Tenorio Volcano National Park/Rio Celeste

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Tenorio Volcano National Park/Rio Celeste

Exact spot on the river where minerals mix and turns an amazing shade of blue.
Exact spot on the river where minerals mix and turns an amazing shade of blue.

Tenorio Volcano National Park is one of the newer national parks and is just now beginning to be seen as a great option for a 1 or 2 day excursion out of La Fortuna. In years past, the lack of public transportation and park infrastructure contributed to the lack of tourists, but now it is easily accessible by making your way to Guatuso. Tour companies also offer tours to the area.

Costa Rica has a few secrets and one of them is the Rio Celeste located in the northwestern part of the country. Rio Celeste is known for its magnificent light blue color water. The river is surrounded by stunning rainforest and the entire area is located in Tenorio Volcano National Park. The Rio Celeste is home to a striking waterfall with its frothy water cascading into the picturesque light blue waters below. The water changes color due to the sulfur emitted by volcanic activity and mixes with calcium carbonate to produce a stunning hue. Legend has it, when the Gods painted the skies, they dipped their paint brushes into the river which turned the river its light blue color. The river also has a number of natural hot springs located along the banks which can be
quite relaxing while the cool blue water rushes downstream right next to you. There are a series of hot springs and boiling mud pots- so use some caution when exploring the area.

A trek to Rio Celeste involves a pleasant, yet somewhat challenging, hike through the cool rainforest of the Tenorio Volcano National Park. From the park entrance (which is located at the Rio Celeste Lodge) it takes about an hour (depending) to reach the Rio Celeste Waterfall. There's also trails that take you to the place where the water magically appears to turn blue. You’ll want to spend some time here taking in the Eden-like beauty of the area and although you do so at your own risk, many people swim here as well. The scenery in this area is spectacular. So give yourself some time to hike around. To view all points of interest give yourself 4-5 hours there and back. At some points you will be back tracking.

Rio Celeste located in the Tenorio National Park has been generating a LOT of emails lately. Actually with good reason as we HIGHLY recommend visiting Rio Celeste if you have the chance. Most questions seem to be centered around visiting Rio Celeste WITHOUT a guide or GUIDED tour, which run from La Fortuna for around $65./ person (don't quote me on the exact price, it fluctuates- depending). I'm not saying NOT to take a paid tour from La Fortuna as many people are much more comfortable using guides, but you adventuresome types and backpackers should know- YOU have options.

First, if you have a rental car, you should drive to Rio Celeste yourself (directions below). It's only about 1 hour and 15 minutes from La Fortuna- give or take. During the rainy season, you may need a 4-wheel drive, there's a couple of steep inclines when you get close to the park, but I gotta say, we did it in a 2-wheel drive, but you gotta 'make a run' and don't stop once you begin the incline(s) (not recommended for people uncomfortable behind the wheel).

If you don't have a rental and want to do it on the cheap, it can be done. Personally, I would try to gather a few like-minded people who want to visit Rio Celeste and then negotiate a price for a taxi from La Fortuna, there and BACK. Also, I would even approach the 'piratas' or pirate taxi's located on the main street in front of the park. I know it's not politically correct to say so, but I've never had a problem and you can often get a decent deal.... or not. (I guess I need to say, if you use a pirate taxi, you do so at your own Risk). I wish I could give you numbers, but they change too often... I would think $60. would be fair, but then again, the taxi people will assume you don't know shit and obviously tell you some outrageous number, but at least you can 'negotiate' from there and you'll have a ballpark of what to expect with the NEXT guy you talk too.

Driving Instructions:

This should help get your bearings.
This should help get your bearings.
  • From San Jose, take the main highway to Ciudad Quesada (aka San Carlos), then to Upala. Turn left in Upala towards Bijagua, and follow the road approximately 30 miles to the entrance of the Park.
  • Alternatively, from San Jose take the Interamerican Highway to Canas. About 6 miles after Canas is a turnoff to Bijagua. About 20 miles past Bijagua, you will find the entrance to the Park.
  • From La Fortuna drive on the main street AWAY from the volcano and head towards El Tanque which is about 5 minutes away from Fortuna. Take a left at the intersection in El Tanque (don't worry, there's only 1 intersection). When you see a sign for Upala or Guatuso, follow that. The Rio Celeste turn off is just after Guatuso (there's really no clearly marked signs in Guatuso, ask for directions to Upala or Rio Celeste, the town is small but a bit confusing. If you make it to Upala, you went to far.

Want a cheaper, but more adventuresome way?

A bus leaves out of El Tanque (the next small town over from La Fortuna- maybe 5 minutes in a car driving on the main street AWAY from the volcano) for Penas Blancas, which is the border crossing from Costa Rica into Nicaragua (It costs about $6.00 and takes 5 hours if you're interested). This bus departs EVERYDAY at about 7:00am. It returns from Penas Blancas at 2:00 returning to El Tanque at about 7:00pm. The reason this is important is because the turn-off to Rio Celeste is on the way between Guatuso and Upala. You could hitch a ride to Guatuso then negotiate a taxi the rest of the way, which isn't too far. Then meet the returning bus from Penas Blancas in either Upala, Guatuso or just on the road between the 2 (believe me the bus STOPS a LOT). You may need to know a little Spanish just in case, but this is doable.

  • Head to El Tanque- 5 minutes away driving on the main street of La Fortuna and AWAY from the volcano. The cheap way to El Tanque (without a rental car) is to basically hitch, or catch a ride, often locals that just happen to be going that way will only charge a dollar or so, but if that frightens you, then obviously take a cab to El Tanque.
  • Take a left in the middle of El Tanque across from the the super market and hardware store (this is easy as there is NO other left to take, it's the only intersection in El Tanque).
  • A few miles and you'll see the sign for Upala or Guatuso,,doesn't matter, follow that. Then go to Guatuso. In Guatuso you might have to ask directions to Rio Celeste (or Upala), the town's small but there's no clearly marked directions. The turn off (left) to Rio Celeste (or Rio Celeste Lodge) isn't far away after Guatuso, so if you make it to Upala, you went TOO far. Follow the signs to Rio Celeste Lodge, that's the starting point. It cost $10. to enter the park.

It's worth the EFFORT however you get there.