Costa Rica's Fluorescent Rio Celeste

No, the thick jungle is not making you see things

Rio Celeste Costa Rica
Robert Schrader

It's no surprise that Costa Rica, which is one of the most bio-diverse countries on the planet, is full of natural wonders. What does tend to surprise and amaze travelers to the land of "pura vida," however, is the mesmerizing forms these wonders take throughout the country.

One example of this is a place called Rio Celeste, located in the heart of the country's jungle, several hours from major cities like San Jose and Liberia. 

Why is Rio Celeste Blue?

A recent study by the Universidad de Costa Rica reveals a surprising fact about Rio Celeste: It has formed at the convergence of two transparent rivers. So, why precisely is Rio Celeste such a brilliant shade of light blue?

In fact, the water itself is not a light blue color, but rather, a substance coating rocks at the bottom of the river causes an optical phenomenon that makes it appear so. The substance is also present on rocks at the bottom of the rivers where they run clear, but for some reason, the quantity of this substance is only high enough at the place tourists call "Rio Celeste" to appear to color the water as brightly as it does.

Hiking at Rio Celeste

Although Rio Celeste looks and feels like it is deep in the jungle, the trail is very well maintained and, additionally, very simple: There's only one path the entire way, which means that it is quite literally impossible to get lost, assuming of course you follow instructions and don't veer off the path.

Several highlights exist along said trail, with the most famous being the "Catarata" (Spanish word for "waterfall") located down a set of wooden stairs near the beginning of the trail, a pair of bridges over the river near the end of it and the spectacle at the very end, where the fluorescent waters of Rio Celeste meet with the clear (but not so spectacular) waters of another, the dramatic boundary of which evokes the Arve-Rhone confluence in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Rio Celeste hike should take you no more than two hours round-trip and its of low-to-medium strenuousness. With this being said, it can get very hot and humid at Rio Celeste, so bring plenty of water and don't be shy about taking breaks, particularly if you tend not to do well in the heat.

How to Get to Rio Celeste

Like many destinations in Costa Rica, Rio Celeste is easy to reach on paper, but can be a bit more difficult in practice. This is largely due to the fact that the last 3-5 miles of road leading to Rio Celeste are pothole-filled gravel. Indeed, if you are driving yourself to Rio Celeste, you should make sure you have a 4x4 vehicle. Otherwise, you risk doing damage to your car, which could cost you a lot of money if you're renting.

Another option would be to take a Rio Celeste tour from a major Costa Rican city such as San Jose or Liberia, or even from La Fortuna, the city nearest to the nearby (again, on paper) Arenal Volcano. Click here to see a highly-rated, reliable day tour to Rio Celeste from Arenal Volcano.

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