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Rio Celeste – One of Costa Rica’s Gems

Costa Rica Travel News – Nestled on the slopes of Tenorio Volcano lies one of Costa Rica’s most unusual and little visited National Parks through which flows the stunning Rio Celeste. According to local legend when God was painting the sky, some drops of paint splashed down on the earth and created the Rio Celeste.

DSC_0739Tenorio National Park is the newest of Costa Rica’s parks, at barely twenty five years old. The lower flanks of the volcano used to be a cattle farm, so the forest through which you hike to the river is secondary growth, but still impressive considering the short time span it has regenerated. You need to allow an hour to reach the picture post card waterfall and the track is quite muddy in places, ending a concrete staircase of about two hundred steps, so it is not an easy trek for older people of those with waking difficulties. The park authorities are upgrading the principal pathway to make access easier.

Until a year ago, people could swim in the waterfall as the blue water is (allegedly) safe to bathe in. However, the park authorities stopped access to the pool after a boy drowned in the deceptively deep waters. Banning swimming also had the added bonus of keeping the pool area free of litter from the picnicking families that used to go there.  So now if you are lucky and the sun comes out you get an unspoiled view of the magnificent waterfall free of people in your camera shot. The park is popular with locals, especially in Semana Santa when a thousand people a day visit the park, but it is not so well known by foreigners.

Beyond the waterfall a further hour or so lies a blue lagoon, bubbling stinky pools and the source of the blue. The source of the river is pure chemistry in action. The milky blue color is actually the result of a precipitation reaction when three streams converge carrying minerals such as carbonate, sulphate, calcium and copper. As the blue copper ions come into contact with the dissolved carbonate, a fine powder blue suspension of copper carbonate appears and the mysterious river is born.  The color is so striking it looks fake and you could be mistaken into thinking it is industrial effluent were it not happening right before your eyes in this pristine environment.

The Rio Celeste is off the beaten path as far as tourism goes, largely because it’s quite a remote location accessed on horrendous roads that make Monteverde’s roads look like a pleasant drive in the countryside.  The easiest way to get there is from the Interamericana at Bagaces, twenty minutes south of Liberia. The paved Routa #6 then takes you on tarmac for about an hour all the way to Bijagua de Upala, which is 9km from the park entrance. 9km doesn’t sound very much, but when it’s mud, rocks and deep ruts that will eat a regular car for breakfast, you’ll be glad you are in a 4WD  or that someone else is driving you there. There are a few accommodation options there from backpacker in Bijagua, to the rustic Carolina Lodge, the eco-friendly mid-range Celeste Mountain Lodge and if your bank balance can afford it, the luxurious Rio Celeste Hideaway, which may not be so eco-friendly with its air conditioning , swimming pool, jacuzzis and Balinese furniture, but it’s a great spot for a honeymoon or romantic getaway.

If you don’t want to stay at Rio Celeste, it can be done as a day trip from Arenal, taking you around an hour and a half. At the park entrance are a couple of restaurants serving decent local food at reasonable prices. As with most National Parks the entrance fee is $10 for foreigners and a super value ₵800 for Ticos or residents.

Stewart Hird works for My Holiday in Costa Rica! and designs custom tours for overseas visitors to Costa Rica. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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