Are you ready to explore a magical river? A place of wonder and science? In the northern part of Costa Rica, one of Costa Rica’s gems awaits you – Rio Celeste (Light Blue River) in Tenorio National Park. You may have seen the pictures on Pinterest or Instagram – a bright, sky blue river winding its way through the forest. Now you are ready to hike Rio Celeste with your kids and see the blue river for yourself!
The Magical Rio Celeste
Know Before You Go
Before you go, check the official Facebook page for trail and water color conditions. There are occasional closures due to severe weather. After heavy rain, the blue color may be diluted. Rare seismic activity can also impact the water color.
Can you visit Rio Celeste as a day trip? Rio Celeste is a reasonable day trip from Liberia, Monteverde, and La Fortuna (Arenal). However, keep in mind that the trail gets more and more crowded as the day goes on. To encounter fewer crowds (and perhaps see a tapir…we heard rumors), spend the previous night in Bijagua and hike early. The day we visited the crowds were heavy by 11 am.
The Rio Celeste Hike
The hike is a 5 km round trip and doable for all ages. We had people in our group ages 7 to 70. Some sections are steep and slippery. Know your limits. The entire hike with lots of photos and a snack break at the Teñideros took us just over 3 hours.
Here is a map of the trail:
Kids & Passports recommends: Most people stop at each site on the way. We recommend hiking to the end (Teñideros) and stopping at the sites on the way back. This ensures shorter legs will make it to the most unique part.
The hike begins at Puesto Pilón as a paved path through the forest. After the first bridge, it changes to a well-trod trail. You will cross two small streams where sneaker-clad feet will need to rock hop to stay dry. After 1.4 km you will reach the turnoff to the waterfalls.
Skip the waterfall for now and continue up the trail. The trail may start to get muddy here. The park had rain two days before we hiked and the trail was still slick in parts, but there was no deep mud.
Bypass the Mirador (viewpoint platform). After the Mirador, is the most difficult part of the trail. There are steep stairs and rocks, which may be muddy. The staircase has a rope handrail on one side.
Next, you will come to a small turnoff for the Laguna Azul (Blue Lagoon). If you’ve had enough, you can stop here. The blue color is amazing and a small non-blue river joins the Rio Celeste. We met some families with younger children who stopped here. But if you have the energy to press on, do.
The trail after Laguna Azul is mostly flat. You will cross two cable bridges. The first bridge crosses a non-blue river, but the second crosses right over the neon blue Rio Celeste.
After 2.5 km you will reach the Teñideros (Dyers’ Shop). The Teñdideros is phenomenal – two clear rivers merge and instantly become a pure sky-blue color. We have seen blue hot springs in Iceland and Yellowstone National Park, but never a river that turns blue seemingly instantaneously.
On the way back, you can stop at all the places you skipped before. First will be the Borbollones (the bubbling hot springs).
Imagine how hot the water must be here!
Just around the corner is Laguna Azul.
And after a short hike, the Mirador. On a clear day, you can see the two volcanoes. Rio Celeste is not visible from the Mirador.
Not a volcano in sight for us on this cloudy day.
After a longer hike, your final stop will be the waterfall. The steep, but well-built stairs down to the waterfall are 150m (though we question that measurement…seems farther). The first few steps are slippery from everyone’s muddy shoes. Watch your step and use the handrail. The white water plunging into the blue pool below is breathtaking.
There is a great view halfway down if you don’t want to go all the way.
After the waterfall, it’s an easy walk back. You will remember the landmarks from your hike out. Voila! Your Rio Celeste hike is done!
Why Is The Rio Celeste Blue?
Local legend says that when the gods finished painting the sky, they rinsed their brushes in Rio Celeste. That’s a lovely story, but if you’re looking for a more scientific explanation, then we have it for you.
The Rio Celeste forms when two clear rivers – Rio Buenavista and Quebrada Agria meet. The mixing of two rivers changes the pH of the water, which causes the aluminosilicate particles from the Rio Buenavisita to enlarge. Some of the aluminosilicate sinks to the riverbed as white sediment. The rest remains in the water where it scatters only the blue spectrum of white sunlight. A physics lesson in action!
In other words, the water is not actually blue. It’s clear just like regular water, but the aluminosilicate particles scatter the light so that your eyes see the rich light-blue color. Wild!
Rio Celeste Entrance Hours, Fees, and Restrictions
As of January 2019, 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 (yes, they did ask). Parking is 1000 colones.
The park is open every day from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM. You must enter the park before 2:00 PM.
Leave your drone at home! Drones, drugs, and alcohol are banned. Park officials check bags at the trailhead.
Guides at Rio Celeste
There are guides available at the entrance, but, honestly, I wouldn’t get one. Hundreds of people on the trail minimize the chances of seeing any wildlife, even with a guide.
For families with younger children, the three-hour hike will be enough. Spotting flora and fauna with a guide en route will just prolong the time and increase the likelihood of a meltdown.
What to bring
Bug protection! We read elsewhere that bugs are not a problem, but we were eaten alive. Don’t make our mistake.
Sneakers are fine if the trail is mostly dry. Hiking shoes are better and required if it has rained recently.
Water & snacks for the trail.
Hat & sunscreen.
Food, Water, Bathrooms, and Trash
There are bathrooms at the park entrance. There is no garbage service on-site or in the park. Please make sure to carry out all your rubbish back to your hotel.
There is also a restaurant at the park entrance; however, the soda (local restaurant) across the street has better food.
Accommodation near Rio Celeste
The closest town to Tenorio National Park is Bijagua. If you want to avoid the crowds on your Rio Celeste hike, we recommend you spend the night before at one of Bijagua’s several accommodation options.
If you don’t have your own car, a taxi to Rio Celeste will cost you $25-50 dollars depending on your negotiating skills.
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