Tamarindo Day Trip: The Fascinating Rio Celeste & its Waterfall
Once upon an ancient time, a god decided to paint the sky. Blue, he said, as he picked up his brush – the sky shall be blue. And so, the god chose his paints and began to smear the sky in swaths of cerulean, sapphire and turquoise.
As he painted, the god reached down to Earth to clean his brush. And his brush touched a river. And thus, the river also turned blue – sky blue, as the hue would be known, after the god finished his work. The Celeste River, as the river would be known, one day.
Or so the story goes.
Of course, there’s a scientific explanation for Costa Rica’s Rio Celeste. One that has everything to do with volcanic minerals – with oxygen, aluminum, and silicon, suspended in water and refracting light.
But we prefer the more romantic explanation. It’s fitting for this special river, baby blue in hue and proof, if ever there were, of real-life alchemy – of the mundane becoming something magical. Because here, the water is really, truly blue. Scoop it up with your hands – blue. Immerse your arm – blue. The Rio Celeste is really, truly the blue of a sky-blue crayon. Of a god’s leftover sky paint.
If we are vague, let us be clear: Don’t miss this Tamarindo day trip. Just don’t!
Rio Celeste River & Waterfall Overview:
Location: 25 minutes southeast of Bijagua, via a partially paved road
Founded: April 27, 1995
Maximum Altitude: 6,286 feet above sea level
Area: 45,475 acres
Hours: Entrance between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., every day; you may remain in the park until 4 p.m.
Services Available: Potable water, restrooms, a mirador/lookout point, and parking (¢1,000).
Entrance Fee: $12 adults / $5 children (ages 2-12)
What You Should Know:
Well, what you should know beyond the obvious – beyond the fact that you’re about to experience one of the world’s most memorable, most unique sights!
Here are a few considerations:
- Dry season is crowded: Rio Celeste is one of Costa Rica’s most photographed sights, which means that travelers flock here in droves. In dry/high season months (typically, January through April), the park can fill up fast. And that’s important because…
- Tenorio Volcano National Park limits visitors: To better the traveler experience, the national park now limits visitors to 1,200 per day, with only 400 allowed on the trails at any given time. So, arrive early, not only so you make it in, but also so you don’t have to wait for the early-birds to finish their hikes.
- Sections may close due to weather: Certain trails and sectors of the park close during extreme (think: downpours, excessive mud, etc.) weather. Check the Rio Celeste Facebook pagefor current conditions.
- You can’t swim in the park (but you also kind of can): Swimming is prohibited within the national park. That said, you can swim at the public entrance, located about 1 kilometer past the park entrance.
- For best photo ops, visit during the dry season (or late morning): If you’re hoping for the bluest of blues, visit during the height of the dry season (January-April), when the river runs clear of sediment. But don’t worry; Rio Celeste still flows blue during the rainy season – just not as For best colors in rainy season, visit late morning, to give the river a chance to filter out sediment.
What to Wear & Pack:
Tenorio Volcano National Park is one of Costa Rica’s more rugged, with weather that can change on a dime (or a ¢50 coin!). If you get stuck in a rainstorm, you may hit extreme mud – we’re talking the kind that sucks at your boots and makes you work for every step – so it’s always best to arrive prepared. Here’s what’s in our daypack:
- Water: ALL the water! Temperatures at the park climb into the mid-80s during the day; with humidity (and challenging hiking), you’ll sweat a lot and should drink even more.
- Snacks: Refuel! Trust us. It can be a long hike.
- Hiking shoes: We highly recommend hiking shoes or boots, preferably of the waterproof variety, for hiking in any of Costa Rica’s national parks. If you don’t pack them, you can rent rubber boots for about $5 outside the park entrance. These aren’t the most comfortable boots, though; it’s better to bring your own.
- Comfortable clothes: While you don’t strictly needhiking clothes or long pants, you may want them for the extra protection they afford from mosquitoes and other bugs. That said, at the very minimum you’ll want comfortable, quick-dry clothes, if you’re walking through the river. (It’s about mid-thigh deep!)
- Rain protection: If you’re visiting during potentially rainy months (to be safe, April-December), you’ll want a heavy poncho, electronics wetbag, and water-resistant daypack, to keep yourself and your gear dry.
- Hiking poles: The park’s trails are rugged and can get slippery. When in doubt, pack your hiking poles.
- Swimming gear: If you’re stopping at the public swimming area before or after your hike, you’ll want a swimsuit and towel. Beware, the water is cold!
- Bug repellent: You may not need it but if you do, you don’t want to be stuck mid-hike without it!
Rio Celeste is not just a river: this baby-blue body of water is surrounded by exuberant rain forest – a biodiverse, richly hued sight in its own right. And then, there’s Tenorio Volcano, home to four volcanic cones and spectacular panoramas that stretch from the Pacific to the Caribbean.
But for most, Tenorio Volcano National Park is all about the Celeste River. That’s why we’re here, at least. To whit:
Rio Celeste Waterfall
An impressive, nearly 100-foot waterfall, this baby-blue cascade is Tenorio Volcano National Park’s undisputed shining star. The sparkling pool at its foot isn’t bad, either!
The Blue Lagoon
An intensely blue lagoon, this lovely sight is perfect for photographs – but not for swimming! Yes, all swimming is prohibited within the park, and for good reason: high chemical concentrations, like those present in the lagoon (and which contribute to the lagoon’s beauty), can cause serious injury.
Fumaroles & Boiling Mud Pots
Volcanic gasses have to vent somewhere, and where better than into these mesmerizing mud pots, which bubble with hypnotic fury.
The Teñidero (Stained River)
It’s a spectacular sight – the site where the river first runs blue! Here, river waters mix in a perfect dance of mineral composition, lending the river its startling cerulean hue.
Where there is a volcano, there are likely hot springs! Indeed, Tenorio Volcano feeds natural, mineral-rich hot springs, located adjacent to the river.
The primary hiking trail through Tenorio Volcano National Park and to Rio Celeste is known as Los Misterios del Tenorio, or Tenorio’s Mysteries. Wending two miles (about 3.2 kms) one-way through the park, it sweeps past the waterfall, blue river, teñiderosand blue lagoon.
We’d put the trail at moderate difficulty– but it depends on how you go. There are a few entrance points to the trail, and more than a few ways to walk it: Take the long way, hike only to the waterfall, see it all – how and where you walk, will determine how difficult it is. No matter how you do it though, bank on tree roots, slippery rocks, and more than a few steep stairs.
All told, if you walk the longest hike and the most difficult route, it should take no more than 4-5 hours. That said, you can make it in and out in under 2 hours, too.
How to Get to Rio Celeste:
From Tamarindo, you’re looking at about 2.5 hours to Bijagua and another 30 minutes to the entrance to Tenorio Volcano National Park – a total of about 3 hours, one way.
Guided Day Trip
For simplicity and comfort’s sake, we recommend taking a guided tour to/from Rio Celeste, especially if you’re committed to making it a one-day Tamarindo day trip.
Why? The big reason is time: The drive is at least 6 hours, round-trip, which is a hike when you do it yourself. Plus, much of the driving will be on small, winding and unfamiliar back roads. Add onto that, 2-5 hours of hiking and national park explorations, plus at least one (probably two) meals, and you’re easily looking at a 12-hour (more likely, 14-hour) day.
Book a guided tour, and you let someone else do the hard work. You can nap on the way back.
EASY BUTTON! Don’t want to mess around with the logistics? We’ll do it for you! Just name the day, and our in-house concierge, Cristina (send her an email) will find the perfect day trip to Rio Celeste – and book it on your behalf, absolutely free!
By Rental Car
That said, of course you can DIY your Tamarindo day trip. So, first things first, you no longer need a 4×4! After Hurricane Otto, the road from Bijagua to Tenorio Volcano National Park was bandaged with patches of concrete, upgrading the path from 4×4-only territory to anyone-can-do-it (provided you’re willing to drive very slowly). That said, for comfort and ease of transit, we recommend an SUV.
We strongly recommend downloading Waze, a free phone app that serves real-time driving directions. (You’ll need phone data, though.)
That said, general directions from Tamarindo to Rio Celeste are the following: Take Route 155 to Route 21, until it meets Route 1. Take Route 1 East toward Bagaces until you see signs to Bijagua and Tenorio Volcano National Park via Route 6. From Bijagua, follow signs to Tenorio Volcano National Park and Rio Celeste.