One of Costa Rica’s jewels of nature, the relatively unknown Rio Celeste is a turquoise-blue river set in an enchanting environment of pristine forests, mountains, and streams with crystal clear cold waters and others that are hot with minerals that reveal the area’s ancient volcanic origin. Located in northern Costa Rica, Río Celeste originates amid the steep slopes and cloud forests of Tenorio Volcano National Park. Classified as one of Costa Rica’s 7 natural wonders, the Rio Celeste begins its journey from the mountain peaks as a normal river but then passes over a visible white line that magically transforms it into a soft pastel blue color. Sulfur and calcium carbonate minerals in suspension tint the waters that continue on through the lower sections of the park.
The drive to this park is a scenic journey of rural landscapes including occasional pineapple plantations, cattle ranches and small farms set amid backgrounds of forested mountains. The forests within the park merit visits on their own for their beauty and diverse flora and fauna. An additional feature near the entrance of the park is a massive kapok tree that is likely centuries-old and has been designated as a “Tree of Peace” for its magnificent-yet-serene stature. Another feature of the area is the nearby Maleku Indian Reservation which is open to the public and where visitors are welcome and will learn much about one of Costa Rica’s native aboriginal populations.
Driving times from Río Celeste to:
SJO: 4.5 hour approx.
Arenal: 1 hour 30 minutes approx.
Liberia International Airport: 3 hours approx.
Flying time (closest airstrip to Río Celeste is located near Los Angeles de Arenal) from Arenal to:
SJO: 25 minutes approx. Then 1.5 hour land transfer to Rio Celeste.
Recommended activities in the area: Hiking, bird watching, horseback riding, Tenorio river rafting, Maleku Indigenous Reserve, Trapiche Tour.
Best time of the year to visit: During the dry season from late Jan. through April. In the rainy season, May to October, we suggest hiking in the mornings for clearest weather.
Río Celeste Volcano wildlife highlights: Swallow-tailed Kite, White Hawk, Laughing Falcon, Bat Falcon, Crested Guan, Sunbittern, Crimson-fronted Parakeet, Brown-hooded Parrot, Little Hermit, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Purple-crowned Fairy, Violaceous Trogon, Broad-billed Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Brown-billed Scythebill, Dull-mantled Antbird, Masked Tityra, Snowy Cotinga, White-collared Manakin, Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush, Bananaquit, Montezuma Oropendola, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Golden-hooded Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Green Honeycreeper, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Crimson-collared Tanager, Yellow faced Grassquit, Orange-billed Sparrow. Mammals: Howler and White-faced Capuchin monkeys, Three-toed and Two-toed Sloths.
Cultural insights:Local Maleku recipe:If you catch a fish in Costa Rica, here is a recipe from the local Maleku Indians that you might want to bear in mind when preparing your meal:
Wrap your fish in a bijagua leaf and steam it over hot coals until cooked and serve with leaves of star anis.
The Legend of the Celeste River:The local Maleku Indians who live near the Celeste River have a legend to explain the origin of the river’s magic light blue color: “A long time ago when only the gods existed, there was an evil goddess who reined in the Celeste River and who had many children. However this evil goddess killed her children one by one by leaving them on a large river rock whereby a harpy eagle would arrive and devour them. The gods did not agree with this and met together to see what they could do to prevent it. They decided that the next child that would be born, they would protect from the eagle. The following child that was born was a beautiful daughter. As she grew up the evil goddess attempted to kill her, but the other gods protected her from the attacks of the eagle by wrapping her in tobacco leaves which have an odor that repelled the eagle and prevented him from harming the child. When the child was an adolescent, the gods banished the evil goddess and gave her powers to the young daughter who became a good goddess. The color of the river is attributed to be from the urine of the good goddess that emanates from a rock.”