Tenorio & the Celeste Waterfall
A brilliant sunrise peeking over Arenal Volcano was a natural wake-up call – and the harbinger of another gorgeous morning. Today I was headed to Tenorio Volcano National Park's Rio Celeste, a destination that should be one everyone's bucket list.
Rio Celeste translates as "Celestial River," and that's no misnomer: thanks to a mineral mixture of sulfur and calcium carbonate, the river and its 100-foot waterfall are milky blue in color. I had seen so many photos of this natural phenomenon, but its rural location in northern Costa Rica, had always eluded me.
The drive from La Fortuna to Tenorio Volcano National Park took just under two hours. It would have been quicker were it not for the last five, very bumpy miles along a gravel road approaching the park. Alfredo, one of my guides and an eternal optimist, laughingly referred to the potholes' effect on our vehicle as a "Costa Rican massage." I guess that's your free gift with purchase when visiting this secluded park!
Depending on your point of entrance, the hike to Rio Celeste can take anywhere from two to five hours (including a soak in natural hot springs). There would be no tolerance for laziness today – we were taking the long route through the park.
There are a few times in your life when the expression "ignorance is bliss" really comes into play. I had been prepared for a hike, but the path to Rio Celeste was humid, uphill and very rugged. Recent rains had turned the trail muddy, and I was glad I'd worn my heavy duty hiking boots. Though I squished and squelched, and felt like a human suction cup at times, my shoes never got stuck in the thick mud. In fact, the challenging hike was good fun, except for the extreme huffing and puffing, courtesy of the 90-minute steady climb.
Nature, especially of the exuberant, tropical variety, never ceases to amaze me. Life seemed to ooze from every pore of the forest: motmots frolicked in the trees, a pink eyelash pit viper lay curled on a tree branch, and a 20-foot wide leafcutter anthill sat next to the trail. Did you know that leafcutter ants are among the world's strongest animals by body weight? Their workers carry loads so heavy and for so far that their human equivalent would be running a steady four-minute mile for 30 miles – all while carrying an extra 500 pounds on your back! And I thought our hike was a workout.
The temperature cooled and to my right I heard the sound of rushing water. After 90 minutes of anticipation, I could hardly wait for my first glimpse of the river. As I walked around a bend in the path, a blue ribbon of water emerged in my field of vision, cutting through a swath of emerald-green foliage. Just a little to my left, a wide waterfall tumbled down moss-covered stone, hitting the blue pool below with a roar. The sight was so spectacular, it could easily have been pulled from Grimm's fantastical pages.
As if nature hadn't made enough magic, the waterfall pool is surrounded on both sides by large, flat rocks the perfect size on which to recline. After we had forded the river, I collapsed on one of the rocks and pulled out my camera. I took what felt like a hundred frames in order to score the perfect shot. Mission accomplished. Rio Celeste is certainly photogenic.
My friends and family say I exaggerate, but I don’t think it's hyperbole to say that Mount Everest has nothing on Tenorio Volcano National Park. The stairs leading away from the waterfall were so steep in sections that, thanks to my backpack and then-wet jeans, Alfredo had to push me from behind so I could reach the next step. When I finally got to the top – just 500 feet took us 20 minutes – I fought the urge to throw open my arms and bellow "I'm queen of the world!" Exaggeration, indeed.
The 1.5-mile loop back to the park entrance took us past a celestial blue pond, a river, and natural hot springs. I found the dyed waters fascinating. Here, a clear river runs into a blue river, and the visual division is striking.
As we emerged from the park, I felt exhilarated, tired and famished. My growling stomach will be forever grateful for the meal – pre-ordered before we began our hike – that awaited. Fresh tilapia, breaded and fried to absolute, mouthwatering perfection, joined rice, salad and fried plantains. My new friends, guides Alfredo and Noelia of Desafio tours, taught me to eat the fried tilapia fins. I can't imagine a better end to a perfect day.