Fairytale Magic: Costa Rica’s Rio Celeste

Entrance Rio Celeste Costa Rica

Tenorio Park Entrance

Guatuso, Costa Rica

Hidden within the cloud forests of Tenorio National Park, the magnificent bright blue Rio Celeste Waterfall will take your breath away.

After doing some of the more typical tourist activities in Costa Rica like visiting Monteverde Cloud Forest and whitewater rafting in Turrialba, I wanted to find an activity that was a little more off the beaten path.

I heard a rumor about a secret waterfall located in the North of the country, and decided it would be worth checking out. It was 5 hours by bus from San Jose to reach the town of Guatuso on the Eastern edge of the reserve.

That was followed by an hour long ride in a local bus filled with little old ladies who stared at me the whole way.

Once at the tiny village of Rio Celeste, it’s a 2 mile hike up the steep dirt road leading into Volcano Tenorio National Park.

Camping near Rio Celeste Costa Rica

Hammock Camping in the Cloud Forest

Camping in the Cloud Forest

After half a day of travel, drenched in sweat & ready to pass out, I finally made my way into the entrance of the park and paid $4 to hang my camping hammock in the trees. Access to bathrooms & showers was included, and there was even a small restaurant nearby.

Summertime is rainy season in Costa Rica, and the sky often opens up in the afternoons. Luckily I had my hammock set up before the daily deluge began. Although I did scare off at least 5 different snakes in the process.

The next few hours were spent lazily swinging from my dry cocoon while reading a book and listening to the family of howler monkeys screaming directly above me.

Finally I threw in some earplugs and fell asleep.

Frog near Rio Celeste Costa Rica

Strawberry Poison Dart Frog

Hiking to Rio Celeste

The next morning it was time to rise with the sun and began a journey into the forest in search for the famed waterfall. The 45 minute hike sent me through a scenic canopy of trees alive with curious white-faced monkeys, colorful red poison dart frogs, singing birds, and fluttering blue morpho butterflies.

Not a bad way to start the day.

But the best was yet to come.

I heard the roar of the waterfall before I saw it. Slipping and sliding down the muddy trail I rounded a bend and suddenly stopped cold…

Rio Celeste Waterfall Costa Rica

Rio Celeste Waterfall

Was This for Real?

I couldn’t believe my eyes. It looked like something out of a fairytale story. A powerful river came crashing 60 feet down from the trees above into a dazzling pool of turquoise blue water. It created a cold mist that floated through the air around me.

Rarely does my mouth drop open dumbfounded at the beauty of a place!

Standing alone in the middle of an emerald green forest transfixed by this beautiful bright blue wonder of nature, I had another one of those special surreal moments that all travelers long for.

Swimming Rio Celeste Waterfall Costa Rica

Climbing the Rocks

Swimming at the Waterfall

I couldn’t wait to take a dip in that cold water! It felt great after my early morning hike. The intense color of the pool is created by volcanic minerals in rocks underneath.

The rest of my day was spent climbing rocks and playing in the vibrant blue liquid. There is a pretty strong current at the base of the waterfall that pushes you away, so it’s impossible to swim too close to the powerful cascade of water.

A few other people stopped by the falls that day, but for the most part I had this magical place all to myself. To top it off, my adventure was completed with a dip in natural hot springs located further up the trail.

While it’s definitely not the easiest place to get to without a car, a trip to Costa Rica’s Rio Celeste waterfall is a worthwhile experience.

Watch the Video: Rio Celeste Waterfall

Location: Tenorio National Park, Costa Rica
Accommodation: Rio Celeste Lodge (or camping)
Useful Notes: There are two entrances to Tenorio National Park. The East entrance near Guatuso is more rustic with less tourists. You can camp or rent a bungalow.

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Comments & Questions

  • http://viagensbaratas.com.pt Viagens Baratas

    Very cool! I am always amazed at the quality of your pictures and videos! Great little spot you found there in Costa Rica.

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten


      • Venket

        Hi Matt,
        How many hour round trip hike are these falls from the entrance?


  • http://comolaespuma.wordpress.com Mawoui

    Amazing !
    Do you think if it’s a little bit too much crazy to go there with a child ?
    I’ll be in Costa Rica in november with my daugther (20 month) and i really want find some activities that might be a little off the beaten path…

    Thanks !

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      I don’t see why not… the trail to the waterfall is pretty steep & muddy in some places so that could be a challenge, but not impossible with a kid. The pool of water under the waterfall has a strong current, so that’s something to watch out for.

  • Lori – The Unframed World

    what a great find! That’s one of the prettiest waterfalls I’ve ever seen. I’m sure it was much more stunning in person too.

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      It certainly was. I didn’t want to leave. :)

  • Jacob

    Thanks for the awesome website! The gear page and your emails regarding to hiking boots really helped me plan my trip to central America quite well. Unfortunately my adventure is over and im back to the real world but ill be living vicariously through you and your site!

    live great!

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Glad you got some use out of it Jake!

  • Traveling Ted

    I just came back from Canada and had a nice dip in Louisa Falls in Quetico Provincial Park. A sweet spot, but not as beautiful as this place. Great find.

  • Chris Quimby

    Wow! Amazing! Beautiful! Spectacular! Impressive! actually I don’t think words describe this kind of beauty and I am sure it was divine in person. Your photos should be in National Geographic. Matt, thanks so much for sharing your adventures. I love seeing where you are and learning about all the places you visit. I guess, YOU are now my teacher. Love how that works in the world. Be safe and keep smiling.

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      That means a lot to me Chris! :)

  • Andi of My Beautiful Adventures

    My favorite post of yours yet, truly magnificent and unbelievable!!!

  • Pat

    Enjoyed your trip vicariously. The photos are just awesome.

  • Trish and Shawn

    Breathtakingly Beautiful

  • Auntie Reen

    Magnificent Matt! How do you get all those shots on video?

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      I use a small tripod, and two different cameras. One of the cameras can be attached to my head with a strap, and it’s waterproof. The camera gear I use is listed here.

  • Barbara

    UNBELIEVABLE! What terrific pictures, Matt! And I LOVE the video. I could almost feel the coolness of the water!

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      It was quite refreshing! :)

  • Scott

    Uh-Ma-Zing. that is all. Oh, and I think I will be in CR for a month or so on my RTW next year, so marking this down, for sure!

    • Calogero

      Yes, true. Amazing photos of this wonderful water and of the frog.

  • http://www.cheapyticket.net Simon Lee

    I am planning to visit Costa Rica with my fiancee end of this year, do you think having camping in Cloud Forest is a good idea for just both of us? Any recommendation on local tour arrangement?


    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Yeah, it would be great! I think you can arrange tours with Rio Celeste Lodge. But you really don’t need to, it’s possible to do on your own.

  • Kathyn O’Brien

    I’m going to costa rica with school in April. We’re going to this state park and I was wondering what type of pants to wear in the rainforest if you’re a girl?

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Personally, I like nylon/cotton blend pants. They’re lightweight, quick drying, but are also tough.

      Many people use straight nylon hiking or zip-off pants. Either would work fine. Just get something that will dry quick if you’re caught out in the rain. Any outdoor sports store like REI will have them.

  • Paul Bikehike

    Our photos is fantastic and wild traveling is so horrible and adventure whole time.

  • Josh

    Those pics def don’t look real. What a paradise. My fav is Alaska for travel.

  • http://twitter.com/davidsbeenhere/status/152808187110760448/ David Hoffmann (@davidsbeenhere) (@davidsbeenhere)

    RT @ExpertVagabond: Fairytale Magic: Costa Rica’s Rio Celeste http://t.co/FcXnTXaJ | #travel #lp

  • http://www.vagabloggers.com Meisha

    What a great find! We may just have to find our way there, after we finish up volunteering at a Cacao farm in the Carribean.

    Also, I’m curious about which hammock and rain fly you use. I’ve read mixed reviews of of using a tent or hammock in Costa Rica. Any advice from your experience?


    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      I love my Hennessy Hammock! I had it modified so the bug net can be zipped-out when not needed (a huge plus), but I think Hennessy has started making some new models with that feature included.

  • Joel

    Matthew these pictures are just unreal. I have yet to travel to Costa Rica and really want to see the forests like you have been in them. The waterfalls just look like an amazing dreamworld. Your hammock topped it off for a really nice and relaxing place to take in all that beautiful nature. Thanks for sharing, I’m dreaming of going here now, for sure.

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      When I rounded that bend in the trail and saw the waterfall in front of me, I felt like I was in a fantasy movie. :D

  • http://www.mm2593@wordpress.com Mia Mickey

    Hey! I am heading to Rios this coming week. I have a really nice hammock but I do not have the rain fly. I can easily make one with a tarp if needed but currently its dry season in Costa Rica. But I always bring on when Im out anyways. I was wondering about the bug net. I do not have one. My hammock can wrap all the way around me, but do you think I would get eaten alive? Thanks!!!

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Hi Mia! To be honest I don’t know. I’m sure the amount of bugs changes with the seasons, and I can’t remember how many were around when I was there. But you can pick up a bug net in most towns for a couple bucks just in case.

      • Mia Mickey

        Ah claro, claro. Gracias amigo! Estoy emocionada. Tienes seguro viajes. :)

  • Jason

    Hey, I am going to Costa Rica next week and after seeing your post we were hoping to get to Rio Celeste but am unsure how to get there without a car. There will be 3 of us and we will be coming from either Monteverde or Arenal. Any advice on busses or anything would be greatly appreciated!

    • ram

      hello jason ,
      It would be wonderful if you could share your costa rica trip details . Were you able to find a bus to go to rio celeste falls from arenal ?

  • ram

    hey matt ,
    amazing !!! I am planning to go to CR this november 2013 during thanksgiving week . Can this hike to the fall be done as a day hike from la fortuna ? or would you suggest renting some room close by ?


    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      I Ram, I would recommend renting a room overnight near by. Even with your own car, I think it takes 5 hours to get to Guatuso from La Fortuna. But there are reasonable places to stay overnight next to the park entrance.

      I’m just noticing now that the link to my directions on Lonely Planet no longer works… I’ll try to write them up again soon.

  • ram

    Matt ,
    I plan to use the public transport available. Can you give some info on how to reach the falls from la fortuna ? Also we plan to hike this falls ourselves and not arrange a tour guide. I hope it would not be too difficult and that the trails are marked properly.

  • http://livelaughtravelblog.wordpress.com Megan

    Just hiked the Rio Celeste Fall today. Was even more beautiful in real life! But now the falls are fenced off somewhat like Yosemite fall. Guess there have been to many accidents resulting in death. And they don’t want anyone swimming in pool or river though if you are a rebel you can just hop the fence

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      That’s really sad Megan. The spirit of adventure suffers a bit when everything gets fenced off and dumbed down for masses of people. Then it becomes more of an amusement park… :(

    • ram

      hey megan ,
      I am planning to go to CR next week . Would you still recommend going to rio celeste falls after the fencing ( looks like this would take an entire day travelling from la fortuna ) or do you recommend doing something else ?


  • Santiago Ramírez Vargas

    Hey I’m from Costa Rica and makes me feel really glad that you visit Rio Celeste and my country. I just wanted to tell you that some scientist found that the water looks that way because an optical fact and not because of chemichal matters. So it is just your eyes making you feel in the fairy tale. Here is the article that explains it.


    • RickK

      Thanks, Santiago. This explains it very well.

  • Davis

    Beautiful! Heading there next week, too bad it’s fenced off. But based on those pics it still looks worth it! Where exactly are the natural hot springs after the falls? Want to make sure I don’t slip in one that ends up cooking me!