The Rio Celeste waterfall in Costa Rica is a natural wonder that is a great addition to any trip itinerary. Rio Celeste can be found in Tenorio Volcano National Park in northern Costa Rica. This is a hidden gem of Costa Rica but it can be challenging to get to so we’ll give you everything you need to know. This guide will cover a day trip to the waterfall, all of the best stops on the hike as well as other activities in the area. 

Rio Celeste is in the Alajuela and Guanacaste provinces in northern Costa Rica. The closest town to Rio Celeste waterfall is Bijagua de Upala. The incredible turquoise color of the water is due to the combination of sulfur and calcium carbonate. Within this area, there is so much to do and we’ll give you all the must-see things as well as the details on how to get here. It’s also a great day trip from La Fortuna.

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What to see when visiting Rio Celeste Waterfall in Tenorio Volcano National Park

There is so much to see here but you need to know where to go. We’ll give you all the best stops and then cover all the details to get there and plan a great visit. But don’t forget you need to make a reservation online in advance (more details on that here).

Parque Nacional Volcan Tenorio Sign with kids

Rio Celeste Waterfall Hike

This waterfall is an impressive 98 feet high and has a turquoise blue color that is like no other. Starting at the ranger station the hike to Rio Celeste waterfall only is about 2 miles round trip (3.2km) and takes about an hour. There are about ~250 stone steps down with a handrail. If it is raining it does become slippery and muddery and the sediment changes the water from turquoise to brown so consider the weather before planning a trip.

Kids on stairs overloooking Rio Celeste Waterfall

Tip

If it has rained before visiting Rio Celeste and you are staying at a hotel, ask if they can call someone at the park to see if the river is blue that day. Or filter Instagram posts by the latest and do the same for Google reviews to see posts from that day.

Rio Celeste Waterfall

After you finish exploring the waterfall you can take the Rio Celeste trail which begins near the top of the stairs down to the waterfall. This trail is dirt and it is more rustic with tree roots and can be muddy especially after it’s rained. The trail is not a loop so you will need to return the same way you came. This portion of the hike adds about 1.7 miles (2.7km); if you do both, it will be a 3.7 miles (6km) round trip.

Rio Celeste rugged path in Costa Rica

Stops Along the Rio Celeste Trail

Mirador 

Encounter this stop .31 miles or 500 meters in from the start of the hike. This is a panoramic look-out point over the rainforest that is a great view if it’s a clear day.

Mirador view at Rio Celeste

Laguna Azul or the Blue Lake

Find this stop .40 miles or 650 meters from the start after a fairly steep descent. Is an emerald blue pool with lush green plants bordering this beautiful spot.

Laguna Azul at Rio Celeste Waterfall Costa Rica

Los Borbollones

This stop can be found .43 miles or 700 meters in which the scent of sulfur permeates the air, and the river boils in a mesmerizing display. This is a hot spring area but you can’t go in the water. 

Borbollones at Rio Celeste Waterfall Costa Rica

Tenideros

Further along,  at .62 miles or 1000 meters in the Tenideros or meeting of two rivers, awaits. This is where the convergence of brown and blue water sources creates a remarkable sight.

Tenideros at Rio Celeste Waterfall Costa Rica

Then head back the same way to the entrance. The full round-trip hike is about 3.7 miles (6km) and takes a few hours with stops and exploring.

Find a great meal near Rio Celeste Waterfall

For a taste of traditional Costa Rican cuisine, head to Soda el Pilon, a soda restaurant across from the park entrance. There are other fruit or coconut water stands nearby as well.

Rio Celeste Free Swimming Area 

While swimming isn’t permitted in the national park at Rio Celeste waterfall, there is a free public swimming area approximately ~0.6 miles (1 kilometer) past the park entrance. It can be found on Google Maps as “Rio Celeste Free Pool”. After the hike, stop and enjoy a refreshing dip here.

Other Activities to Complete a Day Trip to
Rio Celeste Waterfall

Rio Celeste Tubing

Tubing near Rio Celeste is such a great addition to exploring Rio Celeste waterfall and the hiking trails. Many companies offer tubing experiences near Rio Celeste. We went with Rio Celeste Adventures which is located a 20-minute drive from the Rio Celeste parking lot. It’s essential to download Google Maps beforehand as GPS service can be unreliable in this area. The tubing was fun and felt safe (class I and II rapids) to do with kids. It’s a good idea to confirm in advance they have child-size life jackets. There is a stop at a rope swing offering time for swimming. The water is crystal blue and there’s an opportunity to spot wildlife along the shore. 

Tubing in Rio Celeste

Tubing at Rio Celeste

Tapir Valley Nature Reserve

This nature reserve is close to Rio Celeste Waterfall and a great way to make a complete day. They have wonderful family and night tours with amazing wildlife. From the Rio Celeste parking lot it’s only a 5-minute drive to the Tapir Valley Nature Reserve entrance. Learn more 

Frequently asked questions for visiting Rio Celeste Waterfall

How do I Get to Rio Celeste Waterfall?

From Liberia LIR Airport to Rio Celeste, it is 59 miles (95 km) or 1.5 hours drive from Liberia International Airport

From San Jose International Airport to Rio Celeste, it’s 124 miles (200 km) or 3.5 hours drive

From La Fortuna to Rio Celeste it is 40 miles (63km) or a 1 hour 20 minute drive

A car is best as no public transportation or shuttle options go to the national park entrance. The drive to Rio Celeste does not require a 4WD vehicle as the road is paved the entire way. But we always recommend getting a 4WD vehicle if you have the choice as it makes driving on the many unpaved roads throughout Costa Rica much easier. There is also great signage as you get closer so follow the signs for Tenorio Volcano National Park.

Navigating Tip

GPS is not great in this area even with downloaded Google Maps so be extra aware of location and meeting points. Do not just type in “Rio Celeste” as this will lead you to the wrong place, enter Parqueo del Parque Nacional Tenorio and this will lead you to the parking.

Alternatively, if you don’t have a car and you’d rather go on a guided tour you can find them here. 
Rio Celeste Waterfall, Tubing and Lunch Tour from La Fortuna
Rio Celeste Waterfall tour from La Fortuna
Rio Celeste Day Trip from Guanacaste

Do I need a park reservation for Rio Celeste Waterfall?

You will need to pay and make a reservation online for Tenorio Volcano National Park as they do not sell tickets in person. Then download tickets to a mobile device in advance. These tickets are timed and they do adhere to the designated times on the ticket. When booking it states a passport needs to be shown with the reservation but they did not request this when we visited. It’s always a good idea to have them saved in Google Drive in case they’re needed. 

Rio Celeste is a protected ecosystem so they only let a certain number of people in daily. The last visitors can only enter the park before 2 pm and must leave by 4 pm, so plan accordingly.

Where is the entrance and parking lot for Rio Celeste?

The official entrance and parking lot right in front of Tenorio National Park can be found listed as “Parqueo del Parque Nacional Tenorio” on Google Maps. Do not be fooled by the fake parking attendants down the hill before the main entrance because you will just need to walk farther. There will be a parking attendant and it’s approximately 2,000 colones or $4 USD cash only and she will give you a ticket to put on your dash.

Try to park as close to the ranger station entrance if you have luggage or valuables in your car but as is the case throughout Costa Rica do not leave valuables in sight in your vehicle.

Bags are checked at the entrance and no single-use plastic is allowed in the park. There are very basic bathrooms at the ranger station.

Where to stay near Rio Celeste?

Whether Rio Celeste is your final destination or a stop on the way to La Fortuna this area has incredible beauty and wildlife for a stay over. Here are a few hotels and resorts if you’re planning to stay near Rio Celeste.

Rio Celeste Hideaway Resort
Celeste Mountain Lodge
La Piña, Rio Celeste
Here are some additional hotels near Rio Celeste.

What to wear or bring when visiting Rio Celeste?

When visiting during the dry season Keens or closed-toe hiking shoes are great options for the hike down as well as any planned activities after. If visiting during the rainy season and it’s muddy you may want boots and these can be rented from the ranger station. Packing a rain jacket is always a good idea in any season as this area does see more rain in any season. If tubing closed-toe shoes or athletic shoes are very important as your feet hit the large rocks. A waterproof phone case on a lanyard can also be nice to have.

Other items to pack are reusable water bottle (single-use plastics are not allowed), sunscreen, bug spray, a hat is always good if rain is forecasted. Some colones/cash for parking and a camera or phone. A swimsuit and towel are a good idea if you plan to stop at the free swimming area nearby.

When is the best time to visit Rio Celeste Waterfall?

Costa Rica has two primary seasons: the dry season from December to April and the rainy season from May to November. However, due to its geographical location, Rio Celeste receives more rainfall any time of the year. Check the weather forecast before a visit because after it rains the sediment can change the turquoise waters to brown for days.

The park is open from 8am-4pm but please note they do not allow visitors to enter after 2:00pm. This is common in many national parks in Costa Rica so go early.

Do I need a guide to visit Rio Celeste Waterfall?

In our opinion, you do not. Reservations are easily made online (albeit the website isn’t great) and it’s very easy to find the waterfall and other nearby stops. We do recommend downloading offline maps as the service isn’t great in this area. Also, highly recommend adding on the tubing experience after the hike as it’s quite incredible.

Alternatively, if you’d rather go with a guided tour you can find them here. 
Rio Celeste Waterfall, Tubing and Lunch Tour from La Fortuna
Rio Celeste Waterfall tour from La Fortuna
Rio Celeste Day Trip from Guanacaste

Can I bring kids to Rio Celeste?

The hike to Rio Celeste waterfall is quite easy as long as your kids are ok with stairs. There’s enough interest to keep them going and there are handrails to feel safe going down. It is unfortunately not handicap or stroller accessible. You can decide to just see the waterfall and not do the more difficult trail with additional stops as a way to shorten the hike for younger kids.

Map of Rio Celeste Waterfall

Here is a map of the Rio Celeste waterfall area and main viewing areas. The start is labeled Puesto Pilon.

A trip to Rio Celeste waterfall in Costa Rica is an experience not to miss. The stunning turquoise waters, wildlife, and adventure activities make it a great addition to any Costa Rican itinerary. If you want to see more of our trip to Costa Rica check out the other articles below or come join us on Instagram where we saved story highlights. Also, check out our 20 Things to Do in La Fortuna Costa Rica, and A Guide to Hanging Bridges in Monteverde, Costa Rica.

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