Costa Rica has many gorgeous waterfalls, but Rio Celeste waterfall takes the beauty pageant crown. This natural turquoise cascade is located in Tenorio Volcano National Park. The waterfall is a spectacular sight and the surrounding park grounds are an adventure of their own.
Rio Celeste waterfall, in Tenorio Volcano National Park, is located only 40 minutes from Liberia. Like all destinations worth visiting in Costa Rica, the drive is a bumpy one! Be sure to rent a 4X4 vehicle, or book a Rio Celeste tour in Liberia. The main entrance to the park is located about 6 miles from the town of Bijagua. Parking and restrooms are available at the entrance. Admission is $20 per person.
Hiking to the Waterfall
Tenorio Volcano National Park’s hiking trails are well maintained and lush. You can spend a few hours or an entire day trekking through this jungle oasis. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife: tapirs, monkeys, and coati. The 1 mile hike to Rio Celeste waterfall is relatively easy. The trek down to the waterfall viewing area is accessible via a staircase.
As I climbed down the staircase, the image of Rio Celeste slowly emerged through the trees. When I laid eyes on the rich waterfall for the first time, it took my breath away.
The rush of the water rang in my ear drums. The smell of sulfur was prevalent, but not overpowering. The cascade was all alone, sparkling in its solidarity. It must have been a powerful symbol to the people who first discovered it. I stood in awe at the foot of Rio Celeste, allowing mist to rain down over me. Not often am I blown away by a waterfall, but Rio Celeste is special.
After viewing the waterfall, we continued to hike through the national park. I absolutely loved hiking over the hanging bridges. Sure, they look a little weathered, but that’s half the fun! I felt like Indiana Jones!
Swimming in Rio Celeste
Visitors used to be able to swim in Rio Celeste, but recently it has become frowned upon and regulated. In the past few years, the park has built a railing around the main waterfall viewing area. When I visited the waterfall, swimming was not allowed. If you want to swim in a gorgeous waterfall, try Llanos De Cortes.
What to bring
- Waterproof boots. The trails can get muddy.
- Long sleeves and bug repellent. Because Costa Rica.
- Hat and sun protection. Because Costa Rica.
- Waterproof camera. Mist can damage your camera.
- Lots of water. Because Costa Rica.
- Pack a picnic. Have your lunch next to Rio Celeste.
When to Visit
During the raining season, mud can dilute the river, causing the color to be brown and the tourists to be cranky. Try to see Rio Celeste during the dry season: December – March. February is the best month. Be aware that the river’s color can fluctuate from day to day, especially after a big rain. We visited Rio Celeste in May, and the river was greenish / blue. I’m told it can be even more stunning, but I was still impressed.
Why is the water blue?
According to a local legend, when God finished painting the sky, he dipped his paint brush in Rio Celeste.
The real story behind the aqua color of Rio Celeste is rather scientific. The river is formed by two tributaries and, at the moment of mixture, the brilliant blue color emerges and stays vibrant for about 10 miles downstream. You can see the point of mixture if you keep hiking on the trails past the waterfall. So what causes this reaction?
There is a volcanic substance present in both tributaries that create Rio Celeste, composed of aluminum, silicon and oxygen. This substance reaches high levels when the two tributaries are mixed. That reaction, combined with an increase in particle size, makes it difficult for sunlight to penetrate the water. Therefore, every region of the color spectrum is blocked (to the human eye), except blue.
What’s that smell?
Like many places in Costa Rica, sulfur is emitted by numerous volcanoes in the region. A potent sulfuric smell at Rio Celeste is actually a good sign! It could mean the river is vibrant blue and undiluted from rain. Follow your nose to the mystifying river.
If the river is blue, you’ll walk away feeling blessed!