The Best National Parks In Costa Rica


How to get to Tenorio Volcano National Park

Startling blue waters and waterfalls

If wild and wonderful are your jam, then Tenorio Volcano National Park is a must for your Costa Rica agenda. A spectacular park of baby-blue waters, bubbling mud, dual-toned rivers, gurgling hot springs, and steamy geysers, this is a natural wonderland of volcanic proportions.

While the park’s eponymous volcano is gently active (and fuels the natural hot springs), the real star of the show is Río Celeste, a cerulean-coloured river that tumbles into a roaring waterfall.



  • Río Celeste, a baby-blue river with an impressive waterfall almost 100 feet tall. Río Celeste waterfall is an iconic image of Costa Rica, one of the most recognizable--a bit ironic, since Tenorio Volcano National Park and Río Celeste are very rural, infrequently visited (due to location far from any tourist hub), hard to hike, and one of the “best-kept secrets” in Costa Rica.
  • The “Mysteries of Tenorio” trail through the park, which is two miles of intermediate difficulty and can take 4-6 hours, depending on whether you stop for a soak in the hot springs.

  • A blue lagoon, intensely coloured, is a very popular attraction, though you can only look--do not touch--due to high chemical concentrations.

  • The teñidero, or dyed waters, are a startling spot where clear and baby-blue waters meet.

  • Volcanic terrain makes for bubbling mud pots, thermal geysers, and fissures where hot, volcanic gases escape. Additionally, there are mineral hot springs.

  • Remote and rural. The area around Tenorio Volcano National Park is extremely rural; the closest “big” towns are Cañas and Upala.

  • Have a local encounter with the campesinos (farmers) who run local restaurants nearby, or try a tour with the Maleku Indian reservation.

At a glance

  • 31,805 acres in size, Tenorio Volcano National Park is roughly three-quarters the size of Washington DC.
  • Established April 27, 1995, Tenorio Volcano is one of Costa Rica’s newest parks.

  • This is one of Costa Rica’s more remote national parks, and services are few: potable water, restrooms, and parking. There are trails through the park, as well as a mirador lookout point. You can order a hearty, filling meal at the park entrance; it will be ready when you finish the hike.

  • The park’s main trail, “The Mysteries of Tenorio,” measures just 2 miles long but is very rustic, and usually takes 4-6 hours to hike. It winds past the waterfall, blue lagoon, Teñidero, and volcanic gases, and can easily make a stop at the hot springs.


Tenorio Volcano National Park is heavily influenced by its Caribbean side. The park receives an average 138 inches of rainfall each year and is home to rainforest ecosystems, including rainforests classified as high-rain rainforests. Temperatures average 15-23 C (59-75 F).

The park sees year-round rains, although Costa Rica’s dry season (November-April) is a bit dryer, especially on the western (Pacific) side of the park.

Visitors come year-round, although there’s a definite preference for the dry season when the river (which you’ll have to ford) is calmer. No matter when you visit, aim for a morning visit to decrease your chances of being caught in a rainstorm.

Blue paint water

According to local legend, when God painted the sky, he washed his blue brushes in the Río Celeste river, turning its waters an enchanting shade of turquoise. More scientifically, the color comes from a chemical reaction between volcanic minerals.

Nature and wildlife

Tenorio Volcano National Park receives both Caribbean and Pacific influences--influences that contribute to the park’s diverse ecosystems and climates: low-montane rainforest, tropical rainforest, pre-montane transitional tropical forest, high-rain rainforest, and high-rain premontane forest. Bottom line: The park sees a lush average of 138 inches of annual rainfall!

The park is home to a wide variety of wildlife, among them the puma, jaguarundi, Baird's tapir, collared peccary, white-faced monkey, howler monkey, ocelot, Central American agouti, margay, lowland paca, and tayra; birds including crested guan, turkey vultures, hawks, and sunbittern; and snakes, including the Central American bushmaster, eyelash palm pit vipers, coral snakes, and boas.

Getting there/around

Tenorio Volcano National Park is 122 miles (3.5 hours) northwest of San José and 44 miles (65 minutes) east of Liberia.

Day trips, often labelled Río Celeste, are common from La Fortuna/Arenal. Transit time is about 1.5 hours, one way. For travellers who want to stay a little longer, a handful of lodges (from very rustic to borderline luxury) have cropped up around the park, thanks to the relative popularity of Río Celeste and its waterfall. The lodges offer guided trips within the park.

The primary entrance to Tenorio Volcano National Park is located between Upala and Cañas, 7 miles down a via a dirt road.

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