Costa Rica – Rio Celeste Hike
When I saw images of Rio Celeste online, while researching Costa Rica, I was blown away by the color. Yes, it was a bit out of the way, but look at it!! It was on the “maybe” list for a long time until Rebecca found La Caroline Lodge nearby, with natural hot tub, river to swim in, meals cooked by locals with produce from the land, and “yoga”. Although we headed to the region for Rio Celeste, La Carolina Lodge was the surprising addition that made our journey to the Northern area of Costa Rica worthwhile.
The drive to Rio Celeste took us at least 20 -30 minutes to reach one of the entrances to Tenorio Volcano National Park on dirt roads. I am not sure if that is because we were coming from La Carolina Lodge or if that is just how it is near the park. We had arrived in the morning, so there was parking in a small lot near the entrance. When we got out of our car, there was a woman insisting that there was a fee to park, which we had not read about before. We questioned her in various ways, but ultimately paid her the couple of bucks to park there.
There were a few buildings near the entrance, which we thought might contain a restroom. When we asked a gentleman where the restrooms were, he pointed us to a room with another guy sitting behind a desk. Very confused, we asked him as well. Instead of answering our question he tells us how much it costs to enter the park, another charge that we were not expecting. He would not tell us where the restrooms were until we paid. As a casual environmentalist, I do not mind paying an entrance fee to any park, but the entire interaction was very uncomfortable. We paid, found the restrooms (do not recommend – no toilet paper, run down, with a bare flickering bulb, and more bugs than I can count), and headed for the entrance.
At a Glance:
- Rating: 2 Stars, I am glad I saw it, I probably will not go out of my way to see it again
- Intensity: Shorts and a tank top, shoes will get muddy!
- Duration: 3 hours
- Cost: $5 for parking, $10 for entranc fee
- Location: Tenorio Volcano National Park
- Restrooms: Are available, but not enjoyable
- Stunning color!
- “NO SWIMMING” signs
- Sulfur smell
Recommended for this hike:
- Extra cash – we ended up paying for parking as well as an entrance fee, but we are not clear if the person managing the parking lot was legitimate or not
- Pack water and snacks
- Don’t feed or engage with wildlife
We were at a low point as soon as we entered the park, which a large part of it could have been the fact that we were both still very tired from the Cerro Chato hike. After a few deep breaths and a quick chat to air our grievances, we felt better. The trails were very well marked and the foliage in this region was bright green with small pointed leaves and small trunks. The environment drew a sharp contrast to the dark, misty, moss-strewn forest that we encountered on Cerro Chato hike. The trail was flat with a few small hills. The inclines/declines and muddy patches has crosshatched concrete walkways that sometimes broke apart. We lovingly referred to the separated ones as “hashtags in the wild”.
The Rio Celeste waterfall (catarata) was at the bottom of a series of switchback wide stairs. Not fully recovered from the Cerro Chato hike, my thighs were howling with each step. In addition to the howling thighs, we began to see the turquoise color of the waterfall, hear the crashing water, and begin to smell a sulfurous smell. The stairs had beautiful hand-carved railings, which were great for me on the way down, but enclosed a viewing area at the bottom. There were “No Swimming” signs and it was obvious that that you would have to jump the fence to touch the water. The fragrance was not overwhelming at the waterfall and the color was exactly as all of those online images had depicted. It was gorgeous.
After enjoying the view of the falls, Rebecca and I headed up river to a lagoon area. This took another 15 or 20 minutes. The lagoon was a pool of slow moving vibrantly turquoise water. The color comes from the properties in two rivers combining to create the color. The lagoon area was highly fragrant and we could see bubbles in the water (sulfer)? Again, this area was enclosed with “No Swimming” signs. We ventured slightly out of the enclosed area to have a peaceful moment with the river, which is where I promptly slipped on a rock and endured a “told-you-so” moment from the park. You can continue to hike up-river to see where the two rivers converge.
Overall, the natural hue of Rio Celeste was stunning. What I think could have improved our trip would be to book more time at La Carolina Lodge, so it would feel less like we were going all the way out of our way just for Rio Celeste and to have a rest day between hikes. Since our trip, I have read there are areas outside the park, where you can take a dip in the water – another reason to have stayed a bit longer! This points to my constant battle between creating jam-packed itineraries and taking it a little slower. I think we also would have benefited from having a local guide to tell us more about the ecosystem in the park and make it an educational excursion.
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