and reaching Rio Celeste. Unfortunately, there are no public busses or any form of public transportation that go directly to Tenorio Volcano National Park.  The closest town is Bijagua, so from there, you would still need to arrange transportation to and from the park.  Your best options are as follows:

  • Car Rental: If you feel confident driving in Costa Rica, this will be your best option.  Driving yourself gives you the flexibility to arrive and depart as you wish and really enjoy the park on your own.  Check out Expedia for your best deals on rental cars.
  • Day Tour: If you’d mostly like to do your Costa Rica itinerary on your own with the occasional day trip thrown in, this is also a good option.  This day tour provides round-trip transportation from La Fortuna, entrance fees, a bilingual guide, and lunch.  If I’m traveling solo, I sometimes like to mix it up with day tours so I can meet other travelers.
  • Extended Costa Rica Tour: Last but certainly not least is joining a fully organized tour around Costa Rica.  This 8 day tour not only allows you to hike through Rio Celeste (and go tubing in the area!) but also includes adventures along the Pacific Ocean surfing and snorkeling with dolphins, as well as zip lining through the rainforest canopy. I did an organized tour with G Adventures in Jordan and it was honestly one of the best experiences of my life.  I’m a huge fan of tours in countries where I either am uncomfortable exploring on my own, don’t want to drive, or if I just prefer to leave the planning to someone else.

Where to Stay Near Rio Celeste Costa Rica

The nearest town to Rio Celeste Costa Rica is Bijagua, which would serve as an excellent stop on your Costa Rica itinerary.  With this option, you’d likely move hotels a few times, but would have less driving overall since you won’t have to backtrack.

Another option is basing yourself in La Fortuna and taking day trips from there.  With this approach, you won’t have to pack and unpack in multiple hotels, but you’ll likely have more driving time.  We ended up taking this approach, but I think we would have been absolutely fine either way.  I’ll provide hotel and hostel recommendations for each location.

La Fortuna:

If you opt for La Fortuna over Bijagua as your home base, look no further than my hotel and hostel recommendations.

  • LuxuryThe Springs Resort & Spa at Arenal is an exceptional option for your stay La Fortuna.  The resort has beautiful views of the volcano and great amenities.  A huge perk of staying here is access to all of the hot springs – there are so many that you can usually find your own private area. This resort would be absolutely perfect for a Costa Rica honeymoon stay!
  • Affordable: Tifikara Boutique Hotel is near enough to downtown La Fortuna, but it feels like it exists in a world of its own.  The hotel allows you to enjoy nature and offers cool touches like an evening frog tour around the property! If you stay here, I’d recommend checking it out – I saw so many different colored frogs, and our guide knew so much about all of them. We stayed here for our 4 days in Costa Rica and I would 100% recommend it.
  • Budget: Selina La Fortuna is a pretty unique option.  There are adorable “teepee tents” set up around a fire pit area where guests can gather in the evening.  You can enjoy the sounds of the river running by while at the same time staying within walking distance of downtown La Fortuna.
Tifikara Resort Hotel pool in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Tifikara Boutique Hotel in La Fortuna

Bijagua:

Bijagua is a bit smaller than La Fortuna, but still offers plenty of options for places to stay when visiting Rio Celeste Costa Rica.

  • Luxury: Rio Celeste Hideaway Hotel is absolutely stunning and is hands down the best place to stay near Rio Celeste Waterfall.  Not only does is offer an amazing location, but the luxurious bungalows offer hot tubs and outdoor showers so you can enjoy all the sounds of the jungle.  Plus, the property has private trails to the river, so you’ll be able to experience Rio Celeste like no one else!
  • Affordable: Finca Amistad Cacao Lodge is very reasonably priced and provides a totally unique experience. I’m not sure when else in life you’ll have the opportunity to stay on a cacao farm in a jungle. The rustic bungalows are super cozy and the common area is a great place to hang out and enjoy little chocolate goodies.
  • Budget: Rio Celeste Backpackers is a hostel in Bigajua that offers prices you can’t beat! The hostel has a laid back atmosphere where you can meet other travelers and enjoy common spaces like the terrace or hammocks in the garden.
  • Local Stay: This rental house is found within a 20 acre private nature reserve, so you’ll have access to tons of walking trails and lots of potential wildlife sightings.  The veranda also provides stunning views of the nearby volcano.  I can just imagine sipping a cup of tea in the morning with Miravalles Volcano as my panoramic backdrop!

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I hope you find this guide to Rio Celeste Costa Rica helpful in planning your travels! If you have any suggestions on visiting, let me know in the comments!

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