‘So, how blue is Río Celeste? We’re going up to Tenorio National Park tomorrow.’
‘It’s really, really blue.’
‘Wow, sounds great.’
‘Except when it rains.’
‘Oh… but it’s been raining for two days straight.’
‘So that means…’
‘Not blue then?’
‘Still going to go to the national park?’
‘I guess so.’
Tenorio Volcano National Park
Tenorio Volcano National Park is located in Alajuela Province in the northern regions of Costa Rica, just 30 kilometres (as the crow flies) from the border with Nicaragua.
The volcano at the heart of the national park is one of the smaller and more benign volcanos of Costa Rica. Tenorio has four volcanic peaks – the highest reaches 1,913 metres elevation – and two craters. Its upper slopes are enveloped in moist cloud forest.
One of the highlights of Tenorio Volcano National Park is the sometimes-miraculously-blue Río Celeste (meaning Heavenly River). The river waters gain a magical aquamarine tint when two separate streams – one high in aluminosilicate particles, the other highly acidic – come together in the foothills of the volcano. The mingling of waters causes the aluminosilicate particles to rapidly grow in size, which gives the water its remarkable coloration – when conditions are right.
And, during wet season, conditions are often not right.
If the river is flowing too fast, or there is too much sediment in the water, then you are unlikely to see any of the blue coloration.
But it’s still worth a shot. Right?
The trip to Tenorio NP
Ami and I spent the night in an ecolodge on the outskirts of the nearby town of Bijagua. A flock of keel-billed toucans flew overhead as we exited our cabin in the morning.
Spider monkeys lounged in nearby vegetation. Hummingbirds supped from special honey-water filled bird feeders on our porch.
And when we had finished admiring the noisy, flashy animals in our immediate environs, we suddenly realised there was a large, well-camouflaged, Brown-throated Sloth clinging to a tree trunk not more than ten metres from our cabin.
The sloth wasn’t doing much. It was just hanging out in the tree, slowly swivelling its head from side-to-side, as it checked out the layout of the land.
When we were done with the sloths, spider monkeys, and toucans, we began making our way to Tenorio Volcano National Park.
‘Hoy, el rio no es azul,’ the park ranger advised us before selling us a ticket (today, the river is not blue). ‘Completamente… no… azul,’ he says slowly (completely not blue), then emphasises his point further by making an X with his forearms.
Forewarned, we go ahead and purchase our entry tickets, and continue into the national park.
Río Celeste waterfall
It’s an easy, one-hour-long walk – along a slightly muddy track – from the ranger’s station to Río Celeste waterfall.
If you can believe any of the photos that are out there on the Internet, then the pool at the bottom of this waterfall is – when conditions are right – a stunning turquoise colour.
Today it is chocolate brown. Still pretty though.
The track continues beyond the waterfall, leading you to the confluence of the two rivers – Buenavista River and Sour Creek – which is where the magic happens.
When conditions are at their best, you can see the blue waters forming right before your eyes.
During wet season there isn’t all that much magic to speak of.
You might be able to see the beginnings of some turquoise coloration… perhaps… if you cross your eyes and apply plenty of imagination.
Is Río Celeste blue during wet season?
As the ranger at the front gate said, the river we saw was completely not blue.
You might be lucky, even in wet season, and visit Río Celeste during a run of a few dry days, but it’s probably best to expect it to be brown – or brown with the slightest hint of green, as in the photo above – to avoid disappointment.
The hike through the rainforest is still great though; there is plenty of interesting wildlife to see, and Río Celeste waterfall is well worth the effort.
Practical information and how to reach Tenorio NP:
There are buses running between San Jose and Bijagua (trip time is 4 hours). From Bijagua you’ll need to make your own way to the trail head at the ranger station – a 7km trip along a dirt track. There are taxis in Bijagua that can provide this service. Or you can walk the distance (much of it is uphill though). More transport info here.