How to Go Hiking to the Rio Celeste Waterfall in Costa Rica

Considering hiking to the Rio Celeste waterfall in Costa Rica? Read for details about what the hike and trail are like!

A woman in a flower dress stands on a stairway in the rainforest, looking at a bright blue waterfall, surrounded by thick green foliage.

Welcome to a world where where turquoise hues dance amidst lush greenery and where a gorgeous natural wonder awaits your discovery. Nestled deep within the rainforests of Costa Rica lies the extraordinary Rio Celeste waterfall, a location that almost feels like it’s right out of a mythical fairyland. Even the name, “the Celestial River,” nods to the captivating scenery and colors you will see.

Located in Tenorio National Park, a visit to the Rio Celeste offers an easy hike through the rainforest, a view of the waterfall, wildlife viewing opportunities, scenic bridges, sulfur pots, and an impressive chemical reaction occurring right before your eyes.

And, if you want a little more hands-on adventure, there is also the opportunity to swim, tube, or horseback ride on the Rio Celeste River.

In this post, we’re sharing all the practical information about how to visit the Rio Celeste, what it’s like, and what to know before you go. This waterfall and national park was one of my absolute top favorite things to do near La Fortuna, and it definitely is worth the time and effort to go out.

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Short on Time?

Just need the highlights? These are a few top ways to experience the Rio Celeste:

Top Excursions in Rio Celeste:

Practical Things to Know Before You Go

Where is the Rio Celeste Waterfall?

The Rio Celeste is located in Tenorio National Park, which is about a 1.5 hour drive from La Fortuna. The road from La Fortuna to Tenorio NP is, for the most part, well-maintained and paved. There are a few unpaved sections of road as you approach the park, but these are still easy to drive on.

How to Get There

Rental Car: Renting a car in Costa Rica is one of the best ways to get around, as public transit is limited and you’ll have complete control over your schedule. Make sure you have offline maps downloaded before you go to Costa Rica, so you can access navigation even if you have no data or service.

If you’re considering a rental car for Costa Rica, my top advice is to book early! Rates go up and availability goes down the longer you wait, so I’d book ASAP.

👉I find that the best options for cars in Costa Rica are through – check prices and availability here!

Guided Tour: Another popular way to get to the Rio Celeste is going on a guided tour.

This top-rated excursion transports you to the National Park and gives you a guided tour along the trail – pointing out interesting plants, insects, and animals, and giving information and history about the area as you explore the Rio Celeste. You’ll also have lunch together after the hike, and have the chance to go swimming in the blue river.

👉Check prices and availability for this Rio Celeste tour here

Shuttle Bus: There is also a shuttle bus, but it’s pretty expensive – I think it’s worth it to use one of the other options on this list. You can get info about the shuttle here.

Entrance Fee and Hours of Operation

The entrance price is $13.50 per person. I would try to get there as soon as possible in the morning because they only let in 1200 people per day and only 400 people at a time. The park closes at 4pm and you have to be inside by 2pm.

If you do the guided tour, the entrance fee is included in the price, and you don’t need to worry about making it into the park.


It costs 2000 colones (about $3) in cash to park your car.

Boot Rentals

Rubber boot rentals are 2000 colones (don’t forget to bring socks!).

When we went, some of us wore regular shoes, and others rented rubber boots. However, they really weren’t necessary for the trail conditions we experienced at the end of June. There were some spots on the trail that were a little wet, but the mud was minimal.

As you get deeper into the rainy season and it gets muddier and sloshier, the rubber boots will be more helpful. If you’re visiting during the rainy season, I would bring good hiking shoes/sandals with you, and ask at the front gate what trail conditions are like (not the guys renting the boots), and then decide on the galoshes from there. 

Woman stands on trail, with trees behind her.

I will note that there is not arch support in the boots, so if you have any foot problems or need good supportive shoes, I would not wear the rubber boots.

Additionally, if you are visiting during rainy season, you’ll want to take some bug spray with you. We didn’t have problems with bugs when we visited in June, but we were told that the bugs really pick up the farther into the rainy season you get. Rainy season starts in April and ends in November.

Water Bottles

You can’t take any plastic, single-use water bottles in the park (and they check your bags and will make you take them out if you do) so be sure to bring a reusable water bottle. 

What You Will Experience Hiking to the Rio Celeste Waterfall

The Rio Celeste trail brings you to several points of interest: Catarata (the blue waterfall), Mirador viewpoint, Laguna Azul, Borbollones, and Tenideros. 

Catarata (Waterfall)

The waterfall, of course, is the main attraction on this hike. It takes about 30 minutes to hike through the rainforest to the staircase junction. The trail continues on to the other places of interest, but the stairs take you down to the waterfall.

You will be descending hundreds of stairs to reach the waterfall, but it’s totally worth it. Plus, the staircase is so picturesque and surrounded by lush rainforest, and with a little bit of fog, looked like it leads to a fantasy world.

A wooden staircase descends through the rainforest in the fog, making it seem magical.

Finally, you’ll reach the waterfall viewpoint! This waterfall is truly spectacular – the way that the large, bright blue water just pours through the opening in the rainforest, plunging into an almost perfectly circular pool of icy blue water. The watefall is surrounded by lush greenery, and with the decorative wooden staircase in front is absolutely picture perfect.

As you come into view of the waterfall, the staircase does some tight switchbacks (all great spots for photos), and you can also take pictures down at the base of the falls as well. Because of the small viewing areas, this spot can get pretty busy, unless you’re here first thing in the morning, or right before closing.

View of the waterfall going down into a bright blue pool from high up, with staircase leading down.

There are lots of great views from the stairs, and at the base, there is a viewpoint for pictures and admiring the waterfall and the gorgeous color of the pool and river. 

Woman standing in front of waterfall, with trees in the background.

Mirador + Laguna Azul (Blue Lagoon)

Deep blue lagoon with trees surrounding it.

After you climb back up the staircase, the trail continues for another 15 minutes to the Laguna Azul (Blue Lagoon). Along this trail, you will get a view of the Mirador volcano in the distance. As you approach the Laguna Azul, the trail gets very steep, with tall stone “stairs” cut into the hillside. 

The Laguna Azul is a pretty spot where you can admire the calm, blue water. Beyond that, there’s not much here – on to the next location!

Borbollones (Bubbling hot pot)

Pool with greenery all around.

You’ll be able to smell borbollones before you see it — that sulfur smell is intense! The water here is hot and bubbling. 


Five minutes farther down is a really cute bridge that cuts over gorgeous, almost turquoise-blue water. If there’s one thing I learned in Costa Rica, it’s that I *love* a good bridge photo op 😉

A woman in a white flower dress stands on a wooden bridge over blue water in the rainforest.

Just another minute or so past the bridge is Teñideros. Tenideros is such a unique spot – here you can see two different colored streams merge together, the properties in the water creating a chemical reaction to create the uniquely blue water that flows through the rest of the river and over the waterfall.

Notice how the “regular” white/gray river water and a small line of bluer water meet and mix, and then the deep rich blue water created from this reaction fans out and continues downstream. 

Tenideros in the Rio Celeste, where the water mixes and the color changes.
See how the brown and lighter blue water meet and mix and then the deeper blue water fans out from there? Amazing!

It’s honestly not that much farther to go all the way to Tenideros from the waterfall, and I thought it was really cool to see that reaction! Plus, I loved all the adorable little spots along the way. It’s definitely worth the time and effort to go all the way to the end of the trail.

After you’re done at Tenideros, you’ll turn around and go back the way that you came in.

Distance + Difficulty

2 people on a rocky trail walking through a rainforest.

I would call this hike moderately challenging – there were certainly some uphill sections, but it wasn’t bad. During the rainy season (or just after any periods of rain), the hike can get very, very muddy.

It’s about 3 miles (~5 km) round trip from the parking lot to Tenideros. We spent a total of 3 hours in the national park – we took tons and tons of pictures and spent lots of time admiring the views. You certainly could do it in less time if you move through the different spots faster.


There are bathrooms right behind the ticket booth that you can use before entering the park.

There are also several cafes and fruit and vegetable stands right outside the entrance. We picked up some fresh mangoes, elote (grilled corn on the cob), and some kebabs as a post-hike snack. The food was fantastic, costing 1000-2000 colones (~$1.50-3) per item. 

Swimming in the Rio Celeste

2 guys are swimming in a milky blue river.

You can’t swim in the national park section of the Rio Celeste, but just outside of the park is a  little pull-off spot where you can walk down and swim in the water. It’s not a hot spring, but it’s still a pretty blue color. The swimming area is easy to find, you’ll drive by it about 10 minutes before the park entrance.

We spent about 20 minutes wading and swimming here after the official hike – it was nice!

Other Ways to Experience the Rio Celeste

There are several activities you can do around the Rio Celeste River. These are not in the national park, but along the river outside of the park. These excursions are a great addition after you’ve done the hike, or can also be done instead of the hike, if you’re not up for the jungle trek.

👉Tubing on the Rio Celeste: For this experience, you get to float on tubes down the Rio Celeste (outside the National Park). There are spots for cliff jumping and a guide who will help ensure safety and point out animals!

👉Horseback Riding near the Rio Celeste: In this activity, you’ll ride horses through the jungle to the river, where you’ll have the chance to swing out on a Tarzan swing into the water, and swim in a beautiful blue swimming hole.

Visiting the Rio Celeste River and Waterfall – The Wrap Up

The hike to the Rio Celeste waterfall is an incredible experience that immerses you in the beauty of Costa Rica’s natural wonders, from the hike through lush rainforests to the picturesque views.

Whether you’re in search of adventure, tranquility, or simply a moment of awe-inspiring beauty, a visit to the Rio Celeste guarantees an unforgettable experience that you won’t soon forget.

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