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Tenorio National Park was our favourite park and by far the most beautiful that we visited during our month in Costa Rica. The forests are abundant with natural life and the azul waters of the Rio Celeste sparkle in contrast to its flourishing green surroundings.
In our opinion it’s the best park in Costa Rica and we’ll try to explain why.
Which entrance should you visit
The main park entrance is located at El Pilón. There are two other entrances, one of which is reportedly much less developed and the other is through Heliconia Lodge – which in 2018 was closed due to hurricane damage!
El Pilon is therefore the better entrance to start from, in my opinion, as you’re able to pay with credit card, park safely, buy essentials and pick up a guide.
Get a guide
I really do recommend taking a guide and if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll be thinking “What? You never recommend that!“, and yes it’s true this blog is all about doing things alone, the adventurous way. But, the undergrowth here is so thick that it’s hard to know what to look for.
We did not take a guide, silly us, but there were several nice guides in the park who spotted ant eaters and the quetzal bird with it’s beautiful, dropping turquoise tail and let us tag along a little bit, looking through their powerful monocular.
Tenorio National Park is divine and in our opinion the best park in Costa Rica to explore with kids. Get a guide, take your time and really get to know all those critters out there.
Trail running Tenorio National Park
Now you might think we’re crazy but we only had a small window of opportunity to complete this park alongside two other places on the same day, so we had this foolish idea to trail run Tenorio. We did trail run it, in fact we completed the entire park in 2 hours and 14 minutes and 49 seconds.
Don’t do this!! You will miss so much and it’s such a waste. I wish we could go back and take our time to enjoy this park.
Tenorio National Park is an exceptionally special park and we really felt that it deserved at least half a day to explore.
Opening hours and costs
The car park is not maintained by the park but by the community and the fee is 1000 colones. They use part of the money to support the local school and kid’s activities in the area.
The park’s entrance fee is $12 for adults, $5 for kids and payment by credit card is available. You can request payment in dollars or colones. The park is open between 8am and 4pm.
Which trail should you take?
There seems to be a lot of mis-information on other blogs about which trail you should take. The Tenorio Volcano National Park is over 31,000 acres but in March 2018 there was only one major trail running through it. This may change in the future – if it does, let me know.
The route starts at El Pilon and commences as a paved trail however the path quickly turns into a muddy trail with small streams, tree roots and rocks to navigate around. In some sections, where there had been small land slides the paved path had collapsed and instead we had to climb muddy banks.
It was all really exciting for the kids, but if you go during the wet season do be prepared for getting wet and muddy.
What animals might you see at the Tenorio National Park
And this is why you must take a guide!
Bird life inside the park includes tody motmots, bear-necked umbrella birds, sunbitterns, trogons, toucans, toucanettes, crested guans, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, ruffous-necked tanagers and loads more.
Mammals inhabiting the park include pumas, jaguars, margays, ocelots, tapirs, tayras, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, capuchin monkeys, and sloths.
There are many amphibians including blue jeans dart frogs, red-eyed leaf frogs and smoky jungle frogs.
In addition, reptiles such as eyelash pit vipers, fer-de-lances, jumping pit vipers, boa constrictors, hog-nosed pit vipers, parrot snakes, vine snakes, as well as many lizards, although you’re less likely to see these!
The Celeste River
The Celeste River runs through the center of the park, later on flowing parallel to the main hiking trail. The river is named for its dazzling baby-blue hue which you cannot fail to miss gleaming through the leaves and trees.
Why is the water so blue?
The first proper look you’ll get of those blue hues is if you climb down the 300+ steps to the Catarata (waterfall). If you’re having a few doubts about climbing down there, don’t! Yes, it’s a harder slog on the way back up but it’s definitely worth going down for.
The Rio Celeste Waterfall is an amazing sight to see. At first you may think your eyes are deceiving you, but the water is really that blue.
It gets its blue colour from a chemical reaction between the minerals of two rivers converging at the Teñideros point. The colour is created as colloidal silica reacts with sulfur in the merging rivers, creating copper sulfate and that turquoise cloudy colour.
The steps down to the waterfall
The path which is roughly 2,200 feet above sea level, is approximately 1.5km long from the start of the park down to the waterfall. It doesn’t sound like much but in reality it’s a great work out and if you love a challenge, it shouldn’t be too daunting.
It’s suggested there are between 250-300 steps down to the waterfall, awesome for toning those butt-cheeks but you’ll definitely need a breather on the way back up! The steps are well constructed and although narrow, there’s room to pass and there’s hand rails too.
There’s nothing like a 20m fast-flowing, waterfall landing into a pool of dazzling blue water to take your breath away and give you an excuse to stop and stare, or at least recuperate from the work-out.
Reaching the Mirador
The Mirador is an elevated, wooden platform which overlooks the rainforest. It can get a bit slimy up there so watch your footing.
You will not be able to see the Rio Celeste from here but on a good day you can see far out into the canopy of trees with the rolling forests that undulate across the vista . On a cloudy day, you may only see clouds…
Laguna Azul (Blue Lagoon)
The Laguna Azul, or Blue Lagoon is just 200 meters from the Mirador and is a flat basin where the waters collect. Some people have compared it to Peter Pan’s Mermaid Lagoon but I’m not so sure.
What do you think?
The first thing that hits you as you approach Los Borbollones is the stench of rotting eggs. That’s the sulphur bubbling furiously out of the ground. Although you cannot see the Volcan Tenorio, it sits in the backdrop still live and giving out these noxious gases.
You are not allowed into the water in the National Park but the Rio Celeste continues for another 14km and you can swim nearby.
Teñiderios is where the confluence of the two streams creates the magical azure Río Celeste in one of the most beautiful science experiments in nature. One stream is high in sulfur and the other is high in metals including copper. They’re both relatively clear and colourless until they meet when copper sulfate – a bluey-green compound – forms.
You’ll need to cross a metal hanging bridge and probably notice that the colour of the water isn’t quite as celestial as you’d like. Don’t be too disappointed because as soon as you reach the reach the next low-slung wooden bridge, the water is insanely blue.
This is the best part of the hike – I mean, sure the 20m waterfall was cool and the sulfur bubbling at Los Borbollones was intriguing but Tenideros is breath-taking!
Why should you visit Tenorio National Park
Everybody who goes to Costa Rica bangs on about the Cloud Forest of Monteverde. That is except us! I thought the Cloud Forest was a bit nonchalant and I didn’t even like Monteverde with its ultra touristy feel.
Tenorio national park is starting to become more common (especially between Feb-April) but it’s still off the beaten track for many tourists and therefore it’s a quieter park but it’s teeming with animal life. Unlike the Cloud Forest where I didn’t even see a single bird, at Tenorio there’s so much animal activity you’ll want to stay forever!
Plus kids will have an amazing time exploring the pathways, scrabbling up the mud slides, looking for ant-eaters and snakes in the undergrowth and the piece de resistance is undoubtedly crossing the rickety wooden bridge over the Tenideros and watching the Rio Celeste sparkle like something out of a fairy tale.
Top Tips Before Visiting
- Only 1200 visitors are allowed in the park throughout the whole day. With only 400 people permitted on the trail at one time, you must make sure to get there early. Once there are 400 people in the park, the rest must wait outside.
- The trails can get extremely muddy. We wore running trainers/sneakers but you might want to consider boots.
- The weather can be hot and humid. It can pour with rain. Be prepared for weather eventualities. Ladies outside the park sell thin plastic macs for $1. They take up no room and you’re contributing to local economies if you buy some.
- Prepare to spend around 3-5 hours here.
- Definitely consider get a guide who can help spot animals.
- Take water.
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What else can you do with kids in Costa Rica?
We’re still blogging about our month in Costa Rica so please don’t forget to come back soon to read more.