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Rio Celeste: The Blue Lagoon

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Rio Celeste (the Celeste River) is a 14-kilometre-long stretch of vivid turquoise water that flows through the Tenorio Volcano National Park in northwestern Costa Rica. Its ethereal light-blue hue is caused by a chemical reaction between sulfur and carbonate, which are formed in the volcanic soil. The crown jewel of this scenic stretch is the 90-meter-tall waterfalls that plunge into an azure lagoon framed with luscious greenery.

The best way to soak up this slice of Costa Rican paradise is via a scenic trail that runs for about 6 kilometres along the most beautiful portion of the river. The Rio Celeste waterfall hike will take you through the dense tropical vegetation, along an intriguing confluence and over small wooden bridges.

Here are some basic tips to help you plan out your Rio Celeste tour and make the most out of your visit.

RIO CELESTE AT A GLANCE

Entrance fee: USD 12* for adults and USD 5 for children (aged 2–12)
Number of annual visitors: Around 18,000
Best season to visit: During the Costa Rican dry season, which lasts from December to April.
Popular attractions nearby: Since Rio Celeste is part of the Tenorio Volcano National Park, there are many stunning natural sights in its vicinity. For example, you can visit the nearby Lago Danta (Tapir Lake) or one of the park’s numerous nature-derived hot springs.
Tenideros Rio Celeste is where the Blue Lagoon is born
Los Teñideros, where two streams mix, creating the iconic colour.

Highlights

  • Observing the chemical reaction at Los Teñideros. The phenomenon is caused by the merging of two clear water rivers, which gives Rio Celeste its signature turquoise shade.
  • Embarking on an exciting, yet fairly easy hike through luscious tropical forests and along the iridescent waters of Rio Celeste. The gushing waterfalls and the aquamarine pond they form create a breathtaking sight for all visitors who descend to the pool.
  • Walking past gorgeous turquoise lagoons, where you can whip out your camera to snap as many as photos as you like. Alternatively, you can take a quiet moment to appreciate the exquisite sight and soak up the beauty of the surrounding nature.
  • Witnessing some of the exotic animal life that live in the lush tropical forests of the Tenorio Volcano National Park. Among the most interesting residents are monkeys, coati and a wide variety of colourful tropical birds.

Lowlights

  • The amount of visitors allowed into the park is limited. Tenorio Volcano National Park lets in only 1200 visitors per day, while 400 people can hike the Rio Celeste trail at a time. To avoid waiting in line for your turn, make sure to show up at the park before 2 pm.
  • The ground on the trail can get incredibly muddy and impede your hike, especially if you’re visiting Rio Celeste during the rainy season. To make sure you’re adequately prepared for your trek, equip yourself with comfortable hiking boots and waterproof gear.

HIKING AT THE CELESTE RIVER

You can embark on your Rio Celeste tour from San Jose via the Inter-American Highway to Cañas, then via Bijagua to reach the Tenorio Volcano National Park. The entrance to the park is located just outside of Bijagua.

The hike begins at the ranger station and goes into a dense, deep-green forest. The first portion of the trail goes down a paved road, which soon turns into a dirt trek riddled with small streams, stray roots and rocks. After about half an hour, you will encounter a 250-step staircase that will lead you closer to the falls.

The pool is closed off with fences and, unfortunately, swimming is not permitted at any point along the Rio Celeste. However, there is a viewing platform from which you can admire the sight and take pictures. If you only came to see the waterfalls, you can turn around here and go back to the starting point. However, the trail continues and the following section is a little more demanding. It begins with a slight ascent before returning to trail the river. After a while, you will come across Laguna Azur, a beautiful turquoise pool and a great spot to take photographs.

The Blue Lagoon at Rio Celeste
The Blue Lagoon at Rio Celeste

Further down the path, you will reach the Borbollones, the spot where the water forms bubbles caused by volcanic gas. The hike will then take you across low rope bridges and through thick tropical vegetation. Following the course of the river, you will eventually encounter a place called Los Teñideros, where two clear water rivers, Quebrada Agria (Sour Creek) and Rio Buena Vista (Good View River), converge to form Rio Celeste. The merging of the two rivers creates a chemical reaction which causes the Rio Celeste to turn bright turquoise, creating an astonishing sight. This is where the trail comes to an end, at which point you can turn around and head back towards the waterfalls.

This tour allows you to explore Rio Celeste along with other highlights of Costa Rica.

HOW TO SPEND A DAY AT RIO CELESTE

Rio Celeste has many viewpoints.
A bridge at Rio Celeste

The Rio Celeste waterfalls are by far the most popular attraction of the park; however, there is plenty to see and do in the surrounding area as well. You can arrive at the park early and spend the day exploring the tropical rainforest in the area leading up to the falls. If you keep your eyes peeled, you might even spot some of the intriguing species characteristic of Costa Rica’s exotic wildlife, such as tropical birds, monkeys and sloths. Providing there isn’t a lot of mud along the path, the hike should take no more than 2–3 hours to complete, but if you arrive early you can take your time and enjoy the surrounding nature at a slower pace.

If you want to experience the Costa Rican scenic landscape at its most spectacular, then visiting the gorgeous Rio Celeste should definitely be at the top of your travel itinerary. Between the beautiful waterfalls, serene aquamarine water and rich rainforests, this stunning tropical getaway will amaze you with its unparalleled natural beauty.

*Note: The prices listed are as per April 2018

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