Rio Celeste is not on the typical tourist itinerary for a trip to Costa Rica. In fact, its relative isolation and unpaved access roads lead it to be left out of many guidebooks. But those who make it to Rio Celeste are awed by the pure aqua marine of the water – a natural byproduct of two muddy streams – and the lush rainforests that surround it. Rio Celeste was recently named one of the Seven Wonders of Costa Rica by the local newspaper La Nación.
The Caribbean-blue of the Rio Celeste stretches for 32 kilometers and begins in the Tenorio Volcano National Park. The river gets its coloring from a mix of sulfur and the calcium carbonate.
The best way to see the park is with a guide. A tour can be arranged by calling any of the hotels listed below. Guides charge between $20 and $40 per person for a half-day or full-day tour. You’ll want to bring a bathing suit to dip in the hot springs.
Also, plan on visiting the park on a day it's not raining. In heavy rain, the river turns from a spectacular blue to a chocolate brown.
Tenorio Volcano National Park
Park hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Entrance fee is $10 for foreigners and ¢800 for Costa Rican nationals. Park rangers can be reached at 2206-5369.
Where to Eat
There are not too many restaurants aside from the eateries tied to the hotels mentioned below. The area surrounding the park remains very rural. It’s best to bring your own food or leave enough time to find a place serving food.
Where to Stay
High-end travelers will feel at home in the Rio Celeste Hideaway (Tel: 2206-4000), a relatively new boutique property designed by an associate of the celebrated Tabacón Resort and Grand Spa in La Fortuna. Private bungalows with forest-facing balconies, flat-screen televisions and outdoor gardened showers are offered for $149 to $265 a night.
More moderate travelers gravitate to the Catarata Rio Celeste Hotel (Tel: 8876-4382 or 8938-9927), where rooms range from $38 to $60 per person a night and includes all three meals and a guided tour of the Rio Celeste National Park.
The American-owned La Carolina Lodge (Tel: 8703-5003) is a rustic guesthouse and working cattle farm within walking distance to the park entrance. Rates run $75 per person, which includes all three meals.
Tenorio Lodge (Tel: 2466-8282) is further away, but features eight beautiful bungalows, Jacuzzis and a small farm. Rooms go for $95 a night. Another option is the Celeste Mountain Lodge (Tel: 2278-6628), a contemporary property surrounded by primary forests. Rooms here are $150 a night.
How to Get There
There are two ways to access the Tenorio National Park. One way takes you through Guatuso and the other connects through Bijagua.
If you are traveling from San José or Arenal, Guatuso is your best option (see directions below). If you are coming from Guanacaste, it’s best to travel through Biijagua.
By car: We recommend renting a four-wheel drive as the roads near the entrance are rough. Head north on the General Cañas Highway and the Juan Santamaria International Airport until you reach San Ramon. Here, you’ll turn off the main highway and start following signs to La Fortuna. At the Tanque of La Fortuna, you’ll look for signs for Guatuso, which is roughly 48 kilometers from La Fortuna. In Guatuso, cross the Rio Frio bridge and continue 200 meters where you will make a left toward the town of Rio Celeste. Once in Rio Celeste, continue 3.2 kilometers to the first of two entrances to the park. The Rio Celeste Hideaway offers other directions if you are arriving from Guanacaste.
By bus: Public transportation does not reach the Tenorio National Park. You’ll have to take a taxi or walk 3.2 kilometers. The bus will take you as close as the town of Rio Celeste where you should call ahead for a taxi.
From San José, take a bus to Guatuso. Buses leave San José at 5 a.m., 8:40 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. You’ll want to catch one of the first two buses to make the connection to the town of Rio Celeste. Two buses leave daily to Rio Celeste from Guatuso at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. There is no bus service on Sunday. From Rio Celeste, it’s a 3.2 kilometer hike or a $10 taxi ride. You can also take a taxi direct from Guatuso for $25-$30.