Monteverde Cloud Forest may get all the glory for being the place to experience life up in the clouds in Costa Rica but on a recent trip, we discovered another alternative. Taking the road less traveled we made our way to Tenorio National Park located roughly 2 hours away from Arenal Volcano or about 2 hours away from Liberia.
We drove down slow gravel roads towards Bijagua, a small village at the base of the park towards Posada Rio Celeste Hotel & Spa, a small family run hotel tucked away just 1km from the park entrance.
We arrived late at night, unable to fully appreciate the area, and it wasn’t until the next morning that we awoke in the magical lush rainforest garden sitting among the clouds.
The rain was pounding on the tin roofs of our cabins all night, but we were adamant about making the best of this rainy day in the Tenorio National Park. We dug up our best rain gear from our backpacks and headed for the park.
We expected it to be deserted, (Why would anyone want to hike around the muddy trails on such a crappy day, right? ) but were surprised to find bus loads of locals waiting at the entrance as we pulled into the parking lot.
Hiking in Tenorio National Park
This park was a lot more popular than we expected. Drawn by the park’s biggest attraction, Rio Celeste Waterfall, the crowds made their way along the 1km pleasant easy paved path stopping to admire the lush vegetation of the rainforest around them. We followed, certain that our gum boots rental was a complete waste of money. (Out hotel owner was very adamant that they were necessary)
The rain picked up even more just as we stopped to admire the beautiful blue colour of the Rio Celeste. We were soaking wet, despite our rain gear, but we weren’t giving up. We carried on with the hike making our way towards the Mirador (lookout).
The paved trail disappeared and was replaced by the muddy tracks with a few bags of gravel thrown in to help with traction. Ah, so that’s what the boots were for!
It was another 1.5km to get to the mirador which on a clear day would have offered beautiful views of the park. On a foggy rainy day, it was…well cloudy.
Despite the lack of clear views and the fact that we spent 3 hours being completely drenched, we really enjoyed our visit. Tenorio National Park is a real natural gem, with magical lush rainforest, and a few really nice viewpoints. It’s not as rich in wildlife as, say, Manuel Antonio or Monteverde National Parks (or perhaps that was just our experience on a rainy day), but it offers a great experience for those looking to connect with nature.
Essential Travel Info
Getting there: The easiest way to get to Tenorio National Park is by car. Make your way towards the town of Bijagua, passing by either Cañas or Upala, depending on where your journey originates. From Bijagua, look for the signs for the park and take the unpaved road to the entrance. You don’t need a 4×4 to get to the park, although it is recommended, especially in the rainy season.
Getting around: There is no public transportation in Bijagua, taxis are also uncommon, so if you didn’t rent a car to get to Tenorio, you’ll have to negotiate with some locals to drive you to the park or hire a guide to take you in. If you have a car, you can drive right to the entrance, park, pay the fee and enter the park. No guide is needed to explore.
There are 2 public trails inside the park, one leads to the lookout, Rio Celeste, and Los Chorros hot springs, and the other one leads to Rio Celeste Waterfall. The third trail, leading to three other waterfalls is only accessible with a guide. You’ll need 4-6 hours to explore all the trail.
Where to stay: Since this area is not a tourism hot spot, majority of the hotels in Bijagua as well as around the National Park are local family run business, perfect for travelers looking to support local communities during their visit. We recommend Posada Rio Celeste Hotel & Spa, a small family run hotel tucked away inside the jungle just 1 km outside the park entrance. The hotel has a restaurant on site and can offer advice about activities in the area.