Rio Celeste (‘Celeste River’ in English) and the famous Rio Celeste Waterfall are located in the Tenorio Volcano National Park of Northern Costa Rica. In lush rainforest surrounds, the bright milky blue river feeds a roaring 90 metre (295 ft) waterfall that drops into a beautiful cyanic lagoon.
Rio Celeste, Costa Rica, as part of Tenorio National Park, offers exciting trails, bright-blue lagoons, bubbling thermal waters and picturesque landscapes. Combined with the captivating Rio Celeste waterfalls, there is so much to explore. Plus, Rio Celeste is considered a top attraction and one of the best waterfalls in Costa Rica!
Rio Celeste Waterfall Costa Rica, makes a great full-day tour from other destinations like La Fortuna Costa Rica, Tamarindo and other parts of Guanacaste Province and, of course, from the city of San Jose.
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This detailed guide to Costa Rica Rio Celeste and its beautiful waterfall will give you all the information you need for a great trip, including how to get there, the best time to visit, top Rio Celeste tours and what to expect at the park, plus more!
Rio Celeste Costa Rica: Quick Guide
About Tenorio Volcano National Park
Tenorio Volcano National Park is located on the border of Guanacaste and Alajuela Provinces in Northern Costa Rica. The lush landscape has paid entrance and includes attractions like the Rio Celeste and the Catarata Rio Celeste (Rio Celete Waterfall).
The park is named after the dormant Tenorio Volcano, and makes up a part of the Arenal Tempisque Conservation Area.
The Tenorio National Park Costa Rica was formed in 1995.
About Rio Celeste
The Celeste River in Tenorio Volcano National Park of Costa Rica is visited by many every year for the bright milky blue waters. It’s definitely a sight to behold! While, for centuries, myths and legends have explained the cyanic colour, it is simply science.
The bed of Celeste River Costa Rica is covered with a substance comprised of many minerals (including aluminum, silicon, and copper). The substance, in high quantities, combined with the reflection of the sun, create the magnificent blue colour.
The Celeste waters are a result of the confluence of two colourless rivers, the Rio Buenavista and the Quebrada Agria. The park in Tenorio Costa Rica has a trail leading up the viewpoint over the confluence of these streams, which I recommend seeing!
Where is Rio Celeste Costa Rica
Tenorio Volcano National Park Costa Rica and the Rio Celeste waterfall are located a in the eastern most part of the northern Guanacaste province. Bordering the Alajuela province, a trip to the Rio Celeste waterfalls can be made from popular destinations like La Fortuna, Tamarindo and San Jose.
The Rio Celeste National Park at Tenorio is 43 miles (69.5km), a 1 hour 30 minute drive from La Fortuna, 100 miles (161km), a 3 hour drive from Tamarindo and 112 miles (180km), a 4 hour drive from San Jose city.
Click on the Rio Celeste Costa Rica map below to interact with Google Maps and find your ideal route for visiting the Rio Celeste waterfall!
How to Get to Rio Celeste
Visiting Rio Celeste and its electric Rio Celeste waterfalls is best done by rental car or guided day tour. It is important to note that there is no public transportation, buses or shuttles from other towns in the region including La Fortuna to Rio Celeste.
By Rental Car
Okay, I have travelled to many countries in the world, and by far Costa Rica is best discovered by rental car. Especially when it comes to visiting Rio Celeste Costa Rica waterfalls. Since there are no shuttles or busses or public transportation at all, you can either reach the Tenorio Volcano National park via rental car or by guided day tour.
I use and recommend Discover Cars. They are great because they compare local and international car companies to find you the best deal. Plus the full-coverage insurance is only $7 USD a day, which I always get.
If you do decide to rent through Discover Cars and you get the daily full-coverage insurance, be sure to decline all insurances offered by the Costa Rican car rental company (they will offer you a lot).
Enter ‘Station El Pilon, Tenorior Volcano National Park’ into Google Maps or Waze and it will give you the most accurate directions to the visitor centre. Here is where you will park your rental car in the large gravelled parking lot and make your way to purchase your tickets at the ticket counter.
TIP | You do not need a 4×4 vehicle to visit the Celeste Waterfall Costa Rica as the entire roadway can be driven with a high-clearance vehicle only.
Best Rio Celeste Tours
If you decide not to rent a car for your Costa Rica holiday, you can opt for a popular and highly rated Rio Celeste tour. As a top attraction and waterfall in Costa Rica, you can take one of the famous combination Rio Celeste tours that wil have you adventuring all day through the Costa Rica rainforest from La Fortuna, Tamarindo and San Jose.
These tours can feature activities like sloth watching and other top Costa Rica waterfalls.
If you’ve arrived at Rio Celeste via rental car, you can opt for a tour that will start at the Tenorio Volcano National Park visitor centre or nearby village. To tour Rio Celeste by tube or on horseback are popular.
Rio Celeste Tours from Tamarindo + Guanacaste
Rio Celeste, Sloths + Waterfall Tour from Guanacaste
Private Tour of Rio Celeste from Tamarindo
Rio Celeste Tour from La Fortuna
Rio Celeste Tour from La Fortuna
Rio Celeste Tour from San Jose
Rio Celeste + Sloth Watching Tour from San Jose
Best Time to Visit Rio Celeste Waterfall
Time of Year
The best time to visit Rio Celeste waterfall is in the dry season of December – April. After heavy rains, the waterfalls and lagoon tend to turn brown and lose their beautiful blue hue.
If you plan to visit Costa Rica in the wet season when the rainforest is at its most lush, don’t fret if it’s always raining. Rio Celeste on the whole will always be a great experience no matter the weather. The trails and scenery are beautiful no matter what.
TIP | The trails at Rio Celeste can get quite muddy if it rains. Please be prepared with proper footwear and raincoat.
Chasing Waterfalls? Check out this complete guide to La Fortuna Waterfall
Time of Day
If you are visiting Rio Celeste and the Tenorio Volcano National park self-guided, the best time to enter Rio Celeste is at 8AM, when the park opens.
The first guided day trips from La Fortuna to river Celeste Costa Rica arrive around 9:30AM, and the park, especially the viewpoint to Rio Celeste waterfall will continue to get busier throughout the morning. Alternatively, you can visit the park in the early afternoon just after lunch when the tours are leaving the park.
Do note, that last admission to the trails are at 2PM, which doesn’t leave much time to enjoy all the park has to offer.
Rio Celeste Costa Rica Entrance Fee
The Tenorio Volcano National Park entrance fee (which includes Rio Celeste Waterfall), is $12 USD for Adults, and $5 USD for Children under 13.
The ticket office will only accept credit and debit cards like Visa and Mastercard, and do not accept cash. A paper slip will be provided which you will need to show at the entrance to the park before your Rio Celeste hiking.
Rio Celeste Opening Hours
Rio Celeste at the Tenorio Volcano National Park is open daily from 8AM – 4PM, with last entry at 2PM.
Parking at Rio Celeste Costa Rica
There is a large gravel parking lot available across the street from the Rio Celeste visitor centre.
As I know some people may be arriving by rental car with their luggage, do note there is ‘security guards’ at the parking lot (this is why you pay a fee), although I would caution to lock your doors, and leave all possessions including valuables in the back out of sight.
Rio Celeste parking at the Tenorio National Park costs 2000 Colones ($3USD) per car to be paid to the parking attendants in cash.
Amenities at Rio Ceslete
Before the entrance to the Rio Celeste trails, you will find a bank of clean restrooms at the visitor centre. Be sure to use these before presenting your entrance ticket at the start of your Rio Celeste hike. There are no restrooms located in the Tenorio Volcano National Park.
To hike Rio Celeste, will take approximately 2.5-3 hours (or more), so you’ve been warned!
Rio Celeste is one of the top atractions in Costa Rica, therefore it has many established amenities like a souvenir shop. Great for bringing little gifts home for family and friends, or to commemorate your trip.
You can find Cami’s Shop located by the parking lot on the opposite side of the road from the visitor centre.
There are three restaurants available located around the visitor centre of varying qualities. Most tours will stop at the Restaurante Los Pilones, a typical Costa Rican meal before heading out. The food here is just okay. Next door there is also a small Soda El Pilon, if the main restaurant is too busy.
Alternatively, I’d recommend hopping in your rental car and driving one minute down the road to Restaurante Metamorphosis, or simply walk there. This is my top pick for a restaurant near Rio Celeste. I had a great casado here and the staff are super friendly. The restaurant is also located on a beautiful little farm.
Rio Celeste Butterfly Farm
Located at the Restaurante Metamorphosis, there is a small butterfly farm called Mariposario Rio Celeste. After having a bite to eat, you can enter the farm to discover beautiful flowers, butterflies, frogs, colourful birds and other cute little creatures. Its a great stop if you are traveling with kiddos! The butterfly farm is open 8AM – 4PM daily.
Rio Celeste Labyrinth
Located right beside the butterfly farm is the Laberinto Rio Celeste. For a small fee you can enjoy a challenging labyrinth that can take up to 30 minutes to finish. At the centre there you can even see a view of Lake Nicaragua. The owner will give you a set of binoculars. The labyrinth is open 8AM – 5PM daily.
Can you Swim in Rio Celeste Waterfall?
No, you cannot swim within the paid portion of Tenorio National Park and the Rio Celeste. But, there is a Rio Celeste free pool located a two-minute drive before the visitor centre along the side of the road.
You can park your car here for free and make your way down the side of the bridge (watch your step!) to the free portion of the Rio Celeste. It’s a good idea to bring a pair of grippy water shoes with you.
What to Expect at Rio Celeste
Read on for a step-by-step guide to visiting the Rio Celeste Waterfall and other attractions within the Tenorio Volcano National Park.
Visitor Centre + Backpack Check
Once you’ve parked your car at the large gravel parking lot, and paid your small parking fee to the attendants, you can make your way across the road to the visitor centre. Here you can purchase your ticket to enter the Rio Celeste trails.
They only accept debit or credit cards at the ticket counter, no cash. Make sure to keep your paper ticket on hand, you will need to show it at the entry gate.
Here you will also find restrooms to use before entering the park, too. Make sure to use them as they will be your last chance to do so. The park itself does not have washrooms.
You’ve used the restrooms and are feeling excited to enter the Tenorio National Park, but first things first. At the entrance, there will be a parking attendant checking your entry ticket and your backpack.
They will ask you a couple of simple questions like ‘do you have cigarettes in your bag?’ or ‘do you have plastic water bottles in your bag?’. Which, I hope your answer is no, as cigarettes and plastic bottles are allowed into the national park.
Rio Celeste Trail
The Rio Celeste trail is 3.7 miles (6km) long round trip. The trail itself is of moderate difficulty with paved and dirt/rocky parts. If you have older persons in your group, make sure they are able to navigate around rocks along the dirt trail, otherwise, I wouldn’t advise them to make the trip.
The first part of the Rio Celeste hike Costa Rica is along a flat, meandering, paved trail. This portion of your visit to Rio Celeste waterfall is the easiest part of the hike. Here you will find the Tenorio Volcano National park sign which I encourage you to stop and take a photo with your fellow travellers.
Once you’ve reached the intersection of trails, you can choose to make your way down to the Rio Celeste waterfall viewpoint (paved stairs) or hike further to see the confluence of the two rivers that make the Celeste River along a dirt and rocky path.
NOTE | The trails along the Rio Celeste waterfall hike can become quite muddy after or during rain. I visited the park while it was raining, and my white running shoes got filthy! That taught me a lesson, for sure.
The Rio Celeste Waterfall
The most popular sight in the Tenorio Volcano National Park is the Rio Celeste waterfall. The focus of many tours to the area, the waterfall drops 90 metres (295 ft) from a cliff in the Costa Rica rainforest landing in a sky-blue lagoon and then continuing on as part of the Celeste River.
You can reach the Rio Celeste waterfalls by the well-paved and S-shaped stairway descending to a viewing platform. The entry to the climb down is at the intersection of the trails and is well marked by signage.
The stairs to the base of the Rio Celeste waterfall number around 150 steps or so and are quite steep in decline. The Rio Celeste Costa Rica hike down to the falls takes about 10 minutes. The duration it takes to climb back up is completely up to your fitness level, but will likely be around 15 minutes.
You cannot swim at the base of the Rio Celeste waterfall.
Blue Lagoon (Laguna Azul)
Once you’ve visited the famous Rio Celeste waterfalls, make your way back up the paved stairs to the trail intersection. From here you can turn left to follow the trail onward. This portion of the trail will be dirt and rocks, and if you are not sure-footed, I would recommend not going further.
First, you will come across the Laguna Azul, which is approximately 650 metres (2,133 ft) past the Catarata Rio celeste (waterfall). There will be a sign along the trail indicating to turn left. You will see the blue lagoon right away as it only takes 10 seconds down a slight incline to reach the viewing platform here.
This area is usually coated in a misty layer of fog as the temperature of the water and the temperature of the air differ.
Take a second to admire the beautiful blue colour, taking note that you cannot swim or enter the Laguna Azul (blue lagoon). The lagoon continues on to feed the Rio Celeste waterfall.
Borbollones Hot Spring
About 50 metres (164 ft) further along the main trail, you will start to smell sulphur (that rotten egg smell) indicating the Borbollones hot spring. Look into the river on your left and you will see small areas of bubbling water. The geothermal water is released here creating a hot spring.
You cannot enter this hot spring! Make sure to obey the signs that say not to enter ‘por favor no ingresar’ in Spanish. This is to protect the rainforest as part of the Arenal Tempisque Conservation Area and the stunning blue hue of the Rio Celeste.
Continue to follow the trail across one stationary bridge. Another 300 metres or so (982 ft) you will reach the final stops along the Rio Celeste hike.
El Tenideros Bridge
Just before the end of the trail, you will cross the picturesque wood bridge just before the final stop of El Tenideros. To get a great photo of the bridge you can continue over and along the trail 20 steps or so to a viewpoint along the bank of the Celeste River.
You can get a great angle of the electric blue waters running under the idyllic wood bridge, just watch your step in this area for loose dirt and rocks.
El Tenideros Viewpoint
You’ve reached the end of the Rio Celeste Costa Rica trail!
Here is where you will witness the coolness of science as the two rivers (the Buenavista River and the Quebrada Agria (Broken Sour) confluence to become the Rio Celeste. There is a stark difference between the water of the two rivers and the Rio Celeste itself. This is where the magic happens.
The viewing platform will give you a great look at the phenomenon of the Rio Celeste. Make sure to read the signage explaining its creation.
After taking a moment to drink some water out of your reusable water bottle, it’s time to head back up the path. You will follow the same trail to the visitors centre as you took through the park. The journey back will take roughly an hour.
Where to Stay near Tenorio Volcano National Park
Because the Rio Celeste waterfall and Tenorio Volcano National Park as a whole are a destination in and of themselves, you can find a few great Rio Celeste hotel options. There is something for every budget.
Here are my recommended Rio Celeste Costa Rica hotels:
Rio Celeste Hideaway Hotel | Luxury
Rio Celeste Hidaway Hotel offers luxurious bungalows with rainforest views a 3-minute drive away from the entrance to the Tenorio Volcano National Park. Expect high-end traditional Costa Rican decor with a private balcony and outdoor shower. The swim-up bar in the pool area and the on-site restaurant offer local and international cuisine, and of course, cocktails.
Finca Amistad Cacao Lodge | Mid-range
Finca Amistad Cacao Lodge is a 10-minute drive from the entrance. Situated on a 60-hectare cacao farm, the Finca offers traditional bungalows tucked into nature with some bungalows featuring a private terrace. Enjoy the on-site restaurant, cacao farm tours, and bird watching on the property.
Rincon Verde | Economy
Situated in the Costa Rica rainforest a 22-minute away from the visitor centre, Rincon Verde offers secluded surrounds. Basic, clean cabins provide accommodation for up to 3 people per unit. Guests can enjoy an on-site restaurant offering complimentary breakfast, a shared lounge and a garden area.
Staying in La Fortuna? Check out this La Fortuna Hotel Guide
What to Bring to Rio Celeste Waterfall
It was raining on my trip to the Tenorio Volcano National Park, and this isn’t a rare occurrence either. Therefore a rainjacket or poncho came in really handy, especially because I carry professional camera equipment. The majority of the trails consist of dirt (that can turn into mud easily), rocks and unearthed tree roots. A close-toed shoe is highly recommended here.
And because they don’t allow plastic into the park to preserve the rainforest and river, my purifying reusable water bottle came in handy! Due to the dense forest, wearing mosquito repellent is advised.
Travel Insurance for Costa Rica
The trails in the Tenorio Volcano National Park are full of tripping hazards and with that comes the risk of fall, injury or accident. Don’t be left with huge hospital bills and protect yourself with the right travel insurance.
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Nearby Activities in La Fortuna
About a 1-hour 30-minute drive east in the town of La Fortuna, you can experience a few more of the most popular attractions in Costa Rica. You can also check out my full detailed guide on La Fortuna Costa Rica to find out the top things to do, the best hotels, how to get there and more!