Tenorio Volcano National Park
Situated at the junction of several tectonic plates, Costa Rica is one of the more seismically active countries in the world. There are occasional earthquakes and the country is jam packed with volcanoes (the majority extinct). Some are well known giants that watch over San Jose while others are anonymous and receive fewer visitors due to their more isolated locations. Tenorio Volcano falls into the latter category. A mid-sized volcano (2,000 meters) with dormant craters that are difficult to access, Tenorio often gets overlooked as a destination. Most locals though, have Tenorio on their list of national parks to visit because this volcano is far from mediocre.
Location and how to get there
Tenorio Volcano National Park is located in northern Costa Rica, near the town Bijagua. From San Jose, there are two routes, both with similar driving times of 5 hours. If driving to Guanacaste or coming from Liberia, turn northeast towards Bijagua and Upala at the turn-off 10 kilometers north of Canas. The forested mountains ahead are Miravalles and Tenorio Volcanoes. The one on the east or right side of the road is Tenorio. The official entrance to the national park is about 34 kilometers past Bijagua. The other route passes near the La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano area, and can be reached from San Jose by taking the road to San Carlos (Ciudad Quesada), then following signs to Upala. From Upala, the park entrance is 50 kilometers along the road to Bijagua.
Like most of the volcanoes in northern Costa Rica, Tenorio lies at the junction of major ecosystems; dry forests of the Pacific Slope, rain forests of the Caribbean Slope and lowland habitats grading into cloud forest. This combination of different habitats is a recipe for a very biodiverse soup of 400 plus bird species, dozens of mammals, reptiles and amphibians and countless insects and plant species. Some of the rare species that occur here are Baird’s Tapir, cat species, Highland Tinamou, Black Guan, Great Curassow, Bare-necked Umbrellabird, Three-wattled Bellbird, White-fronted Nunbird, many monkeys, snakes and other wildlife.
The Hanging Bridges of Bijagua
Just outside of Bijagua is the Heliconias Ecolodge. Owned and operated by the local community, this lodge has trails in excellent middle elevation forest. The birding is very good and local guides often have owls, snakes and other wildlife staked out. The Hanging Bridges trail has a series of stable bridges that provide access to the canopy of primary rain forest. The views into this seldom visited world are rare and incredible; monkeys, birds, sloths, even snakes at eye level and unafraid. The lodge charges $10 to use the trail.
Trails to Laguna Danta (Tapir Lake) and the summit
Laguna Danta gets its name from the tapirs that occasionally visit the lake at dusk. A long hike uphill through dripping wet cloud forest can be taken from Heliconias Ecolodge to reach this crater-lake and the summit of Tenorio Volcano. This should only be undertaken by fit, prepared hikers.
The Rio Celeste
The most famous attraction of Tenorio Volcano National Park is the Rio Celeste or Blue River. If you thought you saw blue water before, visit this site to see a river colored an incredible shade of turquoise by sulphur from the volcano reacting with calcium carbonate. There are also waterfalls and hot springs (swimming and hot spring use at your own risk). Trails to the Rio Celeste leave from the ranger station and nearby hotels and can take several hours to fully explore.
Most of the hotels near Tenorio Volcano National Park are ecolodges. The Heliconias Ecolodge is found east of Bijagua a few kilometers uphill from the Banco Nacional (follow the signs). The Carolina Lodge and Rio Celeste Lodge are located near the entrance to the national park.