From lush rainforests on the Pacific Coast to towering volcanoes and relaxing hot springs in the north, followed by sunken treasures beneath the Caribbean ocean, Costa Rica has no shortage of impressive bucket list destinations. Rio Celeste is just another gem on the long list of beautiful sites to see in this alluringly diverse country.

Through photos, you might believe that only the best editing can turn the waterfall into that unbelievable, bright turquoise blue. But a trip to Rio Celeste will grant you the privilege of witnessing the reality of its color for yourself. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting this bucket list destination.

Rio Celeste Costa Rica

Its Vivid Color

Yes, you can believe the photos. It doesn’t seem likely that a river is so tauntingly blue, but there are scientific explanations for the river’s color. Rio Celeste is formed by a merging of two separate rivers – the Buenavista River and the Sour Creek. At the exact point of convergence, the blue color begins.

The Buenavista River contains a significant amount of aluminosilicate – a mineral made of aluminum, silicon, and oxygen. When the mineral combines with the acidity of Sour Creek (due to volcanic activity), the mineral’s particles expand and produce the phenomenon known as Mie scattering. In short, the enlargement of the mineral particles is produced when both rivers meet and this allows the sunlight to reflect on the water, causing the blue, turquoise color.


Planning Your Visit

The river is located inside the Tenorio Volcano National Park, with the nearest town being Bijagua. It’s best to tack on this bucket list destination during a trip to Costa Rica’s most famous volcano – Volcan Arenal. Arenal is also located in the Alajuela region, about 5 hours from San Jose, but Tenorio is located even further north.

The hiking trail is almost 4 miles round-trip, but a fairly easy walk. Plan to spend about 3 hours hiking the full trail and back. Visiting during Costa Rica’s dry season (December to April) is highly suggested as the water will be its clearest, and you can avoid difficult muddy trails. Trekking through the mud is sure to increase your time. Still, you can never tell what might happen in the rainforest even during the dry season, so opt for waterproof hiking boots and bring along a poncho, just in case.

During the first part of the hike, you’ll trek along a paved road until you come to the stunning waterfall. As you move forward, you’ll discover a lookout point that provides stunning views of the park followed by la Laguna Azul. At this blue lagoon, the astonishing turquoise water becomes concentrated and still. Along with the natural surroundings, the scene is quite magical. Almost as if out of a fairy tale, you might even expect to see magical fairies flying about. Likely, they’re just beautiful butterflies.

The hike continues taking you further as you come to the Borbollones. In this area, you can really smell the sulfur indicating the natural hot springs. You can literally see the water boiling up, but visitors are not permitted inside. After traversing the hanging bridges, you’ll arrive at the Tenideros – the place where it all begins. You’ll witness the clarity of both the Buenavista River and Sour Creek, and the enchantment that’s created when they meet.

Rio Celeste No Swimming

Activities Within the Park

Unfortunately, you aren’t allowed to swim in the majestic water. This is to help keep the park in pristine condition. However, there are many other activities hikers can enjoy.

Relax in the Hot Springs

Though visitors are not allowed to enter the Borbollones, there are several smaller hot springs around the area that you can relax in. Closings, warnings, and regulations are posted clearly so you’ll know which to avoid.

Indulge the Wildlife

If you’re a fan of wildlife, this place will be heaven for you. The park sits between cloud forests to the north and rain forests to the south. The diverse ecology allows for many species to thrive in this natural habitat.

You’re most likely to interact and spot the mammals that call this park home including the howler monkeys, spider monkeys, capuchin monkeys, sloths, and more. However, other mammals native to the land include pumas, jaguars, margays, and many others. There are also a variety of amphibians to watch for including colorful and uniquely printed frogs. But the real winners are the avid bird watchers. In a single day, you can spot hundreds of species of birds flying around the forests.

Rio Celeste Nature and Wildlife

Visit Las Hornillas

If you plan to take a few days to explore the Northern Alajuela region and/or Guanacaste (and you should), visit Las Hornillas. Las Hornillas is an active volcanic crater that sits at the base of the largest, now dormant volcano in the Guanacaste province called the Miravalles Volcano. It’s located only a few hours from some of the popular beaches that line the coast like Playa Tamarindo and Playa Conchal. The two closest towns are found on the southwestern side of the volcano – Guayabal and Fortuna – and they offer an authentic Costa Rican experience without the distraction of tourists.

After hiking past volcanic steam vents and bubbling mud pots, you’ll come to the active crater. Visitors are allowed to apply the rich, mineral-based volcanic mud directly to their skin and then soak in one of the thermal pools. But you’ll only be deserving of such luxury after hiking the trail to Llanos de Cortez Waterfall.

Located only a 35-minute drive from the crater. It’s a short, but steep, walk from the parking area. Like most waterfalls in Costa Rica, Llanos de Cortez Waterfall is stunning.

Rio Celeste Las Hormillas

More Information

The park is open every day from 8:00 AM until 4:00 PM. The last entrance is at 2:00 PM. Non-residents pay a $12 entrance fee, but all children under 12 years are free.

There are several lodging options in the town of Bijagua that would make for a convenient visit to both Tenorio Volcano National Park and the attractions at Miravalles volcano. However, you have the option of proceeding further West to experience the beaches in the Guanacaste province.

Costa Rica provides an endless supply of nature to experience and marvel at. There’s no end in sight for the bucket list destinations in this country which is why tourists continue to visit. Check out all of the destination articles and let Maximo Nivel help you plan the perfect adventure itinerary while you study, volunteer, or intern abroad.