parque nacional volcán tenorio & the río celeste

Wednesday, January 11, 2023: Today we drove to Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio, which required us to backtrack back to Liberia and then head east on Route 1 in Costa Rica. When we turned off to take Route 6 north to Bijagua, we were desperate to find a gas station so we asked a roadside vendor where to find petrol. He was patient with our Spanish, correcting our incorrect words and slowly describing, with energetic hand gestures, directions to the next town of Canas, a bit further east along the main highway. He told us to get gas, turn around and come back to go up Route 6 to Bijagua. He taught us to say, “Pura Vida Mai!” which is something like “Pure Life, buddy!” He said it with much enthusiasm. We bought some of his snacks and thanked him profusely, then we got back on the highway, found gas, and returned to pass by him again. As we drove by, I yelled out the window, “Pura Vida Mai!” He smiled ear-to-ear, waved, and gave us a thumbs up as we drove past. We got a big laugh out of that.

Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio

After the town of Bijagua, we turned off toward the National Park. Tenorio Volcano National Park and Tenorio Protected Zone are an integral part of the Agua y Paz Biosphere Reserve named by UNESCO in September 2007. As part of the Maleku people’s ancestral territory, the area is of huge cultural value. The park covers more than 30,000 acres, spanning much of the land northwest of Lago Arenal.

We entered through the El Pilón ranger station and walked the Sendero Principal (Main Trail, 3km one way). We encountered lush rainforest; a green vine snake; a soaking rain; mud, tree branches and rocks. And on the entire way out, we got pretty drenched by a steady rain.  The forest was mostly primary, protecting species like Jícaro danto, the fruits of which are eaten by the tapir, which disperses the seeds.

We walked 250 steps down to the 30-meter-tall Catarata Río Celeste, which spills out of the rainforest into an aquamarine pool. Swimming is not allowed in the park, so though the pool at the base of Catarata Río Celeste is enticing, it is off limits.

We found a mountain mirador with a foggy view.


a mirador with a foggy view

On the trail, we also stopped at Laguna Azul (Blue Lagoon) and finally the bubbling jacuzzi-like Borbollones, or bubbling waters. Sadly the bridge to Los Teñideros was washed out, so we couldn’t see the celestial blue color of the river at that point.

Though it was rainy for the first half of the hike and the trail was gooey and muddy, the sky cleared as we made our way back, giving the forest a whole different feel. The rainforest was astoundingly lush.

Relevant mammals in the park are the tapir and cats like the jaguar and puma. Birds include umbrella bird species, the sunbird, the crested hawk and the crested eagle. We didn’t see any of these animals.

As we passed by the waterfall again, Mike went back down the 25o steps to see it with the sun shining on it. On the way up, he found a beautiful bird of paradise while I walked on by myself.

After the hike, we stopped in Cami’s Shop: Minimarket and Souvenirs, where we bought more chocolate and I got a flowered Costa Rica baseball cap.

After leaving the park, we took a drive further into the mountains where we crossed a bridge over the Río Celeste and waved to the people swimming below.

We finally backtracked toward the Celeste Mountain Lodge, midway between the park and Bijagua.

Celeste Mountain Lodge

Celeste Mountain Lodge is a 2-story 18-room hotel with an incredible contemporary design; open air communal areas bring the outdoors in to make you feel like you’re right in the forest. Volcán Tenorio and Volcán Miravalles surround the pretty well-manicured property.

We loved the design, the ambiance, the professionalism, and the creativity of our hotel, Celeste Mountain Lodge near Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio. It is owned by a French-Canadian man who has perfected all aspects of the place. The music was perfectly suited as was the decor, which seemed to revolve around an open-air concept, where guests feel the outdoors is enveloping them in a cozy cocoon. Painted corrugated iron was used to great effect in decor and light fixtures.

We took a walk all around the grounds after we checked in to our room. The gardens at the hotel were sprawling and lush and the view of the grounds with the volcanoes in the background was breathtaking.

We had drinks (I had a Caipirinha (Cactaja & lime)) on cushions stuffed with coconut fibers while serenaded by smooth jazz. We were treated to a stunning sunset while we talked with some Americans from Holland, Michigan and Connecticut. One couple had been to many of the same places I had been. The couple from Michigan, Tim and Nancy, had been a librarian and a teacher respectively in Mumbai, India and Tokyo, Japan. Tim had lived in Oman in the 1970s before Sultan Qaboos had overthrown his father and modernized the country.

The open kitchen was immaculate and the chefs were extremely talented and well-coordinated. We enjoyed a meal both delicious and artistically prepared.

I ordered lasagna served with little sausages and cauliflower. Before the main course, we’d had appetizers of ceviche and a giant pitcher of fresh fruit juice. Mike had a steak and we had cannelloni for dessert. We were serenaded by upbeat contemporary Spanish music including “Pīdeme” and “Bachata Cha” by Salsaloco de Cuba. I had learned how to use the app Shazam to identify the songs. 🙂

We loved our one-night stay at this place and wished we could have stayed longer. 🙂

Thursday, January 12: We had a fabulous breakfast at the hotel then I walked around taking a video of the outdoor spaces. We enjoyed beautiful views of the volcanoes as we left Bijagua and headed to Tilarán on our way to Monteverde.  Tilarán is set atop the Cordillera de Tilarán (Tilarán Mountain Range).

Here’s a video of our short time at Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio:

We drove past the roadside vendor who’d helped us find gas yesterday. One our third time past him, I yelled out one more time, “Pura Vida Mai!” He jumped up and gave us a happy thumbs up. It set us off on another round of laughter, a great note on which to part ways with our friend!