Rio Celeste is a must-see when visiting Costa Rica for its unique turquoise-blue river that feeds into a stunning 295-foot waterfall. Located in the northern region of Costa Rica between Arenal/La Fortuna and Monteverde, it can be done as a day trip or while traveling from one location to another.
Arrival to Rio Celeste (Tenorio Volcano National Park):
Google Maps or Waze (which is more popular in Costa Rica) will guide you to the entrance. You’ll see locals in construction style vest waving flags to “help” you find parking. The cheaper lot is up on the left and right across from the entrance and costs 1,000 colones. The parking lot on the right is a bit more expensive at 2,000 colones, but it is larger and you don’t have to cross the road.
Here is a map of the parking area. It is a short walk to the entrance.
Rio Celeste Entrance Hours and Fees
Once you’ve located parking and paid, you’ll want to walk over to the ranger station. You’ll see the Parqueo del Parque Nacional Tenorio sign just in front. There you’ll pay for your entrance tickets. You MUST arrive and purchase your tickets by 2 pm because the trail closes at 4 pm and you’ll need a minimum of 2 hours. I highly suggest having 3 hours, especially if you are traveling with children.
As of January 2020, the Tenorio Volcano National Park entrance fee for adults is $12 and $5 for children (ages 2-12). Cheaper rates are available for Costa Rican residents. One adult in the group must have a passport.
The park is open every day from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM. You must enter the park before 2:00 PM and you must leave by 4:00 PM.
Rio Celeste Entrance Restaurants and Services
There is a soda (restaurant) located to the right of the entrance, as well as locals selling empanadas and drinks. We grabbed a few drinks from the “soda” as well as some empanadas to take on the trail with us since we were pressed for time.
There is also a place that rents boots in the parking lot. If it has been raining and you don’t have proper footwear, it might be worth checking out. Look for a tent near the parking area to the right of the entrance.
Rio Celeste Trail:
Your tickets will be checked at the entrance and you’ll be asked if you have a drone or cigarettes. Drones are prohibited and so is smoking and alcoholic beverages.
Note: This trail is moderately difficult. Those who can’t make the entire hike can consider walking to the top of the waterfall view (less than a mile) and then returning. If you want to complete the entire hike, it’s 3.7 miles roundtrip.
The trail starts out with a nice paved concrete path. You’ll pass a great photo opportunity with a sign for the park and then you’ll continue to a dirt/gravel trail. Be sure to keep an eye out for sloths as we found one sleeping up in the tree above the trail.
From there you’ll cross over a few small streams and there are perfectly placed rocks to help you across. After around 1.4 kilometers (0.8 miles) you’ll see the sign to head down to the waterfall. It is quite a few stairs down to the bottom, so be prepared for the hike back up. The waterfall is absolutely beautiful with the blue water cascading over the ledge. There are guard rails and you are not able to swim at the base.
After you climb the hundreds of stairs back to the top you will head up the hill on the left towards the upper portion of the waterfall. This area is steep and features concrete style pavers to help you climb. If it has been raining, it will be extremely muddy and wet. We ended up visiting during a rainstorm, so you’ll see what I mean in the photos.
After you walk for another 20-30 minutes uphill you’ll reach an area where you can look at the turquoise river that feeds down to the waterfall, but this isn’t even the best part! Continue on to the bubbling pots and then to the multiple bridges that cross over the river with its brilliant blue hue.
It’s one person across the bridge at a time, so if you come when it is busy, there is often a line waiting to cross back and forth. We lucked out being one of the few families left in the park with our late afternoon arrival, so we had the whole place to ourselves.
As you can see, a rainstorm equals a muddy mess! You’ll be able to wash off your muddy boots in the stream as you leave the park, but be sure to have an extra pair of dry shoes in the car. At the beginning of the hike, we were able to avoid the mud. As the trail continued, we didn’t have many choices.
The end of the trail is the best part! You’ll get to see where the chemical reaction occurs and the water changes from a muddy brown to a beautiful turquoise color. All the effort of trudging up the hill is worth the incredible views. Be sure to linger a bit and observe this phenomenon.
Once you’ve reached the end of the trail, it’s time to work your way all the way back to the beginning. Luckily, it is mostly downhill, with a few uphill sections. There is an information board in both Spanish and English that talks about the chemical reaction that occurs here.
Recommendations for Rio Celeste Waterfall and Hike
I highly suggest having at least 3-4 hours to explore the hike. We had 2.5 hours and had to rush quite a bit to make it out of the park by 4 pm. The park ranger who checked our tickets is at the end waiting for everyone to exit. We found him part the way down the path making sure we returned. We made it out with 2 minutes to spare!
Bring rain gear and waterproof hiking boots. Having the right gear will make all the difference. When we entered the park it was sunshine and dry weather. Within 30 minutes we were in a downpour and it didn’t let up for at least an hour. Hence why I look like a drowned rat in the photos. 🙂
Stay Nearby: Rio Celeste Hotels
If you are looking for a high-end hotel near the Rio Celeste Waterfalls entrance, then you’ll want to stay at Hotel Rio Celeste Hideaway. Accommodations include bungalow with wood furnishings tucked into the forest with a hot tub and swim-up pool bar. Don’t miss the delicious complimentary breakfast before a hike in the park.
Want something a bit lower-key with fewer amenities? Check out Casitas Tenorio B&B and Farm. Choose from one of their five rooms in their B&B for a comfortable night’s stay. Families will enjoy participating in the farm chores and a delicious home-cooked breakfast in the morning.
Budget travelers will have a nice stay at Cabinas Piuri. Each guest has their own room inside a large clay structure. The river is walking distance from the Cabinas and swimming is allowed.
It was one of my favorite trails during our visit to Costa Rica. The blue water looks just like the photos and it is unique to see the water changing right in front of your eyes! Even though we hiked through a rainstorm, the color was still magnificent. I only wish we had more time to enjoy the trail.
I created this travel blog to help other families to explore the world with their kids and I hope I’ve inspired you. Want to read more about Costa Rica? Check out my posts below on the various regions in Costa Rica. Is Manuel Antonio or Monteverde a part of your journey? Here is my post for our favorite activities in Manuel Antonio and here is one for how to spend three days in Monteverde. If you are headed to La Fortuna/Arenal, check out our favorites for that area here.
Or head over to my destinations page and explore my interactive map, it’s pretty fun. Until next time!
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Read more posts about Costa Rica:
Planning a trip to Costa Rica? This is our suggested Costa Rica itinerary: 10 days of beaches, waterfalls and rainforests. Covering the regions of Manuel Antonio, Monteverde, La Fortuna/Arenal and San Jose, you’ll get to see the wide variety of wildlife, regions and activities. Don’t miss the interactive map, accommodation recommendations and the best things to do in Costa Rica.
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