More than a turquoise river – Río Celeste tour with culture, farming and wildlife
In the middle of the rainforest that protects Tenorio Volcano National Park, we visited a river that seems to come out of the tales of goblins; a turquoise-colored body of water which forms a majestic waterfall that pours its waters through the nearby town of Guatuso. Its name is Río Celeste. However, our adventure didn’t end with our Río Celeste tour, as we discovered the beauty of the local community and the surroundings as well.
The village of Guatuso
After driving about 3 hours from San José, we arrived to Guatuso, a village in the province of Alajuela. We were amazed to find this place, where it seems that time passes very slowly, in the middle of the rainforest that transmits a peace that is only found in remote places on this planet. Surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, we were greeted by a landscape tinged with shades of green and the smell of pure nature.
On the way to the hotel, we visited the farmer’s market to see some of the products of the area. Locals told us that their livelihood comes mainly from agriculture – the surrounding land is rich in minerals, making it a suitable place for the production of pineapple, cocoa, banana, sugar cane, tubers, and varieties of medicinal plants such as anizillo. Guatuso is located next to the Tenorio Volcano National Park, the richest protected biodiversity area of the Arenal Tempisque Conservation zone. Due to the area’s biophysical characteristics, it has the potential to be developed for different sustainability-focused activities such as socio-environmental projects and eco-tourism.
Originally, we were attracted to Guatuso village just to visit the national park, but after interacting with the locals, visiting their family-run small businesses, and hearing several recommendations about things to do, we realised that this area offers so much more than visiting Río Celeste. Here you can see the true culture of the town, its lifestyle, gastronomy and abundant nature. We decided to stay a few days more, and it was totally worth it.
Interacting with the local community
Guatuso is still a non touristy destination, and there are not too many restaurants or hotels. We spent quality time learning about the culture of the locals, visiting their farms and taking cooking workshops to learn about the local cuisine. During our explorations, we met many very nice and charming people, like Casta. She and her family have a few wooden cabins for rent, and a small restaurant. Casta cooks many delicious local recipes over a wood stove, using produce and spices from the family’s farm.
We also met Will the cowboy, who took us for a horseback ride tour to the local sugar mill. The sugar mill is a family-run business, with Will’s mother and wife serving as the chefs. They taught us to prepare prestiños, tortillas and a delicious hot sugarcane infusion mixed with ginger, the perfect combination for a rainy afternoon.
The locals told us that the Maléku Indigenous Reserve is also located near Guatuso. There, around 600 natives of the Maléku ethnic group reside, one of the 8 aboriginal ethnic groups of Costa Rica and the only one that subsists in the northern zone of the country. The Malékus still preserve their own language and customs to this day. We wanted to visit them but it was required to send a notice in advance in order to be received by their community. It has been added to our bucket list.
Appreciating local flora and fauna
In terms of flora and fauna, you can find many species: our guide showed us a high diversity of palms, heliconias, ferns, bromeliads and orchids. We also observed trees such as the Aguacatillos, Zapotes and the Jícaro Danto, which is endemic to the Cordillera de Guanacaste volcanic mountain range and is characterized by having flowers and fruits attached to the trunk. This tree is one of the main food sources of the Danta (Tapir).
Our guide told us that in the national park we can still find the Puma, and two types of small Ocelots (although it is very difficult to see them). It is more common to see species such as the Danta (Tapir), the Guatuza (a member of the rodent family and the namesake of Guatuso village), the Collared Peccary, the White-headed Capuchin monkey, the Lowland Paca, the Tayra, the Crested Guan, the Bare-necked Umbrellabird, the Sunbittern, and many species of snakes.
Tenorio Volcano National Park And Río Celeste Tour
We visited Tenorio Volcano National Park, taking the main path to visit Río Celeste. It is a very pleasant hike of approximately 2.65 km, along a path surrounded by pure nature. To reach the base of the waterfall we had to go down by 250 steps. Upon reaching the waterfall, we were impressed by the way the turquoise color of the river stands out in the middle of the green landscape! We then continued walking inside the park, crossing hanging bridges and admiring the river route, until we reached the lagoon area where Río Celeste’s turquoise color is much more vivid. At the lagoon, we were also able to observe the birth of hot springs that flowed from the bottom of the river. Reaching the end of our Río Celeste tour route through the park, we were able to appreciate the place where this phenomenon of water coloration arises, which is the fusion of two rivers whose chemical composition form the optical effect of the Río Celeste waters. The walk throughout the park is 5.3 kilometers in total, and took us around 2.5 hours to complete.
Most tourists just visit Tenorio Volcano National Park and continue with their journey to another destination. We found the real magic of this place by extending our stay, taking the path less traveled, and experiencing the vibrant culture of Guatuso Village in addition to the Río Celeste Tour.
Where to stay
There are two great options, both well-located and outstanding in terms of commitment to sustainability and contribution to the local community. First, Celeste Mountain Lodge, an innovative lodge with contemporary design and excellent cuisine. It boosts stunning views over the cloud forest and a 1.7-km path through primary forest in its 7-hectare property, of which 4 hectares are protected area. Second, Río Celeste Hideaway Hotel, a small luxury resort with good environmental credentials and 26 beautiful bungalows surrounded by lush rainforest. It also has a swimming pool and direct access to a section of the Río Celeste where you can swim!
Ready for your own adventure?
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