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Finding Iconic Waterfalls

riocelesteRio Celeste, one of Costa Rica’s most iconic sights is also its best kept secret. Where is it?

Seen on hotel web sites from coast to coast, one might think there may be many just like it but it’s in one location and one location only; Tenorio Volcano National Park. Plan about 1.5 hours driving time northwest of Arenal, La Fortuna de San Carlos or if coming from Guanacaste or Puntarenas, you will need to trust Waze.

This aqua marine blue river is surrounded by amazing rain forest, several boiling hot springs, mud baths, and an incredible 98 foot waterfall cascading down into a beautiful aqua pool of water. Ancient legend attributed the beautiful blue color to God washing his paint brush in the river after he painted the sky. Another legend of the first inhabitants believed the blue lagoon was a crater of the volcano which was later discovered to be false.

The magnificent blue water is similar in color to the vibrant Blue Morpho butterfly; however this coloration is the result of a chemical reaction between sulfur and calcium carbonate which originates in the nearby Tenorio Volcano. Be advised that during rain, the water can become a muddy brown instead of the vibrant blue; but that’s nature.  We had rain the day before and the water was magnificent.


Boiling blue water gurgles from Volcan Tenorio.

The hike to the waterfall from the park entrance will take about 1 ½ hours depending on your level of fitness. This is not a beginner hike and the trail can be very muddy and slippery. After a rain, the blue color is usually restored within 5 to 6 hours so keep that in mind. The lush and dense tropical forest is inhabited by sloths, tapirs, wild cats, blue morpho butterflies, tropical birds, howler, Capuchin and spider monkeys. The trail winds around tree roots and inclines so navigation requires some level of physical stamina. There are around 250 stairs with hand rails that take you down to a viewing platform at the waterfall and what goes down must eventually come up, including you, so take your time and carry water.  The park trails are in a constant state of improvement but it’s still recommended to borrow a hiking stick at the entrance and use it for balance.


Park Ranger Station and walls of mementos from visitors and volunteers.

We think the best way to see the park is with an experienced guide which can be hired at the park entrance or arranged for in advance. Park hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. with an entrance fee of $10. We hired our guide at the park entrance for $30 although prices will vary between $20-$40. It was money well spent as the trail can be challenging, not well marked and its nice to have an extra hand to help in slippery areas. Keep in mind, even with a guide, you still need to do the hiking! Swimming in Rio Celeste is not allowed within the national park.

Getting There: 4X4 recommended, particularly in the rainy season. The road from Arenal to Tenorio NP goes past Rio Celeste Hideaway, a fantastic place to spend one or more days.  After the park, the road continues downhill on to the west slope of the volcanic mountain range that separates the country and continent. This scenic shortcut takes you through cattle ranches and into the more arid conditions of the Guanacaste province.

Rio Celeste is off the beaten path and many take a day trip from the Arenal area. We stayed at the beautiful boutique hotel, Rio Celeste Hideaway which is 2.5 miles southeast of the park entrance.  This lovely boutique hotel with Moroccan and Bali/Indonesian charm is worth a stay.  Rio Celeste is part of the prestigious family of boutique resorts that include the world-famous Nayara and Nayara Springs, without the sticker shock and with down-to-earth ambiance. The private and spacious casitas are luxuriously appointed with beautiful outdoor showers set in your own private garden.  Tropical grounds are well maintained and each room has a private deck facing the rainforest. A trail on the property offers an alternative to the national park with an easy 30 minute hike to a portion of the blue river. A covered deck with towels awaits you where the trail ends with seating for the guests to enjoy, relax and take in the beauty of your surroundings. This is a nice option to visit the area for those who cannot navigate the more strenuous trails in the actual park.


A great photo slideshow is available here.

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