Rio Celeste Waterfall
Local legend says that when God painted the sky, he dipped his brush in Rio Celeste and the water remained forever sky blue… this truly incredible wonder of nature is a stunning waterfall cascading from a height of 295 feet (90 meters) into a perfect pool of breathtakingly vivid, turquoise blue water. Not only the waterfall, but the entire river with multiple pools is this unreal shade, and it is completely natural. In short, the color is created by a chemical reaction between two minerals, and there is a point in the river where you can actually see the change, the water turning from clear to blue. Rio Celeste Waterfall is an absolutely stunning spot that showcases the amazing abilities of nature.
Rio Celeste costs $12 to visit ($5 for children) and is open from 8am-4pm (you must enter by 2pm). Located in Tenorio Volcano National Park in the Guanacaste Province, it is out of the way of, well, everything else one may typically want to visit in Costa Rica. The road to get there is not well maintained and at times outright scary to drive on, parts of it unpaved, and the hike to get to the waterfall once you do arrive is 3.7 miles round trip (6 km) and takes about 3 hours depending on how muddy it is (definitely longer if there is or has been excessive rain). For these reasons, Rio Celeste is a relatively little-visited spot, but in my opinion it was so beautiful and so unique that it was well worth it even if you aren’t a huge fan of hiking through the forest (I am, my friend not so much, but she too was glad she went!).
We drove from the La Fortuna/Arenal area, which is the nearest of the major sightseeing areas, and it was about 50 miles (80 km) which took us about three house because the roads were mountainous, narrow, and very rough to drive on and it was raining. We went on our way to Monteverde so it was a day of driving with a half day of visiting the waterfall. For reference, it’s about 130 miles (209 km) from San Jose, 100 miles (161 km) from Tamarindo, 75 miles (120 km) from Monteverde and 161 miles (260 km) from Manuel Antonio. The nearest town is the very small Bijagua de Upala, about 6 miles away (10 km) and definitely a 20 minute drive due to the road conditions. A four wheel drive vehicle should not be needed during the dry season, it was not the best driving experience but our little economy car made the trip just fine.
Parking is in several lots immediately surrounding the entrance, and costs 2,000 Colones (about $4).. There are bathroom facilities at the top and a place to buy water and even rent rubber boots/galoshes or hire a guide. I would say you do not need a guide, the trail is very well marked, and if you bring appropriate shoes- sneakers or hiking boots which you don’t mind getting fully and completely covered in mud- you don’t need to rent boots either. In fact, depending on the weather (and being a rainforest area it does rain a lot!), I would expect that all of you and your clothing may also be partially covered in mud by the time you finish this expedition.
If it’s foggy, do not be concerned! It was very foggy when we arrived although it was late morning, but down by where the waterfall was it was not nearly as bad, you could clearly see everything. It was also raining which did not seem to interfere either, but I have heard that when it rains badly the waterfall pool can become cloudy, hiding the blue color and also making the trail extremely difficult, so if the weather is severe it’s best to visit another day if possible.
The trail itself is not terribly challenging assuming you have no physical impairments; the beginning is relatively flat and the end is about 250 stairs leading down to the waterfall itself, which are safe and well maintained with handrails. The rest of the trail does have some inclines and a good deal of mud, which can be extremely slippery, along with hidden rocks and tree roots and even running water, so exercise care as you traverse it. It was raining when we arrived but we went anyway and were able to make the round trip in under 3 hours in spite of the mud and including time to take photos at the waterfall. You can also hike too additional pools and other beautiful locations (marked trails lead to these spots) but we were on a time limit because we had a far drive after so we only hiked to the waterfall.
When you have made it through the trail and are nearing the stairs that lead to the waterfall, there may be a long line. This is the line that you will need to wait in to go on the stairs. They allow only a certain number of people on at a time and they tend to let people go in groups of about fifteen or so. You will see the waterfall from the stairs and ultimately make your way to a viewing platform right next to it, which is as close as you can get because swimming is not allowed (there are other areas where you can swim in the blue water but not by the falls) and there is no way to approach it from any nearer point. It is loud, powerful, sprays water everywhere, is stunningly beautiful and unbelievably blue. You have a limited time (about ten minutes) to stay on the viewing platform so make the most of any photos you want to take there or feasting your eyes on the amazing falls!
For Photos: If you’re wanting to do an image for your photography or modeling portfolio, Instagram page, mini family photoshoot, etc., I would recommend going early in the morning, right when the falls open. There are far fewer people and the sun will not be speckling uneven light through the trees in your image. With our long drive we did not take our own advice of getting there very early and we arrived at around 11am. It was bit rainy and rather foggy and we were very concerned that we would not be able to see the waterfall clearly in our images, but this was not the case; down by where the waterfall sits it was a lot more clear. The foggy, cloudy, rainy day also served to diffuse the light and make it great for photos.
I took mine on the stairs rather than by the fall itself, as I wanted no people around me and no water splashing all over me. I waited until everyone in my group had gone down before me, then I went down partway and took my images. I had to wait several times for people coming up or down to pass, and my dress did get very wet and very muddy at the bottom, but the photograph turned out absolutely amazing.
Confessions of a photographer/model: we hiked up in regular clothes and brought out gowns in our backpacks for the photos. We literally changed, carefully, while standing in line, and everyone did look at us funny traipsing about in the mud in our gowns. Secondly, even if you wait till your immediate area is clear as I did, there are always going to be people on those stairs to the waterfall so if you do go for a shot from the top and want it to look as though you are the only one there, you will have to edit the picture to make it so, unlike the water, which is blue enough to require no retouching!
Rio Celeste Waterfall
- Tenorio National Park / Guanacaste Area
-3 hour, 3.7 miles (6 km) hike round trip
-$12 entrance fee ($5 for children)
-Open 8am-4pm (must arrive before 2pm)
-Wear sneakers or boots!